Every Day | When Grief Lasts and Hope Remains

I AM THAT CAT
We used to have two cats, Pink and Sabrina. They were brothers, which isn’t obvious from their names. That’s what happens when you let your four-year-old and her best friend name your kittens.

Pink was a super-sized, black tuxedo who acted an awful lot like a dog. Sabrina was a smaller, gray version of Pink, and he snored like something akin to a chainsaw. Like most brothers, they played and they fought and they cuddled when sleepy.

One day, when they were about five years old, Pink and Sabrina (both indoor cats) escaped into the great wide open. Pink came home. Sabrina never did.

We were terribly worried and sad, but no one more than Pink. Every day, the burly cat would climb in an open window or press his nose against our screen door and call for Sabrina. His was a heartbreaking cry and you knew, you just knew, his meows meant, “Where are you? I’m still here. Come home. I miss you. Come home! I’m waiting!”

This went on for two years. For two years, Pink called and cried for his brother. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised – those kitties were together every single day of their lives. I imagine Pink felt as though he’d lost not just his brother, but a part of himself.

I am that cat.

Two years after my baby brother’s death, my soul still cries, “Where are you! I’m here. I miss you. Come home! I’m waiting!”

Just about everyone’s favorite picture of Derek

Like Pink, I expect my brother to come walking up the driveway at any moment – to tell me a funny story about his son or to ask me if I saw that great play Dustin Pedroia made in last night’s game.

THE WISDOM OF FRIENDS
I’m so grateful for two honest women who, in the weeks following my brother’s death, were kind enough to spare me the usual platitudes and instead told me the bald truth:

“No matter what anyone says, it doesn’t get easier, we just learn to cope better…”

I needed to hear those words. Sure, I’d lost people before – Kenny (Derek’s father and my stepfather who was like a father to me, died when I was 12 and Derek was two), grandparents who helped raise me, uncles and aunts and friends – so on some level, I knew their words were true. But I needed to hear them anyway. I needed to know that it’s ok that I’ll never be ok with this loss.

Proof for middle-school girls that there is hope…you will not always look this awkward. I promise.

In some ways, all losses are the same – you grieve for what you can’t have. But in other ways, each loss is different. The loss of a parent triggers life-altering insecurity – Who will take care of me? Who will love me unconditionally? Who will show me how to do this thing called life? While the loss of a friend slaps us awake to our own mortality and robs us of one of the few relationships that isn’t dictated by birth or marrying into a family, but is instead chosen.

Losing my brother, though, has been much more like losing a part of myself, as if someone carved a giant chunk of flesh out of my side. My brother was mine and I was his. He was my equal, my side-by-side, my co-conspirator in the unique craziness that is our family and no one else’s.

Ryan, Derek & me (Only God can put a family like this together!)

Like most siblings, we shared a sort of secret language of eye-rolls and smirks and headshakes. 

And even though we weren’t always together, it’s as if he was somehow, in every moment, standing right next to me. I knew he was there, just a phone call or short drive or the next holiday away. Only now he’s not.

And I am that cat.

The day following Derek’s death, I told my mom, “Now every day is a day he gets further and further away from me.”

My friends were right. Life hasn’t gotten any easier. In many ways, it’s harder.

Because now it’s been two years since I’ve heard his laugh…
two years since I’ve looked into those seawater eyes…
two years since we’ve watched a ball game together…
two years since he’s cracked a joke and made me laugh until I cry…
two years since I’ve held his hand, since we’ve played Wheel of Fortune, since he’s smothered me in a bear hug, since I’ve told him I love him.

I miss him now more than ever.

And I am that stupid cat crying in the window.

A STILL SMALL VOICE
Eventually, Pink stopped calling for Sabrina. Did he grow tired of trying? Did his broken heart figure out that Sabrina wasn’t coming home? Did he simply forget?

I’ve thought about this a lot lately: How long will my broken heart search for the missing piece? How many times must I tell myself Derek’s really gone? Will I become accustomed to life without him? Do I want to?

I worry, as I walk into a future without Derek, that I’m losing him again, that he’s growing smaller and smaller out on the horizon’s edge, and as the light and dust and distance obscure my vision, I fear that soon, he will disappear altogether. In those moments, the black abyss rushes at me and the hollow wind steals my breath and the air thick with emptiness presses down and… will the losing never end?!

Lashed by storms of grief and not comforted, I am a city in ruins.

But lately, in the midst of those ruins, when the silence settles like clear, fresh air, there is something else…a still, small voice…a voice that whispers to my soul:

Every day, every day, every day that passes,
every day that Derek gets further away from you,
every day is one day you get closer to seeing him again.
So don’t worry little one,
for while you are weeping at the door,
your brother calls to you:
“I’m right here. Don’t worry about me.
I’m already home.
And I’ll be right here, waiting for you,
every day.”

I am that cat crying at the door. But my brother waits for me. I am a city in ruins. But I am being rebuilt. Every day.

I love you baby brother. More than words can say. 


p.s. I’m about 99% sure that the next time I see Derek he is going to rank on me mercilessly for comparing our relationships to my cats. “I am that cat, Nichole? Really? That’s the line you went with? (followed by his high-pitched giggle)” Obviously, he won’t be swearing because we’ll be in heaven and all.

© Nichole Q Perreault

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