Something is different this year!
A letter to my brother, Gordon on his birthday…
Dear Little Brother,
It’s November 8th again, six years since you left us. And as on every anniversary, I release a red balloon for you, for our shared birthstone, a deep garnet.
I take my red balloon to the clerk who inflates it for me, telling me it’s not really red and maybe I don’t want it. I assure him it’s ok, not bothering to tell him why you won’t notice or even care about the color. He ties a nice pink ribbon to the end of the pink-supposed-to-be-red balloon and I head over to Glenco Beach, on Lake Michigan.
The first time I released a balloon for you, I went to my favorite beach. I knew you’d like it too. It’s a wild, rugged beach, but too far to drive today and too cold.
Here in Glencoe today, the wind is whipping the balloon around in crazy circles. I hang on tight.
I don’t want it to fly out of my hand until I’m ready.
That first year, you (well, your balloon) slipped right out of my hand before I was ready, just as you slipped out of our lives with no warning. That day I went back to the car and got another balloon and released another one when I was ready!
Letting go of the balloon seems to mean something different this year.
In the past the balloon was a symbol of you – the little brother I prayed for – the one who shared my birth month. The one who is gone and left me an only child again.
Today it seems to be a symbol of letting go, but letting go of what, of whom. How do I let go of you? You’re part of who I am.
I turn to leave after your balloon disappears, the wind from the lake lifting it to the south and up over the bluff.
Each year, on these anniversary days, I look for a rock before I leave the beach. And today I look again. This beach has few rocks, but I find one. . . A rock within a rock . . . part of, yet separate. . . how I see you and me.
As I ponder these things over the next few days, I realize this experience is a symbol of letting go of the grief surrounding the loss.
Early in my grief, I read an article about the need to release grief. I wondered how you know when that needs to happen. And is it a specific moment in time, or a gradual adjustment to the loss? **
I still don’t know for sure, but it was important for me to take my own journey through grief. I had to embrace it, accept the invitation your loss brought, run into the darkness so I could find the light, get the help I need and keep writing. Then when the time was right for me, I find release from the grief. The anniversary of your loss becomes a celebration of YOU and the gift you were in my life, rather than a commemoration of the sadness and grief of losing you.
I have learned: having formulas and timetables are much easier for those who want to help the griever, but not helpful for the one grieving. Had my friends told me I needed to let go of my grief rather than letting me work through my grief, I would have focused on the impossibility of letting go.
I am grateful for friends and family who allowed me to journey my own path, incorporating the unresolved losses of the past so that I could arrive on the timetable God had for me. I suspect there is still more to this journey, more to learn, but this anniversary was a milestone.
It feels good little brother. I wish you were here so I could tell you all of this in person. That’s silly . . . I suspect you’d have little patience for this symbolism and processing, but since you’re not here, you can’t give me a hard time about it. We were so different, yet alike in many ways.
I love you little brother. Wish you were here. I’ll see you in heaven someday!
Your Big Sis
PS: As I look back over the years since this event, I was not letting go of grief itself, rather with time and facing the grief, there were times it did not overwhelm me. At this point I had cared for my mother, seeing her to her heavenly home the year before just one year ago. It had been a tumultuous journey and I was learning to “live” again.
I have learned and accepted grief will always be with me.