Siblings are a part of you before they are born and remain in your heart long after they are gone. I was five and a half years old when my mother first told me she was expecting. After 36 years, this particular childhood conversation is crystal clear in my mind.
My mother had a beautiful baby boy in September 1980 and he grew up to become an extraordinary young man. It seems so long ago, but his time here went all too fast. He took his final breath, due to an accidental fall, nine years ago. Those of us who knew him and loved him have yet to catch our breath and probably never will. It is hard to believe nine years have passed since I last looked into his sparkling brown eyes.
Much is written about grief accompanying the loss of a child, spouse, or parent. When it comes to losing a sibling, however, the literature is oddly scarce. No other relationship mimics that between siblings. It is a unique closeness forged in happiness, anger, love, frustration, and understanding, altogether coupled with similar genetic ingredients.
I naively believed lightening would not strike twice. My parents already buried one child, my older sister, who drowned when she was two years old. As the oldest of the remaining four, I was fiercely protective of my three younger brothers. As we embraced adulthood, we relished the fact we were the best of friends, partners in crime, and confidantes.
These three young men shaped the woman I became while giving me a glimpse into the often elusive male world. Siblings are supposed to be our partners for life. One brother has been with me for almost 40 years, the youngest clocks in at an impressive 30 years and Laith was with me for 26 and a half before his untimely death. Many people are not even married that long, no matter how many times they try.
But nothing remains perfect and nothing lasts forever. That is the first of many lessons I have learned. Unavoidable obstacles sometimes cause time to run out for some far earlier than expected. There is no map and compass to guide us through the tragedies along the way. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward because you must. The sun rises and sets each day despite your wishes to the contrary. Time never stops.
I never imagined saying goodbye to my younger brother so soon. His tragic death has left a deep wound that will never completely heal. It has scabbed over, but gets ripped off unexpectedly sometimes serving as a reminder of our unbearable loss. Ironically, my husband and I were married one month after my brothers’ death. On my wedding day, he was missing. His birthday in September brings me to tears. I will never hear that voice I miss so much. I will always remember the last time we hugged and said, “I love you.” It was the final goodbye that never should have been.
A few weeks after his belongings had been sorted; I found a Ziploc bag in which he kept things most precious to him. He collected letters from his first serious girlfriend, pictures of friends, and a few birthday cards from Mom and Dad. Then I discovered assorted postcards, notes, and pictures from me. He kept those mementos, picked them up from time to time, and knew how much I loved him.
Something that cannot be lost is almost 27 years of shared memories. His smile is indelibly imprinted on my brain, his laugh can be found tucked away deep inside my soul, and his infectious personality is intricately woven into each story I share. Preparing him for those job interviews, giving him advice about a girl he just met, and helping him clean his always messy apartment are experiences to be cherished for the rest of my life.
His tennis team at Purdue University felt his impact so strongly, they established the Annual Alumni Tennis Challenge in honor of him. http://www.purduesports.com/sports/m-tennis/spec-rel/in-memory-of-laith-al-agba.html
The most important lesson learned for me over the past nine years is how unpredictable life can be; there are no guarantees. After having four children of my own, my parenting goals are now simpler than they might have been before this tragic event. The “best-I-can-do” parenting is good enough; everything does not have to be perfect. My little brother grabbed life with both hands and experienced everything he possibly could in the moment. I strive to make the most of each and every day with my children and be grateful for that time, in honor of my little brother. He would not have wanted it any other way.