Happy Birthday to my Little Brother

Who would have been 62 today.

Grief is a powerful emotion. It can be debilitating and overwhelming. It can consume people, preventing them from living their lives.

Although it sounds a fictional cliché, In some societies ‘professional’ mourners will attend funerals, intentionally provoking powerful outpourings of grief by almost theatrical displays of wailing and crying; perhaps ripping their clothing, throwing themselves to the ground, and thrashing around in distress. This helps to move the bereaved through the process of loss, by bringing feelings and emotions to the surface, rather than allowing them to linger unexpressed for months or years. It helps the mourners to move on – not to forget, but to allow life to continue.

I can understand this, having met people who have been unable to move through grief, seemingly trapped in an ‘I’m okay’ situation, refusing or unable to display their emotions but presumably storing their grief up inside, unexpressed. Refusing help. People who have appeared unable or unwilling to move on. I was fortunate, my grief striking me like a clenched fist and, for periods, I had no choice but to allow myself to weep and rail at fate. But this allowed me to eventually move on, my grief evolved into sadness.

And for anyone struggling with grief themselves, something that helped me at the time was to write a letter to my brother. In my case after remarking it had been a while since I had heard from him, I filled it with humour, using in-jokes we had shared, although other people might have found a different approach beneficial. And the letter sits on my computer still and every once in a while I read it, and it helps me to smile and remember and, of course it makes me feel sad.

But that’s good.

I shall read it again today, and remember.

Aggie

Aggie sits smile-chuckling at nothing much on TV today.

She’s made her shopping list,

And tidied her room.

She cried a little when Patrick called her stupid,

But she seems to forget him when children’s TV comes on.

 

It’s on the television screen that life makes sense to her.

 

Aggie, did you put that food in the waste?

No! Aggie is a good girl! Large-eyed-scared.

I smile easily. Soothingly. Of course you are, Aggie.

The same ritual every evening. But I wonder

Just what happened in that huge, rambling institution

She called home.

 

It’s then I think, for the hundredth time,

Of the pages in her file, the report from the hospital,

By the doctors and the clinicians,

With their tests and scans and

‘I can find no evidence…’

 

By all accounts a normal child,

Who, just after the war

 

Got into trouble.

She was sent away for her own good!

 

A cousin, sharp-spiteful,

But who refuses to say any more.

None of my business, or of yours!

 

‘There is evidence of a number of fractures,

The upper left radius, several ribs,

The right fibula, particularly poorly healed…’

 

Have you seen my baby? Asks Aggie, suddenly.

What baby’s that, Aggie?

Distracted-distant.

I have to do the medication, right now.

I’ll talk to you later.

 

‘There appears to be no reason for her disability,

No birth trauma, no accident,

No diagnosis…’

 

It’s Aggie’s seventieth birthday, tomorrow.

What would you like to do, Aggie?

Do you want to go somewhere?

 

Aggie nods.

There is something she’d like to do,

But the words won’t come and the more she tries,

The harder it seems to get, and so

She gets distressed, and cries and runs off

Slipper-slapping to her room.

The door slams.

 

‘Aggie spends a lot of time crying…’