Thanksgiving is the last of the holidays, marking a year of holidays and birthdays since my brother’s death, December 6, 2012. Last Thanksgiving, 2012, my parents, my sister, my oldest son, and my brother gathered to celebrate at my brother’s new house. He had a new job, a new living situation, and was embarking on a new life as his wife of twenty-two years decided to divorce. Sam and I could not make the trip from Texas and my other son and his family were spending Thanksgiving with his wife’s family. It was a small gathering at my brother’s, but considering we usually don’t get together for Thanksgiving, it was a perfect opportunity to get together and a new way of doing things.
As the family sat down to eat, my brother offered a toast, noting this was one of the happiest days of his life because his family was here. No one thought too much about it because he had had a rough several months with all of the changes. Things had come together and seemed to be moving forward.
That weekend was the last any of the family saw my brother. Oh, we all talked on the phone, almost daily, the following week. He’d post pictures, giving clues to family treasures he was unpacking, surprising all of us with the stuff he had from our grandparents and even our parents! Then he’d call and we’d stroll down memory lane. His memory was iron clad and I knew I would have to produce evidence if I was going to challenge him on a date or event. I constantly teased him that he alone was our family’s institutional memory.
It was a Sunday, the 49ers were playing, and we all talked to him at some point that afternoon. And then oddly I heard nothing. Even though all of us called to check in as was our custom, we figured he was busy when we didn’t get an answer. Then my parents became concerned and called my sister to check on him. That’s when she found him. A nightmare none of us were prepared for or ever imagined. It’s still hard knowing he was outside for several days before my sister found him. I still am sad he died alone as I believe everyone should have someone with them as they transition from this life to the next. Even a year later, it is difficult to accept that he chose to end his life. But he did, and I can honor that he did it on his own terms.
This year we are gathering at our house for Thanksgiving as we have for every birthday and holiday this entire year. It’s been a year of pilgrimages and moves, of sadness and joy, of questions and acceptance, of loss and emptiness and the slow process of healing from unspeakable grief. Grief changes you and sets a new normal, one that has an empty seat at the table or a pause texting or calling as you remember he isn’t at the other end of the phone.
The first year without my brother is almost to a close. And then we will begin another. But for now, we will gather for Thanksgiving. I give thanks for my family. I give thanks that we can still gather. I give thanks that we can be sad and still laugh as we always do. And most of all, I give thanks for my leetle brother whom I love and miss.