Thursday, August 21, 2014

Year One

So tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of my brother Jay's passing. It's not a day that I've been looking forward to, but of course it's unavoidable.

After my mom passed away in 2011 I thought about how awful it would be if something were to happen to Jay. Ten years ago (give or take a year) a good friend of mine lost his dad and only sibling within a relatively short period of time. I remember thinking how impossible it must be to manage such grief, and yet when Jay died I survived. What option did I have but to move forward?  I wanted to take an active role in my grieving process, rather than feel powerless or playing the role of the victim.  Having already lost my parents I was a seasoned griever, but this was bigger. My brother was my best friend, almost like a twin (we were 16 months apart). I leaned heavily on my husband and our circle of friends, who took such good care of us. We got through the rough patches together. Now, one year later, I am surprisingly better than I expected to be. Not surprisingly, the week leading up to this anniversary has been a reflective one.

One realization that came to me earlier this week is that I still have a relationship with my brother, it's just a new kind of relationship. I feel his presence in my life, like he is very much with me, and it's a big comfort on rough days. I can actually imagine moving forward in this life knowing that my big brother is still with me. I was talking with my husband about this, and he explained that it's quite Catholic to feel this connection with someone who's passed (my husband has always been Catholic, while I am only about ten years Catholic). It's not easy to explain, but I don't really feel compelled to explain it -- it just is what it is.

A blessing of the past year (and there are several) is that I no longer live with an addict in my life. As much as I loved my brother, I didn't care for the drunk version that he'd become over the past few years. It was sad that he had become unreliable, and that he was lying far more than I'd realized while he was alive. I know that this was all a part of his illness. Looking at pictures from the last year of his life is still painful and sad -- there's a vacant, almost absent look in his eyes. I suppose the harsh reality is that the Jay we knew and loved had already been gone for a couple of years by the time his liver finally surrendered.

Living a life that is free of addiction is something I've wanted since I was a kid (when my dad's disease took center stage in the home), and now I finally have it. Sure I'd rather have a sober Jay than a deceased one, but that was not my choice to make.  I'll probably never know why I was spared the family alcoholic gene; it's actually possible that I do have the gene, but simply never developed the disease because I don't drink (liquor doesn't play well with my Crohn's Disease). I will continue to live as an adult child of alcoholics, which is not without its perils, but life is much calmer without the anxiety of having an active drinker in my daily life. I do not take this for granted.

(Top right: Me and Jay some 40 yrs ago. Bottom left: Me today.)
So what do I take away from the past year? Too much to write in one blog post, I reckon. Perhaps the biggest takeaway is the renewed and strengthened relationships I've enjoyed with the extended family that Jay and I shared. I am making and playing music with Jay's former bandmates, which has been an incredible gift. Restoring the home Jay and I grew up in has also been a tremendous opportunity for healing (not to mention a tremendous amount of work!). Through it all I've acquired an increased sense of peace and a strengthened faith. After surviving this past year I believe that I can survive almost anything, and for that I am indeed grateful.

Much love to my husband Leo, who has gone through this family journey with me. I love you more than I can say. Much love to my Anderson family unit: my deceased parents, Jim and Fernie, and my late brother Jay. Much love to my husband's family, my in-laws, who have now become my family. Finally, mucho love and gratitude to my extended family of lunatics who have, for whatever reason, chosen to stand by me all these years. I feel very lucky to have you all in my life.

peace and love,



John Medd said...

I love the photographs. J x

Tonia Baxter said...

Nicely said, Jeff. Much love and continued healing to you.