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December 2019
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Love Is

This photo, now well over 20 years old, remains a favorite of my younger sister and me. It was taken around Christmas time at a clothing shop in Kentville, Nova Scotia, a few miles from the town where we grew up. It is no accident that the photographer was our older brother, whose playful sense of the absurd, the mundane and the ironic are omnipresent in the shot, although he stood behind, rather than in front, of the camera. Yet assuredly he is there—there with the full-to-bursting love and playful fraternity he had and shared with us. While his love for us was immense and he filled large spaces with it, his own soul heaved with a fathomless blackness that slowly but surely shut out the very light he so magically reflected outward. Despite his cruel descent into darkness, he continued to shower and envelope us within the tactile affection and attention he himself was starved for.

His death shattered us.

My sister and I felt our way back through our own individual tunnels of darkness gingerly and gradually, and not always in tandem. At times we were deeply bonded and nearly telepathic in our ability to sense and ease the sadness of the other, at others we were at opposite ends of our native Bay of Fundy at high tide. I had unconsciously reached to inhabit the maternal role abdicated by our mother, whose own demons surfaced with a punishing vengeance after our brother’s death. My sister was a teenager of strong passions and emotion, and the sudden, double loss left her bereft of a steady and enduring anchor in the world. As the buffeting middle child, I wanted, craved even, to fill the gap, to succor and offer sanctuary. The hole inside my depleted soul was as yet too raw and new to fathom. My brother (though far too fragile for the role) had been my anchor. Now that he was gone, I had only the instinctual memory of his large, all-pervasive love to guide me. It was my job, I believed, to bear my own sadness in silence, yet throw a successive line of life jackets to my sinking family. It never occurred to me to grab a jacket for myself. Yet the wind was swiftly ebbing from my sagging sails, and I was the one who was slowly drowning.

Learning to live with alert, present moment awareness became my salvation and lifeline, and time alone has eased the darkness of a past too full of stupefying heartbreak to fully record. In the eternal present, all things about my life are as good and solid and steady as they were intended to be—as everyone’s life is intended to be. My brother’s lasting legacy of a heartfelt and pure, unconditional love lives on in my son and husband, who on a daily basis mirror his small and poignant kindnesses. Through the grace of incandescent presence, my current family reminds me daily that mine is a life greatly loved and worth living.

On Christmas day of this year, the shadow of that unremembered, far-away sadness returned to me unbidden as I watched my sister struggle with the new and difficult steps of her life. A ten-year marriage crumbling to a sad end. Fear and uncertainty for herself and her children. She seemed tender and fragile and far away; lost and struggling within the sharp shards of a shipwreck of broken promises and once-gilded dreams. Her usually ebullient and gregarious spirit seemed sunken and deflated, as had my own in the aftermath of our brother’s death. Yet to me, more touching and gut wrenching perhaps even than her sorrow were the effortlessly sweet gestures of the deep and abiding love she has for me. The soft-as-a-whisper brushing of her soft lips against my check, the sudden and goofy guffawing at inside jokes from our childhood, the cuddling arm around my neck, the casual mocking refrains of our pet monikers for one another.

Why does her sorrow rent open the closed wound of the distant past? I believe it is because our siblings hold the lanterns which light the shadowy hallways of our pasts. They share our common history, for better or for worse; share too the treasures and trials locked tightly in the forgotten banks of our memories. They have seen us at our best, worst, and most vulnerably mortal. They have borne witness to the triumph that is both our human spirit and theirs. They have navigated and vouchsafed us through the ice cold, creeping foam of waves that we wade through on the long journey Home. Their buoyant and eternal love is never lost or left behind. It will carry us on angels’ wings into the next life.


Comment from suttonhoo
Time January 1, 2009 at 8:40 am

*big hugs*

& so true.

Comment from Elefanterosado
Time January 2, 2009 at 11:21 am

They are special. Hold them close. 🙂