Today is the one year anniversary when we learned my brother, Vic, had taken his own life. It’s been a rough year. Death is inevitable. Grief is necessary. Time tempers the pain. Deep reflection heals. Everything changes.
The coroner told my sister, Janet, when he arrived at my brother’s house that Vic most likely died on December 2. Janet, Sam and I had our own little memorial this December 2. We wanted to honor him and acknowledge the sacred place he chose. We burned some sage, scattered a few of his ashes, and shared some quiet thoughts under the stars. Janet and I were surprised that we remained dry-eyed! It hasn’t always been like that this past year. And then we laughed as we recalled some of our adult escapades, which is exactly what we’d be doing if Vic was physically present.
Grief is an interesting phenomena. The trauma of loss is so great that our psyche shuts down, something like going into shock – like the physical body does when traumatized – to give it time to absorb the impact and reality of death. It’s like realizing you’ve been holding your breath.
For me, Advent is like that. You’re settled in your seat. You’ve looked over the program. The concertmaster comes on stage signalling the musicians to tune to his violin. Then the conductor comes on stage to applause. Everything quiets as she turns to the orchestra and raises her baton. And then you realize you’ve been holding your breath. Advent is the name of that moment.
There’s a wonderful phrase tucked into only a few places in the Bible.
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent [God’s] Son, born of a woman.
~ Galatians 4:4
I believe there’s a fullness of time moment for each of us. One thing I’ve come to understand through the passage of this last year is that my brother had his own sense of his fullness of time. I don’t need to, or may not understand it. I don’t need to, or may not be able to make sense of why. It’s not even my place to make judgements or excuses or apologies. The fullness of his time had come.
We are never prepared for unexpected, horrifying, accidental, or much-too-soon death. Even when someone has had a long, full life, we’re not ready to let them go from us. And there are no shortcuts through grief. When going through your first anniversary of a loved one’s death, when do you realize you’ve been holding your breath?
Lord, let me know my end,
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight.
Surely everyone stands as a mere breath.
For I am your passing guest,
an alien, like all my forebears. ~ Psalm 39:4-4, 12
I’ve been holding my breath for one year. It’s time to breathe again.