Does Grief Have a Timeline?

This morning as I was backing my car out of the driveway a song was just starting on the radio. It was a song that reminded me of Justin because he had said something about it once. “I almost stopped believin’ once, and I bet Journey was pissed!” So I smiled, laughed at the memory of how funny my brother was, and .02 seconds later I was full on ugly crying. I cried through the entire song, up the hill, through the stop lights and into a new town, until it ended. I hadn’t had a long cry like that over Justin in quite a while.

So I started thinking, it’s been over a year and the missing him waves can be just as strong as it was the moment he was no longer in this world.

A friend’s dad recently died and he describes the void in the world as a hole he lives with where his dad used to be. I saw an author say those feelings are the cost of loving deeply, and I think that’s true too. If there wasn’t such great love there, there wouldn’t be such great pain and grief without them.

Facebook memories reminded me this morning that a year ago, a friend posted a picture on my page of an hourglass that said, “There is no timeline with grief, take all the time you need.” I like that. I don’t know if I’ll ever be “done” grieving and I definitely don’t think grief is something to “get over” or “move on” from.

But I like the language about moving forward, in spite of the grief, continuing to live around this hole where our person used to be, acknowledging their life and the sadness of their absence for as long as we need to.

Even if it’s as long as we live.



Sharing stories

A few weeks after Justin died, a friend kept reaching out until we had a date on the calendar to meet for lunch. Andy came too, so the three of us sat down to catch up. I don’t remember much of what we talked about, but I do remember this. My friend said, “Tell me your favorite story about your brother.”  My mind went blank, “My favorite!?” She rescued me a moment later, “Okay, not your favorite, just any story.”

I thought for a minute. “You know how Junior High boys go through a stage where they realize that girls like cologne?” She immediately started nodding and laughing. I said, “Justin was no exception to this…and it was the mid-nineties, so do you remember Cool Water?” This led to a tangent about Cool Water cologne samples in teen magazines and lots more laughter.

Justin also had a cologne by Tommy Hilfiger called Tommy Boy (I’m pretty sure the cologne came before the movie). Most teenage boys often think “more is better.” Examples: Axe body spray, Old Spice, etc. Justin took to wearing both colognes at once, if for no other reason so that when girls asked him what he was wearing he could honestly answer, “Cool Boy.”

He never lacked for confidence.

It took me months to realize the gift my friend gave me by asking me to talk about Justin. She had never met him but had heard me share stories over the years. I don’t think she was asking to be polite, or because she thought it was the right thing to do. I think my friend could see that I was broken over the loss of my brother and she wanted me to know she cared.

I’m so glad she asked.

Just start

My brother, Justin was born in 1982. I was 16 months old the day he came into this world. We are the only kids of our Mom and Dad. I don’t remember life without him until it happened, 33 years later. I was with him and his wife when he took his last breath. It was the first death in my immediate family.

During Justin’s twenty month fight with Germ Cell cancer (little c on purpose because I hate that word) I came across an article about siblings. It said the sibling relationship is the longest one we’ll ever have. Initially I felt so wronged when he died. I read stats; people Justin’s age have a less than 2% chance of dying. I struggled with accepting and reconciling his death. I guess it was the beginning of the messy work of grief.

My grief is still in process. However, I’m choosing to heal and move forward. Sometimes it’s a step forward and several back. Sometimes it’s a slump and I stay there for a while. And sometimes the step forward is so small I don’t see it until I look back. Everyone grieves differently.

This is my story of choosing life through grief.