They say (and just who the hell are “they” anyway?) that the first year is the hardest. I keep waiting for this to be true, for it to get easier. Maybe no one dares tell the honest truth: that losing a loved one so unexpectedly, so needlessly, and so tragically never gets easier? I don’t know. I am still figuring it out.

All I can truthfully say is that September 9, 2009, marked the end of my carefully-constructed life. The walls of shelter I had built around my family – especially my boys – were instantly demolished, leaving no trace of the safety I believed they provided. After that day, I no longer understood anything. I didn’t view anything the same. Some things I became unable to appreciate, while other things that I had previously not noticed, I began to cherish. My days are still like this – full of the confusion and turmoil of what life means now that my brother is gone.

In some small ways, it does get easier. Rarely anymore is my first morning thought, “Jeff is gone.” I don’t cry during my morning showers anymore, or lock myself in the bathroom just for that purpose – in fact, I can’t remember the last time I did. I don’t feel that sense of impotent anger that I couldn’t stop his actions, and worse, that I wasn’t aware, didn’t notice, and/or missed the signs he was even considering such a drastic way to fix what he thought unfixable. I no longer hold myself responsible for not seeing what couldn’t, and wasn’t, seen by anyone, not even those closest to him.

The hard times come at unexpected moments, like when I am at the bedside of an elderly patient, dying due to incurable disease, for some reason being kept alive by every conceivable medical intervention. Usually I am involved with my team performing an intervention that will do nothing lifesaving or really even ease any suffering. I wonder if the patient truly is suffering, and if this moment in the future could have been foreseen, would choices have been made differently? Then I think of my brother – choice no longer applies to his mortality. And I think about the patient’s family; I re-experience how very painful it is to let go of someone you love, and whether or not I agree with their decisions to keep the patient alive. I empathize in my own way.

Other hard times come when I am with a newly-diagnosed cancer patients, in the prime of their lives, now with a disease that is quite possibly incurable – I sense their questions, sometimes before they even utter them, things like, “Will I see my son or daughter get married/have kids/graduate from college?” or “Will I be alive to see the birth of my next grandchild?” And questions like “What will be left of me as a functioning person after all the surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, etc….? Will the suffering be worth it?” To all of these questions, I do my best not to answer, as I simply don’t know. I try not to say much, if at all, and instead offer a hand to hold and a listening ear. I don’t want to influence other people’s personal dramas with my own loss. After such encounters I feel the whole cycle of emotions of losing Jeff again, from denial, to anger, to bargaining, to sadness, and to a sort of acceptance –  not necessarily in that order.

Do I still have times when I burst into tears because of a song on the radio? Or when my youngest child brings me a book to read that Jeff and his lovely wife bought for him? When my oldest son says, “Remember when Jeff and I would have sleepovers, play video games, and eat Oreos?”….or at any of the thousand other Remember When’s he has about his uncle? Yes!! Absolutely yes!! And sometimes, for no discernible reason at all – I simply miss him so acutely that I feel a physical ache. I don’t expect that to ever go away.

At the same time, I want my boys to know what a kind, giving, loving person their uncle was. I want them to know what a fantastic sense of humor he had, and how he had a way of charming even the most cantankerous person. The way he was a fantastic dresser, had impeccable taste, and was generous almost to a fault. Those were some of his many gifts. The world is definitely poorer without him and his light. And that is the saddest part of all – not that I miss him, or that my boys miss him, but for all the people who now won’t have a chance to meet him and be touched by what made him someone we all loved so much.

I love you Jeff! My boys love you!! We miss you more than words can say, but I know we were blessed to know you for the time you were here! Thank you for your love, for making us laugh, for having the grossest feet of anyone in our family, for being most comfortable making us all uncomfortable, and for always being there with a big, reassuring hug. On some of my worst days, especially lately, I remember those hugs, and imagine your big, strong arms are still hugging me from wherever you are. Then I feel a little better, and I remember just how much strength you have given me through the years to keep on going. So I do.

I love you, my “little” brother!