I had to count them, on my fingers, so many that I had trouble properly keeping track. Two times though and the number was the same, 27. Quite a large sum when it notates the years of missing a person so much that it never stops being hard to breathe. Who would have known that loss is that way, even after twenty seven years?
How can that be? How can you miss someone twice as long as you even knew them? My brother and only sibling gone after one very sick year. He was nearly twenty and I was just fifteen. My earliest memories of him are from when I maybe three or so and as I watch my oldest spin my youngest round and round, I wonder, did Adam to do that with me? Did I squeal in delight and overflow with rapturous giggles as my Amos does?
The deep longing beneath the surface tells me that he must have. My mother remembers the big brother who slept beneath the little girl's crib on the night she arrived home from the hospital. Though I have no recollection of the blond four year old standing guard while I slept, I do remember him holding court when he alone took me to visit what would be my boarding school. Certainly those two people were a perfect combination of one.
I remember every Christmas tradition and yet those years have now melted into a pot of warmth that stirs tears to rise as easily as the sun comes out after a hard summer rain. To remember is to be filled with joy, to be struck with terrible loss, to allow the feelings of such a grand love to wash over you. An idyllic childhood and yet, our last Christmas was not taken from the pages of a storybook, nor did it have a happy ending.
I wish life was neat and tidy like the dreams we have, but most of us have learned it is not. Life is real rather than a fairytale and wishes are not always granted, even from little sisters that beg and plead to God. Anything, Lord, I said in the recesses of my mind as my heart screamed no, again and again. Please, no. Please, not Adam.
On that last Christmas there was no sitting at the top of the stairs waiting for teasing parents to check and see if Santa had come. Just a year earlier there had been an excited boy, followed by an equally jubilant younger sister, who discovered he had gotten a car after all. A year later there was was no party, a long time Christmas tradition in the Harrold house. Those things that seemed to have no end, were gone and over in the quick blink of an eye.
On that last Christmas, we stayed in a small hotel room, the three of us. Adam was just down the road a bit, in his intensive care room, restless and asleep. Choices were not about gifts or gadgets that year, but life support and parents lost in knowing what to do or where to go. Mom got a robe, the last gift Adam ever picked out for her, white terry cloth, worn still, as I imagine she feels his arms around her. I got some skis, though there was never another family ski trip. How I cried when they were stolen on a trip with friends to Telluride. How could the thief have known they were the last bit of tangible love from a brother lost?
Christmas, for so many of us, is a time of desperate longing and remembering. To do so, means to let your heart bleed a bit. For so long, I just kept using bandaids and I wish I had known that healing doesn't happen that way. The missing and longing never goes away though the ache of pain dulls a bit and the joy has come again. It's hard fought though and to choose it must mean you offer up your heart to be broken again. That for me was the scariest part of joy, better safe than sorry was the philosophy that dictated my life, though I didn't know it at the time.
This picture sparked my story and not even a very good story, but a too long soliloquy of truth that perhaps will speak to one person that longs to hear they are not alone this Christmas. Life can be so wonderful and so very terrible all at the same time and knowing that is the secret. This photo is the last one of my family when we were four, the last picture ever taken of a family before their golden boy was lost. I see hope on my brother's face and on my own, I see a girl sick with worry over her brother. He chose joy though, even then, he chose joy.