“Are you an only child?”

One of the first questions people often ask is “do you have any siblings?” “Are you an only child?” For the past year I’ve dreaded, avoided and circumvented this question in any way possible.

Yesterday I got a ride home from work from a coworker.  We were talking about our plans for the holidays and how we were both excited to see our families. I told him my parents were coming to Holland and we were spending Christmas with my boyfriend and his family. He then asked me “do you have any brothers or sisters?” While this seems like an incredibly standard  question, I froze. How do I answer this? Do I lie? Do I tell the truth and create an awkward silence and get that pitying look I so often get and hate? I didn’t know what to do. I sat there for a minute staring at my hands, looking out the window, clearing my throat, anything. He looked as if he was thinking, “is this girl slow or something?” Then I thought to myself, “Ok, I can do this I won’t lie.” So I said no, that I didn’t have any siblings. Then he asked “So you’re an only child?” My heart stopped. The truth is no, I’m not an only child. I have a brother. I had a brother? I don’t know, it’s all too much to grasp. If I say no, then I feel pangs of guilt and shame so deep that I feel sick to my stomach. I didn’t grow up an only child, how can I simply disregard someone who is so central to all of my earliest childhood memories? If I say yes, well, that just isn’t the truth. If I tell the truth is that too much information that some people just don’t need to know?

The truth is, my older brother died last year. He didn’t get into an accident and he didn’t have a terminal disease. He took his own life. He struggled with severe depression, bi-polar disorder and anxiety for most of his life.

There’s something about suicide that makes this kind of loss so much more difficult to talk about. Suicide feels like the kind of death that could have been avoided. If only we’d done more, paid more attention, been more sympathetic, even loved more than this never would have happened. As easy as it is to blame myself, and trust me I have, I have to come to terms with the fact that my brother’s pain was so much bigger than me. It wasn’t about anyone or anything but himself. I’ll always wish I could have been more understanding and more patient but the truth is I don’t know that it would have changed anything. I loved my brother, and even though I often had trouble showing it, I’m pretty sure he knew.

The holidays have been the hardest time of year. Christmas is so important for my family and we’ve spent every Christmas I can remember at home, together. Last year (just 2 months after Kylen died) I flew home a few days before Christmas and my parents hadn’t gotten a tree, the house wasn’t decorated, it was as if they just wanted to skip Christmas all together. Eventually we got a tree, I decorated the house, put up all four stockings and tried to bring a bit of cheer to what was obviously an impossible time for us all.

Then, Christmas morning it hit me. Every year my brother would wake me up at the crack of dawn, we’d sneak down the hall and try to take a peek at our presents before dragging my parents out of bed. Even as we got older he’d still wake me up. He’s always been the first person to say “merry christmas” to me. Last year no one woke me up. I woke up in my bed with a hollow feeling in my chest. I didn’t want to get up, I didn’t care about the presents, all I wanted was sleep the day away. We did open presents, had our Christmas breakfast and watch movies as we do every year but inside I could tell we were barely holding on. The void left by my brother’s death was just too fresh and too difficult to fill. In the afternoon, my mom said she was going to go to the grocery store to get a few things for dinner. I knew this wasn’t true but I tried not to push her. She was going to my brothers grave. She just couldn’t bear to let him spend Christmas alone.

So this year, we decided it’s best to change things up a bit. Give ourselves a break and enjoy Christmas in Holland. My brother’s death still feels so recent and this will continue to be a difficult time for our family but we are lucky enough to have new friends to make new memories with thousands of miles from home.

So, I still don’t know how to answer the question,  “do you have any siblings?” but I’ve decided I’m just going to say what feels best at that moment. That’s the best I can do. This is a process that I am still dealing with everyday. There’s no word for someone who’s lost a sibling and there’s no quick remedy for this grief I feel. I think this will only get easier with time. I’ll always miss my brother and there will be many times in the future that I would give anything to have him there, but I just hope that somehow someday I will come to peace with this unbearable loss.

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