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Feelings That Never Leave You

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“It’s going to be okay, honey.”
“No. It’s not going to be okay. You still have another child. I lost my only brother.”

I didn’t realize fifteen years after yelling those words across an empty room at my grieving mother, that those would be the words we’d both remember to this day. I didn’t realize I’d think my dad was joking when he told me Josh was gone, or that fitting a person’s life into a few cardboard boxes is a thing that happens when they disappear. I didn’t realize how small and empty I’d feel without him, or how hard it would be to accept that he was never coming back.

Feeling small and empty, however, comes back every year.
Those feelings never leave you.

This year, on the anniversary of Josh’s death, I sat in my Brooklyn apartment in bed alone and stared at a picture of my dad holding Josh when he was a baby. It’s a picture I stole from a photo album years ago. I keep it at the bottom of my desk drawer. My memories of Josh are hidden under blank cards, and old journals that I don’t read, but hold onto in fear of forgetting my memories. Thats how I used to approach talking about my brother: A buried memory.

A friend once told me that when I talked about Josh, it sounded as if I had rehearsed a script. She was right. I knew my lines. There were several things I knew I could say about Josh that were impersonal enough to keep me safe from feeling anything. They would also keep the person I was speaking to safe from feeling awkward about the fact that they had just asked if I had any siblings and I responded with, “No, my brother died.” That conversation never gets less awkward.  More than anything, I hate that something in my life could make somebody else feel uncomfortable. But that’s what death is, sometimes.

Those feelings never leave you.

So for a while, I kept my memories of Josh tucked underneath stacks of business cards and restaurant matchbooks, somewhere near my stapler. I only opened them privately, on special occasions, like graduations, and birthdays, and on the day he died. I would say something in passing like, “I wish Josh could be here.” And my parents would say, “He would be proud of you.” We’ve stopped telling each other that it will all be okay. We accepted in some ways it won’t be.

After lying alone in an empty bed for three hours this year on the day Josh passed, I realized I wasn’t doing him any justice by staining my brand new West Elm pillow cases and depriving myself of sunlight. I still had all of my memories, and a whole day left to celebrate having somebody, for however long, who only knew kindness and unconditional love. He was too young to have learned all of the stuff that turns us hard over time. Had it not been for his influence, I would not be the woman I am today, capable of compassion that I thought only Josh was gifted with.

And those feelings never leave you, either.

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26 Comments

    • Thanks for reading, that really means a lot to me. Sometimes I think it’s important to not have words! 🙂 Happy to see you’re still around! xo

  1. This is a beautiful post. It takes a really long time to find your footing when telling people about a lost loved one (I am still working on it too!). I am glad you are to the point where you can celebrate his life and all the beauty that he brought to yours.

  2. Carley, I can’t say much about this except you are so right that Josh made you the person you are today. Life works in mysterious ways as they say. While I don;t believe that everything happens for a reason, Josh could make us all forget our petty problems. He was such a beautiful boy.

  3. From one Carly to another (with an E) 🙂 , thank you for being brave enough to share this painful loss in your life. I have always loved your blog, because I see a lot of myself in you and not just in name only. I too have seen much loss and also have my own pile of journals that rarely get read but never thrown away. I guess I just wanted you to know that you’re not alone and you inspire me. Thanks for being you. (This all sounded way less lame in my head!)

    • Thank you SO very much (truly!!) for such a thoughtful comment. It made my night! It always feels good to not feel alone, and that is the very reason why I write, so that people will know I’m right there with them! Thanks for returning the favor. xoxo

  4. What a lovely post about your brother. I’m sorry for your loss. This was a wonderful way to express your feelings about it.

  5. Very touching piece Carley. It makes me feel good knowing how much you think about Josh. It’s a way to keep him with you always. You are both in my heart and I think about you both each and every day.

    Love Dad

  6. I always enjoy your writing! One of the trickiest and most rewarding parts of life is finding meaning and purpose in our suffering (in my opinion). And it sounds like you’re able to do this with the loss of your brother. Hugs xx

  7. Mrs. P says

    ” I realized how lucky I am to have known somebody who never knew what it was to feel resentment, who only knew how to love unconditionally, who never saw color, or gender, or race.”

    Sometimes, it is not the time that one has spent with a person that makes that relationship special. Sometimes it’s all about the quality of that person and the connection that we have with them. It is clear to me that Josh was one high quality being. Some say that a great loss is merely an expression of a deep love. I am happy that you were able to have a deep love in your life and that you are finding out how to celebrate that experience..that love…that bond.

    I have always considered you to be an excellent writer but a true test of a writer is proven when they write of the tragedies of life. Can they still carry that communication across? I think you did rather well on all accounts.

    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment! I absolutely LOVE this idea, “Some say that a great loss is merely an expression of a deep love.” So wise! ❤

    • I think it’s natural to feel uncomfortable about death – even writing about it, sometimes, I worry will make my readers uncomfortable. It’s so wonderful to see that people are so supportive and positive around such a sensitive subject. Thank you for reading! x

    • Thank you so much for reading, as always! It’s so great to see familiar and friendly faces who continue to follow this blog – even when I’ve been absent for a few weeks or months. Much appreciated! xo

  8. Lovely Carley! Joshua made us brave when we were the most fragile. I celebrate you both. Hugs, MOM xoxo

  9. Carley…. this post brought back so many feelings for me. I hope somehow somewhere our loved ones continue to know that we still love them and miss them. I almost cried at work reading this post.

  10. After my mother passed away, I was in that numb state and drove to the convenience store to get gas. I was barely holding myself together because I lost someone and I noticed the impatient people who were mad that the Slushee machine was not working and that they were in a line of 4 people. I vowed to keep my life in perspective and focus on important things like my family.

    Time has helped though. It has helped me to cope but I never forget. Sometimes a wave of feelings just floods over me. I don’t think that will ever change. And it shouldn’t. I will always miss them because of how special they are to me.

    Thanks for writing this.

  11. What a beautiful post. Finding this freedom is a gift to you, your brother, and to the rest of the world. I’m looking forward to following your blog 🙂

  12. Christine says

    This is so beautiful, Carley. Thank you for sharing. Josh was/is a beautiful soul and I believe we are all better people having known him and shared in his life. He had an effect on everyone fortunate enough to know him……through him, we were all able to learn some very valuable things about ourselves and each other that many people never do.

    They say that everything happens for a reason. Most of the time we are not fortunate enough to know what those reasons are…..but sometimes, just once in awhile, we get a glimpse, an understanding, an awareness……a gift. ❤

    Thinking of you, your mom and dad ….. and of course, Josh too. Hugs.

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