None of us came here to stay. But all of us hope for more life than we are likely to get. One of my brothers died on November 11, and I’ve been thinking through the difficult work of grief since then.
We weren’t close. We were estranged. That did not make his death something to shrug off. I was told of his death just as I was ordering the workbooks for a class I had booked six months before. Should I cancel the class? Should I mention my brother to my client? After grappling with solutions, I realized my client might feel obligated to postpone the class. But there were two days of class and almost 60 people signed up for it. I went. I taught the class. And afterwards, having changed my flight for approximately the cost of a one-way flight to London, I flew to his funeral.
His daughter organized and planned. She took care of him in his last years when he needed care and hated it. She was a trouper when it came time to balancing work and care.
At the funeral, I cried. For not having the brother I wanted. For his unabashed cruelty to me when we were younger. For not knowing how to get over the past when we were adults. We were so different, I sometimes thought we came from different parents. My strongest memory of him is fearing him as a child.
During his last visit, I told him that I loved how he was loyal and loving to his wife. I told him I knew he was my mom’s favorite and it was fine with me. I thought it would change our relationship, but it did not. Resentment, it turns out, is a two-way street, and sometimes, without roadwork, the road leads into the dark and not back.
It’s hard to know how to grieve. There is no relief in his death. His wife died seven years ago and he missed her greatly. He has great children and grandkids whom he loved. He was popular in the community. We just saw things differently. We supported different political parties, were of different religions, had different opinions on gun control, immigration, what happens after we die, and caring for the poor, sick and disabled. However, we both loved my husband’s cappuccinos.
There is still grief. It can’t be whitewashed or pushed away with closure, which doesn’t really exist. There is no “reason” and no divine plan in all of this. Some events can’t be changed, some feelings can’t be healed. I am, strangely, at peace with that. Death is a way of making us see the world differently.
Why am I writing this on Thanksgiving? Because I met his son, my nephew, who is a funny, wonderful adult with whom, it turns out, I had a lot in common. The circle may not have been able to close in my generation, but it may in the next.
I am grateful I went to the funeral. Grateful to have come through the cycle of seasons to this point again. I do not have to understand everything at once nor explain myself. I said nothing to the people who said, “Well, you weren’t close, anyway.” Nothing to those who said, “God had a purpose for this, there is a reason for everything.” I am grateful for those who sent condolences, for those who said, “I’m sorry this is a hard time for you.” Not much else has to be said.
Gratitude is not a promise of happiness, but I can feel deep gratitude on this day of Thanksgiving for being able to walk through grief, become a different person, and see the world with new eyes.
—Quinn McDonald knows that no one cheats death. Not for long. But there is clarity in knowing what you feel and owning it.