I learned the other day that my oldest brother and his wife are coming to visit, in November. They are going to Ireland, first, with their church, and then coming to spend a few days with me. It is the first time that a family member (besides my son) has come to see me, here in England, since I moved here 6 years ago.
I am touched that he would take the time to come see me. My brother is 9 years older than me, and through the years, our relationship has had its complexities. But we have always tried to stay connected, and he has made special efforts, this year, to reach out to me in my grief.
My mother and sister lived near him, in Naples, Florida, and when my sister was diagnosed with cancer, I decided to have them come and stay with me. I wanted my sister to be closer to the cancer centre located in the city where I lived, and I felt more able to handle the intimacies that would be required in caring for her.
But my brother did all he could to help. He drove the 150 miles to my house, almost every weekend, after a full work week, and while dealing with some chronic health problems of his own. Most Fridays and Saturdays, he would camp out on the sofa next to the hospital bed I had set up for her, in my living room, so that I could get a good night’s rest.
When my mother had surgery, a few months later, and throughout her slow deterioration afterward, he made himself available to us both, then, too. He took as much time off from his work as he was able, and he cared for her, as much as he could, when she was home with me between hospital stays. He was there at Hospice when she took her last breath.
A year later, after I had moved to England, his beloved wife was diagnosed with cancer, and died within a few short months. They had been married for over 20 years.
My brother and I are fellow grief travellers. We do not often talk, but I know he understands this journey, well. I won’t have to hide my sorrow or feel awkward when expressing it, when he and his new wife come to visit. She, too, has experienced deep loss, and has an intimate knowledge of grief.
I am often shocked when I come across people, my age or older, who have not lost anyone significant in their lives. They don’t understand the language that us grief travellers speak. They are hesitant to mention our loved ones, worrying that it will make us upset. They don’t realise that our spouses or parents or children who have passed are never very far from our minds and hearts, and that speaking their names and hearing stories about them gives us great comfort. They don’t realise that we breathe a sigh of relief when we know we are free to express our losses without them trying to minimise it or make it better, so that they can feel comfortable about death, themselves.
So I know that when they come to visit, I can speak about my husband with ease. I can honour his memory, and give words to this grief. We’ll be able to share memories of Mom and Debra, too, and his wife, Sam, who was like a sister to me. Or perhaps, sometimes, we can sit in silence—not an awkward silence, but a silence borne of an understanding of loss.
I am excited at the thought of someone from my family coming to visit me, in this new home I have created, where my Stan once lived. It will help him know Stan better, and give him an understanding of how Stan’s life and love captivated me.
We differ in so many ways, my brother and I. We are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, and we have a different faith. But we share the language of loss, and we know this grief road, and we can comfort each other, with this knowing.
We are fellow grief travellers, my brother and I, and my heart will be warmed by his visit.