November is an interesting month for me. As all Arizonans know, our November is basically equivalent to the first blissful days of spring in many other parts of the country. The weather is getting beautiful and it is time once again to venture outdoors. The dreadful heat of summer has finally subsided, and everyone seems generally happier with the world around them. It is the month that is home to everyone’s favorite holiday, Thanksgiving…and to make matters even better, it’s also my birthday month. Yay me.
But my November is also a time of reflection. Twenty-two years ago this month I lost my older brother. It was a weird industrial accident. He was 25. I was 13. His wife was pregnant with their first child. It was terrible and tragic and unexpected and heartbreaking.
I remember being called out of class and finding my Dad in the front office at my school, his voice wavering a little as he tried to explain that Gregg had been in an “accident.” At the time, he knew it was serious, possibly debilitating, but he had no idea the accident had been fatal. We drove home in an eery, nervous silence. When we pulled into the driveway, my Mom came out of the house, crying and as she shook her head, all she could say was, “He didn’t make it…” As she was shaking her head and weeping and telling us, it was almost as though she didn’t even believe it herself. “He didn’t make it…” Growing up in Southern California, there had been many times I had unwittingly turned my back on the ocean and then been thrown down by an unexpected wave and tossed underwater by the fury and unyielding power of the sea. That is exactly what those words did to me. We hugged each other and all fell to the ground, right there in the driveway, bawling our eyes out for all the neighbors to see.
Now that I am a mother myself, I think back often to what that day was like for my mom. What a punch in the gut it was. What that day was like for my sister-in-law, 8 months pregnant with their baby boy. What that day was like for my sister, who was much closer to my brother, in age, in looks…in every way, really. Being at least 10 years junior to all of my siblings, I felt very much like an outsider looking in on their grief. I shared it, but I never felt real ownership of it until I was much older. I was in shock, just like everyone else, but it was a superficial cut. It sunk deeper over time. I didn’t imagine then that 22 years later I would be sitting at a stoplight in my Suburban with four children in the back, tears streaming down my face because of it.
He didn’t make it. He died. It was a cold November day in Utah when we buried that brother of mine. His son was born in January. But as I sat in my car this morning, crying on my way to the gym and missing him something fierce, I did something I don’t often take the time to do.
I looked up.
I looked at the sky and it’s perfect shade of November blue. It didn’t make my heart hurt any less, but it did help me breathe a little deeper. It felt too far away. But it did help me remember the hope and joy and peace that always lay ahead, just like a cool, crisp fall after a long, hot Arizona summer.
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.