You might have been wondering where I have been… I had been shifting my grief tools and ideas about grief education since losing Rhett and Beverly. Then the pandemic hit…
Today I got a call at 4 am PST from the New York City Covid Testing Response Team. They were looking for my brother Jacob and I was his listed contact. They have been trying to reach him for several days and would I be able to redirect them or get a message to him. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I said, “It would be impossible.”
“You don’t speak,” this lovely voice asked kindly. The grief crashed over me, and I felt my knees buckle. I hate this wound torn open again and again. I thought it’s been fifteen years since I identified he’s body in a morgue in NYC. But of course, Jacob would be the first one to test positive for COVID out of my five siblings. He was that sibling. Bigger than life… From my experiences of death I completely believe you die like you live. The images of watching him grow shuffled through my mind and stopped at him as a sweet toddler. Yes, I’ve done so much work to not hold the last image of his body. Grief standing beside me like an old friend drew out that hazy memory of walking through that maze and seeing my beautiful brother in his decay. He was found a couple of days after his death.
“Are you for real or a scammer?,” I said, “My brother died fifteen years ago in Brooklyn and all his stuff was stolen. So, if someone is using his identity it would be fraud. These several years I been doing everything I can to stop it.” Holding back the hot tears but the empathy I felt for the human on the other side of the phone filled me with compassion. I could hear she was gobsmacked. We softly exchanged human thoughtful words. I continued, “I hope after this call you are able to debrief with someone.” Before I hung up, I was on the floor sobbing uncontrollably. Can I even go to work today? Being in public is completely out of the question today.
My parents moved my four siblings to Oregon from New Jersey when Jacob was 10. Jacob was the youngest, a twin, and created dreams of being a contemporary dancer. Directly after the death of my father and the hard pushing of some friends to live his dream, he graduated college, and at 24 he moved to New York City, Brooklyn to be precise. He was good, really good as a dancer. He was funny, sweet, bullheaded, could be a bit of an asshole, maybe my mother’s favorite thu she wouldn’t admit it, and beloved to all of us.
12 years his senior, I grew up in New Jersey, went to school in Philly, and a creative myself, I told him bluntly I felt he should stay in the PNW, grieve, be around what he knew until he was better equipped to take on such a huge adventure. There is a grit that you need in the city, and you need your wits at 100%. He had it for sure and it needed a little more polish. At nineteen he was diagnosed with Diabetes 1 and at 24 he was hiding from us the fact that he didn’t have it under control and no matter how much I told him it was obvious, he denied it. The grief from our father was so tough and I felt to take on an adventure like that you had to have a good ground. My dad was the center of the family and kept us all close. I told Jacob I loved him and only wanted the best. He called fourth the bohemian artist revolution mantra from old and parroted what others had given him for advice. Grief is nothing and art is everything. Live today! I was holding him back and I didn’t understand what it was to be a true “artist.”
Less than a year later, my family and I made a wild journey to NYC to claim his body and bring him back to Oregon. I was finishing an art degree, I had achieved an incredible opportunity and scholarship to study art and live in Cortona, Italy. Not too bad for a first-generation college kid who couldn’t read. But mainly, I wanted to go to grieve my father and submerge myself in a new culture. Most of the Italians I meet knew inherently I was running on a broken heart, and they were thoughtful and kind.
My mother’s voice was broken that morning when she called to say she wanted me home to collect my brother. I can’t imagine she had lost her beloved husband the year before and now her youngest son less than a year apart. My brother was only 24. Before I left the United States, I called Jacob and said I’ll be visiting our family in New Jersey and wanted to see him especially since I might not be in direct contact for the next few months as this was the beginning of cell phones or facebook. He agreed and never showed up. I can only guess he was in bad shape and knew I might cancel my trip even though other family members said he was great. I knew him sick, and he knew it.
The phone call from the New York Covid Response team set me off on a quite a journey… Grief is about actionable tools for relief.
I'll be here when you are ready...