There was a time I would get mad about people having fun on Memorial weekend. I resented the fact that they were out having fun! I mean it is the holiday to remember those that have died so that others may live. Why are they out having fun instead of standing in cemeteries crying? Don’t they know?
I think they don’t know, yet they do at the same time.
Let me explain my perspective. The worst thing I can do is stop living because others have died. Especially if others have died with the belief that they did it to protect my way of life. How dishonorable would it be if I “passed away” along with them?
Choosing to die along with those that have, does not serve either of us.
When I was a little boy of single digits in age, I saw the worse thing imaginable.
Travel: At the time I was not aware of how significant two road trips were to my life. The two road trips I am referring to are a move from Plattsburg NY to Anchorage Ak. A great distance. And a return trip four and half years later, Anchorage, AK to Palmyra, NY.
My entire family was contained in a giant dark blue station wagon. The kind that now looks like a land yacht or alien space vehicle. The only part of that entire journey I remember was waking up one day in the middle of a snow field; my mom had lost control of the giant station wagon due to the snowy road conditions and we ended up about 30 yards into a field full of several feet of snow. The vehicles being what they were back then (solid tank like entities), the only damage was to the exhaust system of the station wagon.
I remember my sister and I waiting in a running motorhome while the adults got the station wagon back on the road. In those days, especially in the great white north (snow, not the color of people you snots) many people would stop and help each other out! For some reason, my older brother was in another vehicle for warmth. I hope he was more successful that we were because I remember how frozen my feet felt!
The thing my sister most remembers about that incident is how I got car sick later from the exhaust fumes coming into the vehicle and puked on a sleeping bag. I bet you to this day, if the identical sleeping bags we traveled with were laid out in front of us, she would know which one I had thrown up on. Uncanny ability to identify she has.
Four and a half years later, we made the return journey from Alaska back across Canada to the lower 48, this time in a different station wagon, driven by a different dad.
You see while stationed in Alaska our family experienced what many families experience, tragedy. Lucky me, I got to watch it.
I know you may be thinking that something happened to my biological father, but that is not true. While my older brother and I were out riding near identical bicycles one day, my brother was hit by a contractor looking for a house number. The image of the bicycle and my brother rolling around the rear truck tire is an image I will never forget. It is also one of the oldest memories I have. The trauma having blocked just about ever memory before that.
The death of my seven and a half-year-old brother, my elder by a year and a half, affected me deeply. My parents too, in fact, it is what ended their marriage. I can only image what the loss of a son will do to someone, and I hope I never have to find out.
The death of my older brother, my protector, playmate, and co-conspirator is something I did experience. I will also never forget how just minutes before I had negotiated with him to switch bikes with me. You see, our bikes, although near identical, were not. His had a cool BMX type seat, and mine was a cheesier banana seat. That was the only difference between the two.
I coveted his so much that I talked him out of it that day, and was smiling with joy and victory when I watched him ride in front of me, per usual, but riding my bike.
The next few memories are contained in a few images. I already told you the first traumatic image. The second is a still picture in my mind of me bursting into the bathroom after running home, and seeing mom and my sister playing with hair curlers, one of her running down the street in a bathrobe and curlers, and finally an image of the driver of the truck sitting on the curb bent over so far his hands were on his back…and that is it.
For a long time, I died.
Some time ago, some 30 years after the incident, I finally came back to life.
Now, at 44, I am living the life I always wanted. I am doing my brother’s memory justice by living the life that feels congruent to me. The life of a creative, the entrepreneur, the life of someone who has freed themselves from the deaths of the past and is honoring the memories of those that have died by living my life to its fullest. Survivor’s guilt is a mother fucker.
Survivor’s guilt is a mother fucker; I’ve worked through it a few times now. Besides my brother’s death, I’ve moved on from the deaths of friends, fellow Marines, and strangers whose deaths I had the misfortune of witnessing. I have accepted the worst thing I can do is die along with all those people by living in guilt and shame. Not living is a disservice and is dishonoring to those that have passed. Think about it. If you have died and are checking in on an old friend, family member, military buddy, etc. Would you like to see them miserable, lost in a drug habit or deep in depression, or would you rather see them eating a second round of BBQ, playing catch with their son, and smiling?
Don’t wait to live. Live. Now.
I am surprised that this blog ended up being about my brother, not the military personnel I knew that died, or about veteran friends of mine that also deal with survivors guilt. (Or something along those lines.)
Regardless, here’s to an awesome Memorial Weekend full of BBQ’s, fun, and living.
It is worth repeating:
Don’t wait to live. Live. Now.