Staying on Top

Shortly after Ed died last year, my uncle sent me a book to help me grapple with my feelings called Staying on Top When Your World Turns Upside Down. The book is about how to deal with traumatic life experiences while getting stronger in the process. It’s written by a woman who is not only a stress psychologist, but has also gone through her own experience of prematurely losing her younger brother to a very preventable disease at the age of 22.

I finally decided to open it today, and I’m about one-third through it. I think I’ve gotten to a point in my grieving where I’ve gone through all of the stages she describes and am pretty much at the final stage, which never really ends until you die. But there’s one point that she makes in the book that I’ve never actively thought about before:

“Extremely stressful life events rob us of our masks, the devices that ordinarily shield us from the fact of our own death. So, when our life undergoes upheaval, not only do we suffer from the losses that are associated with that specific trauma, we quake at the reminder that one day we will lose our most precious possession–our very own life. It is important to realize that the terror of trauma gives us a great opportunity to resolve the primordial fear we all experience.”

I’m not sure I immediately thought about my own life and how I could die when my brother died. What I did think about, though, was how short life really is. We think of it when we are young as being long and full of potential. I’m 28 years old now, and I cannot believe time has passed by this quickly. I can’t believe I’ve been in the full-time workforce for over six years now, I can’t believe that I have friends who are married, getting married, and having babies, and I can’t believe over a year and two months have passed since I lost Ed. The last time I ever saw my brother, he was saying goodbye to me at the airport in San Francisco, and I gave him a long, tight hug. I didn’t think then that that would be the last time I’d ever see him alive. Every time I think about that last glimpse and feel of him, I feel a sick feeling in my throat even until this day. I was touching him then, and now, he’s gone forever. Things pass us by too quickly, and sometimes I feel like I don’t have enough time to actually enjoy it all.

I don’t want to have the attitude that I just need to survive, though. I want to feel like I’m doing more than just surviving each day since my brother’s passing. I want to feel like I am actually thriving and doing something meaningful. I don’t know if I will ever be able to do enough to fully feel like I am preserving him, though.


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