Last night I turned out the lights one by one, until the world shrunk down to the puddle of reading lamp next to the bed--a circle too small to hold back the fears and desires I'd managed to ignore during the day. They spread like the dark, settled like the dark, and I was reminded of nights after my brother's death.
There were no easy moments in my grief. There were, however, easier moments. Those were most often the middle of the day, when thoughts about my brother could be buried by distractions: work, errands, exercise, television, books, chores. Evenings were a shaky sigh of relief, a weight dropped the moment before muscles quit. Mornings were harder: the fact of his death the first thought in my conscious mind; the realization that I'd have to do it all over again, figure out how to live another day without him.
But nights were the worst. All my day distractions stripped, the thoughts I'd been fleeing reared up in retribution. I'd lay down, close my eyes, and wonder about his last conscious moments. I'd press my hands to my throat, to see if I could feel what he felt. I'd catalogue all the ways I had failed him. I'd strain my ears in the quiet, sure I could hear death coming next for me.
Eventually, thankfully, the sleeping pills would kick in and wash my mind to a blank.
I can't remember when this changed. The first night that something else--an argument with my husband, work nerves, or even excitement--kept me awake. The first morning that, instead of Matt, I thought of breakfast or how much I had to pee. There wasn't a day when the grief magically disappeared.
There was, however, the day when I realized the grief was gone--and had been so for some time. I was sitting on a beach in the sun in northern California, alone, watching the Pacific crash against the earth. I was thinking about how my brother had never seen the Pacific. The thought didn't stab me, it was just there. Just a thought. I asked him to come and sit with me, to watch the waves and feel the sand and the sun and the expansiveness of sky, air, wind.
On the drive back to the apartment where I was staying, I rolled down the windows of the car and let everything in. I felt so alive, so free, that my heart swelled enough to stretch its seams. It was a different kind of ache, but I knew that somehow it came from the same place.