Anyone who has lost someone close to them knows what I mean when I say there’s a hole in my heart that won’t ever be filled. At least not on this earth.
My brother Greg’s absence is an abyss not only within me, but also in the family landscape. It is always there, but at times it seems more dangerous or delicate to walk around it, like at birthday times, or on the anniversary of his accident, and at other significant events. Even apparently non-significant events can make me aware of it too. Like the other day when a hairdresser asked me in the course of our casual chit-chat about my siblings.
I never know how to answer such questions, and to be honest I don’t have a particular pattern or policy I go by. I’m a fairly open person so often I will just tell the truth. I have a brother and sister overseas in Holland, I begin, and then…. ‘I had a brother here, but …..’ Depending on the context into which the comment falls, it can often sound so empty and mute that I wish I hadn’t said it. Or that I could at least follow the comment up with something more, because there is so much more to tell than just that he left us.
I want to say: “I had a brother, but he died in a car accident. But he lived. Oh how he lived. And he loved. He lived and loved in a million different ways, some I will never even know.”
I want to talk about how Greg prized authenticity above all else, and would prefer the messy truth over the neat distortion.
I want to talk about how he listened, really listened, even to the wayward, leaning heart of a younger sibling with a long way to go and grow.
I want to talk about how even as a young teen he had the wisdom of an elder.
I want to talk about how Greg loved helping people, and how he would always have someone else on his mind.
I want to talk about how as serious and scholarly as he was he could also laugh so hard he would fall off a chair watching the Simpsons
I want to talk about how being Greg’s sister made me proud, and hardly ever jealous.
I want to talk about how he encouraged my love of writing, and how he treated my raw efforts like they were worth something. And that even now when I write I do so thinking of his eyes reading it.
I want to talk about how he wasn’t perfect, but he was redeemed. And how he dived headfirst into the freedom he had been given in that redemption.
I want to talk about how he first led me to Christ, with his actions, even more than his words.
But even if I said all this, I sense I’d still feel like I’d fallen short of all I wanted to convey. As a student of literature and lover of words, I hate to admit it, but words have limitations. They are only ever signifiers. They can’t replace the thing they are trying to represent.
My perspective is limited too. My Greg-sized hole may bear similarities and likenesses to the holes he left in other people’s hearts, but in the end it’s only mine I can vouch for. Ask my mum, my dad, his friends, they may tell it differently. I can only tell you what I saw, from my perspective, as a family member, and, I hope, a friend. As his sister.
When you lose someone, you lose a part of yourself. It’s a cliche. But it’s true. But what I want to say here is that just because you lose that person, doesn’t mean you lose everything. The role they played in your life, the contribution they made to who you are today, still remain. As does your memory, your history together. Any narrative of my life that doesn’t acknowledge Greg’s presence is incomplete.
True. His passing left a hole, a fissure, an earthquake-like rupture that still makes my sense of the world ripple at times. But his living gave me so so much that I can only be thankful for.
Most of all I was privileged, for a short time, to see the world through his eyes. Eyes of wisdom, grace, humour, compassion. As much as I carry the hole of his absence, I carry also, I like to think, the memory of his presence, into the present. Remembering Greg’s gaze helps me see clearer. And better.
So, let me tell you about my brother Greg….
© All photos in this post by Rob Viuya. You can follow Rob on Instagram at @rr_v