This has been a summer of loss. Another member of our family passed away yesterday – a woman who I grew fond of and who–interestingly–grew closer to our family by reading this blog. She used to comment here regularly up until recently when she became ill and would email wondering if I was ok when I didn’t post everyday. After it was clear that she wasn’t up to traveling to Washington this summer as she did every summer where we’d meet, we talked about meeting up in Hawaii instead next summer where she lived. I thought about her yesterday when I read that Hawaii was bracing itself for 2 hurricanes, but I didn’t expect this bit of news quite yet. Marie, I’m sorry that we won’t have a chance to meet up next summer as we talked about in our emails.
My side of the family had been spared the devastation of loss up until my brother died. In that respect we’ve been fortunate, but I think it’s also why my brother’s death was so profound. Everyone felt the shock of it during our memorial at the cemetery when our whole entire family gathered for our first funeral. We have a family plot reserved for several members of our family, but nobody expected that the first name to be etched on a grave would be one of the youngest, or that our 92 year old grandmother would survive her grandchild.
In a lot of ways the last 2 weeks have been harder than the 2 months following the initial shock. That’s why I embraced office life this summer even though the idea of working in one would have been a deal breaker for me in the past. I don’t really think about things other than the work when I’m there, but when I’m home, I often find myself just staring into space. I know my mom feels the same way. Certain days just catch you off guard though, and I found myself crying on the subway Monday morning on the way to the doctor’s office rather randomly. But…I thought I was starting to move past all this? But no. When you live through a tragic and traumatic death, there really is no easy way to move past anything.
A friend of mine recently asked me if I felt like an only child now. My answer was yes, I do.
Posted by Jenna | 42 Comments
The thing about grief is that eventually everyone moves on, but those who are hit the hardest stay suspended in time, frozen, unable to move. The strangest form of loneliness is felt when you’re out of sync like this with the rest of the world. I listen to music a lot. Sometimes I stare at nothing because I feel nothing and other times I feel too much. But most of the time I don’t know what to feel.
I spent 6 days in California last week, a trip that was often confusing, but necessary. Sometimes with siblings it’s easier to remember how we were as children when we were still living under the same roof than to think of ourselves as adults when years of physical distance separates us. I know that he didn’t consider California his home–his heart was always here in NY–but what I came to know about my brother was that he was loved by his community. Our family always knew my brother was smart, but I don’t think we really ever realized how brilliant he was and that was something that came up time and again as we talked with his friends and colleagues. He was a dedicated professional, respected in his field of veterinary medicine, only 1 of a few hundred board certified critical care specialists in the world. More than that, however, it was clear from the crying faces of some of his clients that he made a difference in people’s lives.
I don’t believe that there is really ever any closure. You sort of just learn to go about your life with this new thread that’s knit into your being. I only hope that I too can someday make a difference in people’s lives the way my brother did in his.
P.S. thank you for all your words. I will always carry them with me.
Posted by Jenna | 21 Comments
You’ve been gone now for a week. When I got the news at first, I didn’t feel anything. I couldn’t cry and I kept asking myself, why am I not crying? Maybe because I had been preparing myself all day for…what, I wasn’t sure, but I knew something was wrong. They say that twins have a powerful connection and know things about each other, like some kind of empathic telepathy. Well, we’re not twins–I’m your older sister by 6 years, but I knew something was not right. I keep thinking about how I called you on your birthday last Monday while we were driving to have dinner with mom and dad and the girls sang happy birthday to you on speaker phone from the back seat. Did you ever hear that message? That message we left you haunts me. You didn’t pick up the phone. I was on pins and needles all day Tuesday when I still hadn’t heard from you.
All last week people were paying their respects and posting public tributes to Massimo Vignelli and Maya Angelou and it felt weird because I kept seeing all these RIP posts and messages everywhere on the internet while I was in my own private grief state. Dad told me that he had to put away all photos of you from the house that night because he couldn’t bear seeing pictures of you right now. I understand why he did it, but it felt like we were scrubbing you from our memories. Maybe this is why I’m writing this letter and posting it here…for who to read? I don’t know, but I felt like I needed to do something so that your life–and death–was acknowledged.
I still keep replaying that night over and over, having to call mom to tell her that you were gone. How do you break that kind of news to a mother? The morning after, I ushered the kids downstairs to our neighbor’s house to be walked to school and I haven’t really left the house much since then. I’ve cried, looked at old photos of us when we were kids, retraced through our last texts and phone calls, and thought about what your last day might have been like. We had only spoken to each other 2 days before.
We really miss you, but I hope you are at peace now. This is the only thing that comforts me. That and thinking about some of our childhood memories. Remember how we were both super obsessed with watching the weather forecasts on the news? Or how we watched the movie Aliens a billion times and memorized all the lines to Spinal Tap? How you, me and cousin Jeanie felt some weird guilt about not going to church when we were left in the house while mom and grandma went, so we conducted our own “church service” just to make sure we didn’t go to hell? I think about the suspenders that mom used to make you wear or your favorite orange wooden block; how you were obsessed with the Dukes of Hazzard and how we used to threaten you with “No Dukes!” when you didn’t do what we wanted. It feels weird to think that I might be an only child now. What does that even mean? I still have a brother; you’re just not with us anymore, the same way that mom and dad still have a son and your kids still have a father. I hope you know that a lot of people are missing you right now. You were loved. You ARE loved.
Posted by Jenna | 161 Comments
Can never underestimate the importance of travel, even if it’s just a 4 hour drive away. Sometimes you need to break away from your life to gain perspective on some decisions you’ve been wavering on. I’m always eager to see something new. Time spent with family is good too. As my cousins and I got older, our big extended family stopped getting together for various reasons that our parents never shared. Sometimes years went by. It takes effort to stay in touch, but when it happens you realize how important family can be, especially now that a younger generation is involved. The kids really do love to spend time with extended family. It’s often not “what are we doing” that gets asked at holidays, but “who are we spending it with?”
I also met a long time online friend for the first time this trip. I feel like I haven’t been doing this as much as I have in the past, maybe because I think there was a period of time when I was closing in, but sometimes these meetings just feel right, like picking up a conversation where you had left off in emails, but in person. My friend and I walked around Boston for miles and miles. She showed me some of her favorite streets including Commonwealth Avenue which reminded me of a prettier Eastern Parkway here in Brooklyn. The magnolias were in peak bloom all along the avenue and it felt good to be moving, talking, and enjoying the milder weather and sunshine.
I recently made a set of decisions that I’m unsure of. I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I coast solely on my gut and not on careful examination of the pros and cons. Well, let me back up because I think you all know I tend to overthink things. In the end though, even after endless deliberation, I go with my gut. I’m waiting to see if they were the right choices. It can be nerve-wracking.
Posted by Jenna | 3 Comments
I remember being 10, do you? It’s when memories start to have real traction and you can recount the details that make distant memories still alive.
I turned 10 the year we entered a new decade, the 80s. Life then was all about living on rollerskates every free minute that I wasn’t in school, skating around in circles in my basement to Donna Summer, Blondie and the Jackson Five.
I begged my mom for Jordache and Sasson jeans, Nike sneaks tricked out with the fattest color laces you can find and knee high tube socks with 3 stripes, not two. I also wore a lot of feathers, brightly colored and on clips that we attached to our hair. They were actually roach clips, but I didn’t know that at the time. Another must-have accessory was the braided satin headband in all sorts of colors. Depending on my mood, I would wear them on my head or hang 2 around my neck as necklaces.
I was obsessed with Different Strokes and the Facts of Life, but my favorite TV show hands down was What’s Happening. I thought Duane falling down on his skateboard during opening credits was the funniest thing ever. I had a little crush on Duane; I really liked his afro.
When Solid Gold came on in the Fall, I became obsessed with that too and watched it along with Soul Train and American Bandstand. I didn’t want to be one of the Solid Gold dancers, but I was mesmerized by them at least until we started mocking them as we grew into snotty teenagers. In my basement, I would choreograph dance numbers to “Fame” by Irene Cara.
My favorite songs of 1980 were “Upside Down” by Diana Ross and “Rock with You” by Michael Jackson. Then I heard “Heartbreaker” by Pat Benatar and that kind of blew my mind.
In 1980 I played with Weebles (they don’t fall down!) and Ker-bangers (also known as Clackers). I can’t tell you how many times I would hit and bruise my arm on that thing, even hitting myself in the eye a few times. Maybe that’s why they were banned in the mid 80s, or maybe I was just a super uncoordinated and clumsy kid. I kind of hated that toy, but I played with it anyway. I didn’t have any Barbie dolls except for a collectible Cher doll whose butt-long hair I chopped off at some point, but I did have Color n Curl Candi, you know, the toy where you can style hair and apply makeup on a creepy doll head. What I really wanted for years and years was the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine and the Easy Bake Oven, but I never got either of those toys.
In 4th grade, I was obsessed with making dioramas for book reports and became somewhat competitive about them at school. I had to make the best diorama, each one more elaborate than the one before, topping all other dioramas in the classroom. What a brat. There was a fair amount of bullying in school when I was 10, and I joined in with most of the other girls in the class picking on some of the girls that the mean girls singled out. I was still sort of newish to my neighborhood and I wanted to fit in. The previous year, I was the one who got picked on, primarily by a girl named April who would follow me home from school, taunting me the whole way home.
When I was 10, my best friends were Cecilia (but she was really kind of a frenemy) and a girl named Giselle. But I really wanted to be friends with a tomboy named Irene. She had the best tube socks and cut off jean shorts and rode the skateboard as well as any boy in the neighborhood. She didn’t really hang with any one crowd; she was way too cool for that.
In 4th grade we would make each other friendship pins which were tiny colored beads that you would bead onto tiny safety pins. You’d then collect those and hang them from bigger safety pins and wear it on your shirt or attach it to your bookbag (cross shoulder, of course. We didn’t wear backpacks in the 80s). The more pins you had, the more popular you were. We would also obsessively make braided ribbon barrettes in as many color combos that we could think of so that we could match every outfit. My favorite combo was green and purple.
When I was 10 I was still obsessed with unicorns and had a velvet black light unicorn poster up in my room. It hung there for years until I took it down and replaced it with band posters, probably Duran Duran and Def Leppard.
I have a 10 year old in the house now. I’m thinking back to all my 10 year old memories because I want to remember what it was like and to have some sort of window on what it feels like to be that age so I can understand her world better. Still a kid, but somehow different, older, definitely testing the boundaries of adolescence.
Is being 10 in 2014 so much different than 1980? Yeah, maybe. We were explaining to the kids what life before the internet was like, how we had to search in our Encyclopedia volumes (I had Funk & Wagnalls) to do book reports or actually leave our house and go to the library if we needed to look up something. NYC is also worlds apart from when I was a 10 year old. But trade in the friendship pins for Kid Robot Yummy keychains (kids are obsessed) and feather roach clips for Rainbow loom bracelets, and being 10 is still being 10.
I remember being 10. Life was still uncomplicated, but the world was certainly getting bigger.
Happy 10th birthday, kid.
Posted by Jenna | 17 Comments