My little brother died two years ago this Monday, April 17.
There is still a sting even in the typing of that sentence - just as there is in the reading of it.
I've spent the better part of the last two years living with Jimmy's death and my own grief, to say nothing of the collective grief of my family.
How much of my ministry is spent dealing with the grieving? It's incalculable. It just is. And, I'm pretty good at it. But when it came to me and mine - that's another deal altogether.
Who pastors the pastor?
Nothing, and I mean nothing has consumed me in my almost 42 years like this. My response to losing Jimmy surprises me still. As one who does all he can to keep the appearance of control, I had none in the days following his death.
In the months after he died, my depression controlled me, and my self-medicating for my back injury numbed far more than my physical problem.
Three months after he died, I turned 40. Holy crap! Too much baggage to carry into the next phase of life.
What am I to do? Is this what mid-life crisis is?
Talked about getting a tatoo. Still might one day
Can't afford a motorcycle.
Scared of an affair (Fatal Attraction haunts me still), and, I love my wife.
Taking too much hydrocodone.
I was a mess.
I give thanks for friends who loved me through this - gave me room to be who I was. I give thanks even more for those who loved me enough to get hold of me and demand that it's time for me to get my shit together.
Time has a way of buffering the immediacy of the pain of loss. But when anniversaries come - so does a revisitation with the pain.
I am much more able to deal with his death now than I was then, and I've learned a good bit about myself.
I've learned that pain left unshared and unprocessed will consume your soul until there's nothing left. Healthy ways to grieve and vent the pain are essential.
I've learned that questions about life and death can never be fully answered in the absence of faith.
I've learned that I must live with the unanswered "why," and "how," and I must come to peace knowing I'll never know.
I've learned that the opportunities lost to nurture what, at times, could be a troubled relationship are tragic only if I do not take the moment I have now to be sure not to lose such moments with others in the future.
I've learned that Jimmy is with me everyday - and my middle son is the spittin' image in more ways than one, especially his mouth that never stops.
I've learned that telling the folks I love "I love you," must come with every opportunity, as must my showing that love.
Right after Jimmy died, I wrote quite a bit to process what I was feeling. Among the things I wrote then was a vow that his death would show me how to live.
For most of these past two years, I wasn't sure I could keep that vow.
But "I can see clearly now, the rain is gone."
And two years on - I'm living again.
I love you, brother.