When my middle brother died four years ago, I wondered how I could endure the rest of my life without him. The future looked as hard and unforgiving as stone.
I had expected we would grow old together — sometimes with mild resentment that I might be growing old with a brother, not a husband, as my main man; but mostly, more generously, with the expectation of many more years of shared jokes, bushwalks, concerts, travel, family celebrations, and discussions about life, the universe and everything.
Mark was my senior by nine years so he looked after me a lot, as I was growing up. Later he helped look after my son, AM, and AM’s brothers and sister. His old age would have been an opportunity to return the favour, but the chance to look after him came prematurely, when he got cancer and died at the age of 59.
People talk about healing from grief, or processing it. Do they also talk about enduring it? I suppose they do. The times when all you can do is just hang in there, trying to remember that you won’t always feel this way, that things will get better.
It takes endurance to get through those days when you realise someone you love is dying; that they’re not going to miraculously turn a corner and recover. It takes endurance to organise, and sit through, the funeral. It takes endurance to lovingly fold the clothes he won’t wear again, and neatly tuck them into a bag for the charity bin. It takes endurance to let go, piece by piece, of most of his possessions. (Nothing is gained by keeping every single thing he owned, just to remember him by.)
It takes endurance to live with the anger — the fury — that he’s no longer in my life; the moments when I want to throw things through windows. It takes endurance to keep on smiling when other people have forgotten that you are still grieving. It takes endurance to figure out how you fit back into your own life without someone who was always — forgive the cliche but it’s true … there for you.
Of course, almost four years on, I am doing okay without him. I laugh, I smell the jasmine, I can talk about him easily. But some days, some weeks, are still an endurance test.
This coming Thursday he would have turned 63. So this is one of those weeks.
The voice of Baaba Maal captures some of how I’ve been feeling. Apparently this song was written in response to the deaths of 97 Senegalese soldiers in the first Gulf War. I guess that it is why it appeals to me at the moment. I can hear the raw grief and anger, but also the strength — the will to endure.
The song is also about trying to find some meaning in these men’s deaths. Baaba Maal compares them to heroes who fought against French colonialism. He turns a tragic story into one of hope and bravery.
I can’t really find meaning in Mark’s death, but I can find it in his life. He was not a freedom fighter but he was full of love.
I have so many memories of him that show this.
And so I am reminded — Mark is gone, but the love endures.
And because good music also endures, I’m finishing with a more upbeat song from Baaba Maal, who says: “In Africa, music is not a distraction. It accompanies us throughout our lives whether we are happy or sad.”
It’s from the same album as the song above (Lam Toro, which I inherited from Mark).
I wrote this post because when I saw that this week’s Photo Challenge was ‘Endurance’, Mark’s death was what immediately came into my mind — and wouldn’t leave. You can check out many other, quite different takes on endurance, here.