December 17, 2018

A letter to my brother

Written By

Sometimes, it’s easier to write my feelings down than to speak the words aloud. When I’m really struggling with my grief, I turn to my journal, and let the ink flow from my pen and the sadness flow from my heart. It’s cathartic in a way, to let it all out.

If there are things you are still struggling to reconcile about your loved one’s death, it might help to write them a letter. Here’s one I wrote one year after my brother’s death. On anniversaries and his birthdays, I write John letters, as if he is in a faraway country, and can still read them. It helps.

Dear John,

It has been 365 days since you died, 371 days since I last talked to you, 414 days since I last saw your cheeky smile and it feels like a lifetime. Words usually come easily to me, but I couldn’t speak at your funeral and I’ve struggled since to verbalise what you meant to me - what I wish I’d said to you before you went. My hands are shaking as I write this now, but it needs to be done.

John, you were my brother, my confidant, my best friend. We fought, squabbled and terrorised each other as children – remember the time I nearly dropped a rocking horse on you? But we also had the most brilliant of times – camping out in the tree house, cycling around the farm, taking on the rest of the ravening horde (our other siblings), and cooking up a storm with our cake competitions. You were my partner in crime and together we were unstoppable – the A team. I honestly can’t think of a bad thing to say about you, perhaps other than the fact that you loved to dob me in at the dinner table, slyly asking me (in front of our sharp-eared father) about my human evolution lessons in biology, or whether I had ever drunk before in my life. It was infuriating, but infuriatingly hilarious nonetheless.

The summer before we left for university remains the best time of my life. Cycling through the Karangahake Gorge in the brilliant sunshine, sneaking you the odd milkshake at work, diving into the Ohinemuri to cool off after a taxing day of rolling ice-creams and directing lost cyclists at the café – it was sun-speckled bliss. That was the summer you introduced me to The Office - we’d sit, crowded around our antique computer, almost crying with laughter at Michael’s hijinks.

And then you moved to Dunedin with me. Flatting with you was hilarious – although your cooking left a lot to be desired, I could always rely on you to have at least half a cake or a pack of doughnuts floating around. Even when you were beginning to slip away, you were still unfailingly kind and thoughtful. I’d phone you up at three in the morning, after a night out with my pals and rather tipsily ask you to come pick me up. Without complaining, you’d appear twenty minutes later, skateboard under your arm, and sleep in your eyes. You’d deposit me on your skateboard and tow me home – with a cheeky stop off at McDonalds on the way home for a McFlurry and a packet of fries.

You know what they all say – grief comes in waves, and I let it wash over me to the point where I’m struggling to breathe, suffocating in sadness. I’m terrified of losing more of you – of forgetting your slightly crooked front teeth, your wide flat fingernails, the curious way you’d lope around the house, grinning sideways at me as you’d impersonate John Cleese from The Ministry of Silly Walks. You taught me to be kind – to care for the outsider, to laugh often and without embarrassment, to find hilarity in the mundane, to poke fun at oneself with abandon. I’ve never really been certain of anything in my life – including what I believe of the hereafter. But if there is even the slightest chance that I can see you again, I’ll put aside all my cynicism, scepticism, and fear and hold onto that fragment of hope. I love you,