Got brother grief? I do…
I want to talk about my brother, Jody.
I call him my brother because he literally embodied the definition of the word for me at a time when I was very confused about its meaning.
I always had them. I am the youngest of three children and the only girl. Divorce and remarriage changed all that. In so many ways.
My oldest brother (by 5 years) did not speak to me from age 11 through 18. We never discussed why when we spoke from age 18 through 22 but it was always assumed that it was not my older brother’s fault at all, even though we lived in a small town of almost 2000 people. Even though I was just a little girl. I won’t ask him now, since he hasn’t spoken to me from age 22 through the present (age 32) and because I don’t care to hear the answer, I already know.
My other older brother (by 18 months) was the kind of best friend who, it was understood, would rather be with our older brother if he could, but since he can’t right at this particular moment, then we could be best friends as consolation. The kind of best friend who allows you to sit at his cool kids lunch table in high school but doesn’t say a word to you for that lunch hour every day for a year. WHY??? I don’t know, I always assumed it was because I was worthless, but I asked him recently and it seems to be simple high school survival behavior he deeply regrets.
The combination of the above two paragraphs left me in a weird spot in high school with regard to the word “brother.”
When I was 14 my mom and I went to go live with her boyfriend who later became my stepfather. My stepfather also had 2 sons and a youngest daughter, just like my family. Jody was 5 years older than me, like my brother Kevin, and I fell in love with him immediately. It was embarrassing. I knew we were now family, even though it would be 2 more years before our parents officially married each other; I knew it would not be appropriate to be IN LOVE with my future step-brother.
Sometimes I would make him food. He was so skinny. Unlike me or my brothers, Jody could eat anything and it never showed. He admitted to me a decade later that he always had to secretly throw away more than half of his plate that I prepared because he didn’t want to hurt my feelings that he couldn’t eat all of it.
He didn’t want to hurt my feelings.
I could tell. He was doing what I was doing: we were watching each other. He read, understood who I was, and he wanted to protect me. The more we got to know each other, the more clear it became that we truly understood and practiced loyalty.
That word has always been among my top 5 personality traits. That word has also always haunted me. Why??? Because I was giving it and not getting it, the loyalty was not always reciprocal. I used to think that’s what drew Jody and I together: our understanding of, appreciation, and yearning for reciprocal loyalty.
I understand now that it’s much more than that.
I remember the last conversation Jody and I had together, 6 years ago now. We hadn’t seen each other in awhile and he was skinnier than ever. He lit up when he saw me. I know he lit up because not only did I see it with my own eyes, but it also reflected back into me and I actually felt warm and loved.
He was telling me he received my wedding save the date. I rolled my eyes like: oh that old thing and told him all discouraged that I wanted it to have been much more creative but I’m not good at that stuff so my save the date is actually kind of boring compared to what I’ve been receiving in the mail from more artistically inclined friends. Blah Blah Blah. Boring.
Jody shook his head slightly, smiling, and told me he had never even seen a wedding save the date that was a magnet, he described how excited he was to open my mail and be reminded that I was going to marry Chris. How he loves to see it on his fridge every day. His sincerity was so calming to me; his support was palpable.
Jody was always a fan of Chris. I remember when Chris and I hosted our first Thanksgiving together at our first apartment in Buffalo. For a variety of reasons, that holiday meal was extremely stressful to prepare (I won’t go into that here) but, long story short, the combination of our divorced families and the tardiness of the meal resulted in a miscalculation of wine intake and a pass (out) on dinner.
What I’m saying is: by the time the food finally made it to the table, Chris had to excuse himself from the table and literally never came back; therefore, I hosted our divorced families for the first time by myself.
If you know me, you can look right at me and know what I’m thinking. My face is very expressive. Jody watched the tension in me rise to a boiling point. He smiled at me. He told me the food was excellent. He told me he was having a great time. It was right around his Birthday so I made him a cherry cheesecake pie, a new recipe. I had asked him what he wanted for his Birthday cake and was startled when he told me no one had ever asked him that before. Cheesecake. I had never made one, but I bake pies so I made that for him special and was so worried it would be a flop.
We sang Happy Birthday to Jody, his son blew out the candles and, even though he was so full from dinner, he ate his entire huge piece of cheesecake. His Birthday cake. He hugged me so hard. He loved his cake! I found my smile again.
Before he left my apartment that evening Jody told me: don’t give Chris a hard time. I looked at Jody sideways, he never told me what to do before, but Jody just smiled at me until I smiled back and said: ok.
That really blew me away at the time because I was like, why shouldn’t I give him a hard time?! What’s the big deal, why do you care what happens to him? Because I know Jody, I already knew the answer. Just like me, Jody could read people, and, just like me, Jody decided immediately he loved Chris.
This is the Christmas card Jody handed us just a couple weeks later. Jody was excellent at picking out greeting cards. They were never random. The card says:
“For You, Sister, and your family. Your home is a happy and welcoming place where there’s love in the air and a smile on each face…”
I cried when I opened this card. I cried because the one thing I have ever wanted my entire life was a family of my own and I knew Jody was right: me and Chris were a family now. I cried because Jody was being my brother and I needed it. I cried because Jody’s heart was so big.
Chris and I always talk about the time Jody lent us his boat. It was a disaster. Something happened and the boat kept filling up with water?! We were super concerned that we were going to sink his boat and that he would be angry thinking the boat was filling up with water because of something we may have done. When we got home, Jody just laughed and said: I’m sorry that happened! He was smiling while we explained how worried we were that we had done something wrong. Jody was not at all concerned. He shrugged and said it’s ok, he would fix it. No big deal.
Jody could fix any boat, he was a real genius at it. Most people would at least tease the person who almost sunk their boat, but not Jody. He was very careful with my emotions. Probably why he didn’t tease me and say: blah blah blah, when I shot down his compliment of my wedding save the date magnet.
9-19-09. That was my save the date. It used to haunt me. I mean, who sends out a save the date over a year in advance and then dares not to get married that day? Me. Some of my friends still have that magnet on their fridge and I used to look at it as a symbol of my failure and be like: why are you doing this to me, take that thing down at once!!!
I don’t see 9-19-09 like that anymore. Ever since I started to embrace the grieving process, I also started to see 9-19-09 as an inevitable part of my journey. That actually did have to happen that way. I didn’t make a mistake. Not at all.
Today I allow myself to say: I am that person who rescheduled their wedding date due to grief. If Jody wasn’t doing 9-19-09 then neither were we. I planned a totally different wedding that did take place on 5-8-10 because life happened and I adapted. I honor my body and I do what feels right when it feels right.
My brother Jody is with me all the time. Even so, I still feel his absence and I still mourn our connection on this earth. I wish we could spend this Thanksgiving together and our Birthdays and Christmas. Anything.
I’m not done talking about my brother Jody and I never will be.
PS: Full Disclosure: while writing this blog, I cried the whole time…on a spectrum ranging from silent stream of tears to scream sobbing; I also used my shirt as a tissue after the box of Kleenex next to me ran out.