Any date of the year on which your only sibling dies is probably surreal, but from personal experience I can say that the fourth of July is especially off-putting.
Brandon was born on August 6, 1986—he loved reciting the bounce of eight six eighty-six—and he died on July 4, 2016. Thirty-three days before his thirtieth birthday. Three days after my thirty-third birthday, where he missed a sweaty upstairs karaoke night. There are photos of me from that party looking as radiant and happy as I felt, singing Robert Palmer with our dad. Life changes in the instant, as Joan Didion wrote.
Every year as July 4 and August 6 creep closer, my body remembers.
These days, almost on us now, are a stacked deck for mortality and wonder and bone-aching sadness.
I’m so grateful that life continues. I’m so angry that life continues.
I can never predict what I’ll want or need on those dates. I’ve hidden at home. I’ve lit sparklers at Mom and Dad’s. I’ve flown to Europe with Larry. I’ve driven to an Airbnb 90 minutes away, all alone. None of it has felt exactly right, and none of it ever will.
There’s only one thing I wake up longing for, on July 4 and on August 6.
I am desperate for people to realize that it’s happening.
I reach for my phone and pray to god that my friends have texted. I begin in the still-dark morning, telling myself it’s okay because it’s too early. I try to sleep. When I get out of bed, I set my phone aside, telling myself that I won’t check it for an hour.
It’s iconic Midwest summer, made muggier by crops growing tall in the fields. Out of office season, or a nondescript day at an over-air-conditioned desk. Lists of tasks, or a languishing day in the overgrown yard. Life is happening, thank god, and goddamn it.
When your loved ones lose someone, put their birthday and death date in your calendar. Include the year they were born and the year they died.
However you remember dates, acknowledge these.
If you’ve never done this before, it’s never too late to start. If you don’t know what to say, join the club. Nobody does, and it doesn’t matter. Just remember.
If you knew the person they lost, say what you remember about them. Use their name. Send a photo. And if you didn’t, just acknowledge the date. Tell your person you’re thinking of them. Tell them they don’t have to respond. Give whatever you have. They are desperate to take.
I don’t expect to ever find the “right” plans for these days. Nothing will be enough. But I can imagine the loneliness of grief buffered by love. The sadness of losing Brandon lightened by the gratefulness of having known him. By knowing he was loved, and is still, by those who love me. Knowing they’ll remember him too. And at the very least, which is so much more than nothing, knowing I’m not alone.
If you want to text me on July 4 or August 6, email me (lindseymarkel at hey dot com) (or reply to this if you’re reading it in your email) and I’ll give you my number.
It’s not weird.
If you have dates you’d like me to remember, reply to this and give me your number.
It’s not weird.