Reflecting on loss, rejoicing in life

Published 10:06 am Friday, April 12, 2013

Twenty years ago on April 11, I lost my brother very suddenly. I don’t mean to be maudlin in this week’s column, but every year as the date rolls around I can’t help but reflect, re-experience the loss and also rejoice in his life.

He was seven years older than me and four years older than my sister. He was the big brother we idolized as children growing up. Allen was the kind of person who brought joy to others just by his presence. He was a happy person and it radiated out to enfold others.

Many of his high school friends in the area can attest to the fact that my brother was fun. His light shone brightly. He was an influence to me in many regards, but the main gift he left me was a love for music. Allen gave me my first album, which was by Herman’s Hermits. He taught me how to shag dance, and on our family vacations we’d sit in the back seat and sing songs all the way to Florida — driving my parents crazy along the way.

Our family has so many memories of our times together when we were all young. Like the Christmas when Allen turned up the clock so we could go ahead and get up to see if Santa had arrived.

You have to keep the memories alive and we have done so by talking about him, keeping the photos out to view and recalling some of the antics he was involved in.

Occasionally my brother appears in a dream and when that happens I rejoice since I can see him and hear his voice, but he is not an older or younger version. He’s the version he was when he passed.

My family was always close, but losing a member drew us even closer together. I know that sometimes loss drives families apart — I’m so glad that has not been the case with us. I did get angry with God when all of this happened and my mother was the one who led me back. She gave me a copy “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” This little book helped me get through the anger and now my faith sustains me.

Time does temper the pain, but you never get over it. A person or pet that you love that much never leaves you. Loss and grief are universal. Everyone shares such pain. Helen Keller said, “We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world — the company of those who have known suffering.”

During that first year of missing him so, I would often pick up the phone and call my best friend. She too had lost her brother and no matter what time of day I called, she’d answer and get me through the moment of despair.

As the years have passed I’ve called other guy-friends my brothers, and my brother-in-law also fills the void. It helps to have someone to turn to when I need brotherly advice.

I talked to Allen on the telephone the day before he died. He told me jokes, we laughed and we discussed our pride in our children. Now, after 20 years, I still miss him and not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. Over the years I’ve learned to live with the empty hole left and I remember the fun, the laughter, the joy of our times together. And I’m so glad I told him that I loved him during that last conversation. And today, after all this time, his light continues to shine.

“It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.” — John Steinbeck

LUCY WALLACE is managing editor of The Tidewater News. Her email address is