“Grief is the agony of an instant, the indulgence of grief the blunder of a life. ”

14 Nov

I think of being an orphan frequently. It fills my thoughts some days, others, I barely feel it.

When my father dies, it will be my brother and I. Two people with a tenuous connection made by law, and little else. Not even blood between us. The rest of our family has flittered off into the distance. You hear vague words, brain tumour, heart attacks.Maybe a Christmas card. Little else.

I’ve built it this way. More distance, less danger. Less danger of becoming entangled, of caring. Their stories aren’t mine anyway. The story of my blood is carried by far more indifferent people.


On a drive to play bingo, I sat in the passenger seat smoking, foot on the dash, hand out the window, watching the trees fly by as we sped down the highway. We sang along to Mr. Mister, as I cringed at the cheese factor. We always sing together in the car-it’s the one nameless thing my brother and I do together. No one mentions it. We just sing.

A song comes on that reminds me of my mother. I flick my cigarette out the window, and question my brother. Did she like me? Did she think I was nuts? Was I the child she wanted? What did she like to do? Inside my head I was screaming to know her, to relate to her on a level other than sheer physical comfort and things.

“Stop asking about her! Why do you have to keep talking about her?!”

He slams the door to the car and walks quickly into the hall as I sit stunned in the car, silently crying. I know why he does this, I know he hurts too.

But I hurt just as much dammit.


On my 13th birthday, my brother gave me a card. Inside he wrote about when our parents first brought me home.

You moved into my playroom. I was mad about that. But I was excited to have a baby sister, and I’m excited now to help you grow up!

I had nothing to write in his birthday cards aside from “nah-nah, you’re old!” I felt strangely unhinged from my brother, never quite in tune. Detached. I never have loved him. It’s like I can’t, and I’m not sure why.

Perhaps because after my mother died, we had nothing to even vaguely connect us. I remember little of him from that period. I was far too wrapped up in my own anger and pain to notice anything on my periphery. But you’d think my brother would be there, holding me up, right?

He never was. The only thing that drew us together later was our drunk of a father.


He didn’t start ofF a drunk. Genetics predisposed him to be one, but my mother kept him in line.

One little death will change all of that.

Night after night after night of 2am wake ups and cursing and swearing and screaming as my father denigrated my brother, called him names, spit at him, disowned him. I got off lightly having only to deal with his sudden need for contact and tears. But my brother-my father nightly destroyed him.

After one terrible night, a long night spent screaming in my bed room, then crying, the three of us, my brother and I stood drinking tea in the kitchen, blurry eyed and exhausted.

He started to cry.

“Why does he hate me? Why?”

I had no answer, save that he didn’t. Not really. He saw in us our mother, his love, the one thing forever lost to him. And he hated us for it. But what to tell a brother at 4am after he’s been called less than dirt, and dead to his father?

We stood in that kitchen for what seemed like hours, trying to come to terms with the fact that our father was just as human and just as broken as we were.


We have a common lexicon. Things we can casually joke about, politics to talk over, music to make fun of. Bill Cosby to laugh at. Things that, at a glance, make us siblings. But we don’t have that deeper pull to each other, just a gleaming emptiness that threatens us when we talk about “what if’s” What if Dad dies while he’s here with us during the winter. Who gets the house.

We don’t speak of what will happen between us when he dies.

I envy those with bonds that run deep, bonds that cause passionate fights over small figurines and places at the table. Bonds that transcend other people, that build meaningful roads into the future. I have none of these things. I have threads, threads that fan out around me, threads I can barely hold on to anymore.

They fray. How they fray.

4 Responses to ““Grief is the agony of an instant, the indulgence of grief the blunder of a life. ””

  1. radical mama November 14, 2007 at 11:41 pm #

    Oh, honey.

    Not that it makes it better for you, but a lot of us have fucked-up families that are barely held together.

    It’s hard to watch it unravel every year when such things are just NOT supposed to happen.

  2. misspudding November 15, 2007 at 1:52 am #

    I think the bond between siblings is directly proportional to how terrible the parents were at parenting.

    I only say this because of my own experience. My parents were totally unprepared and unable to parent. My oldest sister, therefore, was our safety net. To this day, she and my middle sister (I’m the baby), are my best friends. I can’t say that I call them everyday, but they know me best and will be there when the shit hits the fan. I didn’t have and still don’t have a great relationship with my folks, though. I think that’s the tradeoff. At least, part of me hopes that’s the case.

  3. mercurial scribe November 15, 2007 at 4:09 am #

    It’s strange how so much pain translates into such beautiful and effective prose.

    I wish I knew what else to say other than that – I don’t, I just keenly feel your point.

  4. Marcy November 15, 2007 at 9:13 am #

    Ugh, family. I have hardly any attachment to my siblings, too.

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