While I meant to meet with you for coffee on a monthly or bi-monthly basis, I found that these last few months were particularly hard to share. As someone who never minces words, I’ll get right to it -- my younger brother died by suicide, and adjusting to his loss comes with far more than I could have anticipated.
Today we're talking about:
Heavy stuff right? So let's dive right in.
Coping with Loss
On one hand, there are logistical realities of losing a younger brother. I am a middle child, so losing a sibling on either side feels like losing an arm. I am now the last of the family to have experiences of a certain age.
Kevin was also ‘my person’ when it came to all things family-related. Rolling our eyes at the relentless group texts during holidays, moving out of state and across the country, living abroad, and wanting to experience as much of the world as possible were all things we shared together. The rest of my family has opposite priorities and values, and while we respect them all, we found strength in our commonalities.
Grief in American Culture
Either I experience grief differently, or American culture as it stands does not respect the gravity of a significant loss. Within two weeks, my spouse was expected to be high-functioning at work, I was expected to regularly answer texts and phone calls and fill people in on ‘what’s going on’. Except that in a sense, neither one of us could. So we didn’t.
Here’s what that looks like:
- My partner received multiple lectures from his boss on ‘compartmentalization’.
- I took myself almost entirely out of the VGF sphere. I made recipes, posted them, and as my inbox filled with “how are you?” messages, I sent out baguettes and soups.
- To this day, I still have not answered 95% of the messages I received. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that in a sense I am not okay, but at the same time you don’t need to worry about me, and on top of that my worldview has changed so significantly that I don’t even know how I would answer that anymore (confusing, I know). How does one explain that complex idea over and over again in social media style short messages or a short form email?
- Just over three months later, I still have days when getting out of bed feels like climbing a mountain. And then the next day I’m up in a flash and ready to get to work. Sometimes they’re predictable, and sometimes they are not.
Fortunately, working from home and for myself have allowed for flexibility to focus on my healing. My partner, on the other hand, has taken no less than 6 vacation days and 3 sick days when the weight of everything is just too much.
For any non-Americans reading this, that means he will receive less than a week of ‘real’ vacation time this year and needs to use vacation days when he is sick. The system is not built for grieving. And when there are fail-safes in the system, they are only for immediate family members like me, and not for the heavily affected ‘fringe’ people like my spouse.
Family Fall Out
Almost immediately after the loss, someone wise mentioned that families often fall apart after a death by suicide. They were sorry for the loss of my brother and for all the loss I was about to experience. I had no idea how right they were at that moment.
Since April 1, my parents, divorced but happily coupled with other partners, have taken significant separation from their spouses. My older brother and his spouse appear to be broken beyond repair.
Grief affects everyone differently and can cause people to act wildly different from their usual selves. Some of us retreated, some of us lashed out, and if I’m not the only one, then others are also watching the world progress like a movie -- from the outside and not in it.
As I slowly re-enter the movie that is my life, I understand more how this experience will color my entire worldview, whether looking back, staying in the present, or looking forward.
I read an article where they compare our lives to a bucket of white paint, and each experience has a shade to it. A death like this adds a giant scoop of red paint that can’t be removed. It can be diluted, but it will always be there. We see our entire lives, past, present and future, through the lens of this color. And I attribute this to many of the wildly unpredictable behaviors of those affected.
When our worldview is taken over by an unfamiliar color, we either dilute it as fast as possible with perceived positive feel-good experiences or we sit stunned. The former can explain partying and drug addictions. The latter describes me, who sits on the windowsill like a stunned bird. I watch the same movie I’ve seen over and over, but to me it is a different movie with a new theme and details I’ve never noticed before. A friend laughs over something we’ve always agreed on, but for some reason it is no longer funny and someone inside of me (who I’ve only just met) has an entirely different opinion.
I expect it will take some time to adjust to this new version of myself.
Good things happened too
And because all things are more complicated than ‘all bad’ or ‘all good’, there have been significant joys over the past three months too. It’s so sharply different from my previous described reality that it feels like I’m living two lives at once.
Things that have been awesome:
- I started freelancing as a recipe developer and food photographer for Mashed.com. It’s been a great way to expand skills I use on the blog everyday, and get brand recognition and professional credibility.
- I (finally) got my COVID vaccine! In Washington, I wasn’t eligible until mid April, which means the vaccine was in full effect by the end of May. I’ve finally been enjoying my Seattle favorites.
- VGF is getting more search engine recognition. This blog has always been a creative and therapeutic outlet; therefore I spent a lot of time focused on it recently. In January, I lost over 70% of my blog traffic after Pinterest mistakenly flagged me as a spam account. While that never fully recovered, we are now getting record monthly views thanks to you as a reader, a lot of hard work on my part, and help from my spouse.
After leaving full-time van life in January, our plan was always to get COVID shots in Seattle, wait out the third wave of the pandemic, and be back on the road by July. However, with the circumstances, a lot has changed. Mostly my certainty on anything. I am pretty sure this new person will still love van life and can weather the storms (sometimes literally) of digital nomading. But I’m just not sure.
So while I slowly revive my characteristic fearlessness, we’re sorting through the last of the storage unit boxes, taking the van for short trips, and finishing some oven-required recipes like these Easy Baked Salmon Cakes.
I hope to leave very soon. But I am giving myself grace and patience to step into my new, quieter power.
Thank you for being here. I’m sending much love and gratitude your way.
Since I've been totally out of the loop -- fill me in on you! How's your summer going?
And if no one has told you lately, you are enough, you are doing enough, and you are doing a great job.