If tears could build a stairway and memories a lane, I’d walk up to heaven and bring you home again.
Today, I wish to remember my late brother. Ian Andrew Mutuma. The only person of the opposite sex I grew to love so much. The best childhood memory I have. My play partner, My ‘check if mum is coming’ person. The only person who always drew out his toy basket anytime I wasn’t napping, the person who willingly made it his responsibility to teach me how to take baby steps, help me with assignments, always covered up for my naughty self.
I don’t quite remember where the memory of you on earth ends exactly, and maybe it’s a good thing that I don’t recall your last words to me, whether a shout, a joke, a statement, a question, because holding on to words would have made living in this bubble of wording hard. But, I definitely remember what having an elder brother felt like. An unending sequence of being made fun of, of constant mockery and teasing, a whole lot of play time, constantly being stood up for and a lot of ‘big-broing’, and a definite friend for life. Well, guess what? I live. And guess who left me all alone?
Sometimes I curse and shout and blame God for being so unfair, then others, I just want to believe it is you that has watched over me all this time. You know, sometimes I look at pictures of you and talk to you, yet it’s not like you can hear me, or maybe you do. I don’t know. I tell you stories, tell you about my day and all the small annoying things that went into it, I tell you the funny and great things I did, but then midway, I realize it’s just me. It’s just me talking back and forth to myself.
The other day, I saw your friends. They are all grown now, I almost always see you in them and think, “Tush would have been just as tall and good looking.”
Guess who took your room? Well, you guessed it wrong. Nobody has. Just as you left it, it remains. Everything you owned intact. Probably because I wouldn’t let anyone take the only thing left of you from me. Probably. But most definitely because nobody can ever take your place anywhere in our lives. Not physically, not emotionally. Sometimes I fall asleep on your bed. Damn! I remember how badly you hated when I did. Would you still have? Would you still be so good with computers? Would you have made it to your dream University? I guess I will never know.
You are to forever remain in my heart. So many things have changed. So much has happened. The greatest being how much I love and miss you. I love you so much. Even more than I did when I had the chance to show it. And living with this much love for you is heartbreaking mostly. Way more than it makes me smile.
My journey is hard. I have cracked so many times, I might be unfixable. I hope that when I see you again, I’ll have made you proud. I have always felt the need to be ‘super kid’ live for myself and for you. Sometimes I think it’s psychotic that I assume your life and wish to fulfill your dreams alongside mine, others, I think what a waste I would be if I made it to this age and let your dreams rest with you. So I do it all. To make up for what you could have done.
Grief is a changeling, a living adaptable being, squirming and writhing into the hearts of those left behind, hollowing them out, leaving them empty, before it curls up in the chasm to rest until roused, leaving the host left to decide what they want to fill the rest of the nothingness with.
Some may fill that emptiness with denial or anger, sadness or acceptance, inspiration or optimism, but in the end, you’ll still never be person you used to be.
It’s the change you decide to accept from grief that decides who you are and whether or not any good can come from loss. This is not to say that there is such a thing as equivalent exchange for death. No amount of growth that occurs from the ashes of pain is going to make up for the missed birthdays and holidays, late-night bonfires and no-reason-at-all dinners, the smiles you’ll never see or the tempers you’ll never cool.
I never meant to become any sort of expert in sibling loss. That’s not a path anyone would willingly choose for themselves. And this is by no means it. There just is not enough out there to help us make sense of life after our siblings.
I remember long ago standing in the funeral home at a friend’s wake, after hugging his mum and sis, I stood there thinking to myself, how will they live through this. A few years later, I learnt the hard way. In the days and years that have followed, it has been a crash course of living life without my brother. I quickly learned that there were no books, no articles, no nothing. Nothing that could help me cope, know how to feel or what to expect. No one really talked about the “leftover kids.”
I did my crying in private, and kept waiting, just waiting for that all-encompassing pain to fade, to accept it, but it didn’t, and I didn’t. It hasn’t. Years have passed and that pain is still there lingering, staining everything I experience. The same way when a bad wound heals the nerves still remember the pain. There’s an ache there. It’s constant at first, hard to ignore, and then intermittent, brought back by triggers, and it never really goes away. It’s a scar on reality.
The truth is, when my brother first passed away I felt like it was all about my parents. Often I found myself and others focusing on the sadness and grief that my mom and dad must have been feeling. Sibling grief wasn’t a thing, or at least that’s what Google and the self-help section of the bookstore told me at the time. I was so wrong.
Our brothers and sisters are the first real relationships we have outside of our parents. He was my big brother — my first friend and the first person I learned to play with, share with, and laugh with. He was the first person who picked on me, fought with me and taught me forgiveness. A life without him was never in sight. And I think that’s the hardest thing to get over.
No amount of change will ever bring a loved one back, but it can offer honor to the memory of the lost.
By choosing to carry your grief not like a parasite curled in the core of your soul, but as an enduring testament to a person whose memory you’ll never let fade, you ensure their immortality. They say that love never dies, and so, perhaps, neither do the loved.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF IAN ANDREW MUTUMA