“When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.”
On May 27th, 2022 – life changed forever when my “baby” brother passed away. It’s hard to wrap my brain around this loss, even now. I miss him in a way that has changed me.
I made this for his memorial. In ten months I’ve planned two memorials, made two funeral programs, and made decisions I don’t ever want to make again. As I drive back to NC this weekend, I know Matthew will be on my heart constantly as he is and has been, the last couple of weeks.
“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.”
Today has been a little rough. I’ve felt it all afternoon – this lingering sadness. I’d been tracking this day for a while. But in my distraction over facing a new week (when I don’t want to), it slipped from the forefront of my mind. But it all came back a little bit ago & now I know why today has been rough. Today marks six months since my baby brother passed away.
His death has been tough to process on so many levels. The thing I keep going back to besides missing him – is how very precious our time is. I make constant excuses. “I’ll start on my plan once I get through holiday events. I’ll make a decision after __. I’ll just stay a little bit longer – it makes the most logical sense.” 🤬👎🏼🤮
But time marches on. I know my brother felt time breathing down his neck, too. He was getting older and faced the need to get healthier. He was pursuing that when he passed away. But he had some things that he hadn’t been able to do yet. I know it weighed on him.
Six months since losing my brother. And time passes on without moves in the direction I want to go in. If there’s anything good that can come from grief and losing your only sibling, I hope it’s that I finally get off my @$& and create the life I know I’m meant to live.
I need to be chasing dreams, not counting down days until my next break from work.
Taylor Swift released her 10th studio album last week. I’m still working my way through the lyrics. While it has a very different feel than my favorite (folklore), I like the album. There are some songs that are a real sucker punch to the gut. In the years since Swift released 1989, I have only grown to enjoy her songwriting more. While it’s true that folklore meant more to me than I can explain, and heavily impacted the direction my novel took (so melancholy), there are some powerful moments on Midnights, that surpass the emotion of that album.
One of those is the song “Bigger Than the Whole Sky.” While I’m sure it may be disputed, many fans believe it is a song about miscarriage. I happen to agree. October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss month and as I’ve seen a variety of posts about women’s stories, I’ve thought about my own loss.
I’ve shared about the grief of losing my son through circumstances I will never be able to share, at around the time our adoption should’ve been final. But I also lost a baby. I don’t talk about it much – if ever. If I’d given birth to her, she would’ve been 15 years old this past spring.
In Swift’s song she writes things like . . .
“Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye / You were bigger than the whole sky /You were more than just a short time / And I’ve got a lot to pine about / I’ve got a lot to live without / I’m never gonna meet / What could’ve been, would’ve been / What should’ve been you / What could’ve been, would’ve been you.”
“Did some bird flap its wings ovеr in Asia? / Did some force take you bеcause I didn’t pray?”
She also sings, “Cause it’s all over, it’s not meant to be.” The emotion that elicits, feels a little different today – than it might have five years ago or more. Today, the grief that bubbles up is co-mingled with knowing that I won’t have a chance to give birth. Our emotions are a weird, weird thing. And we can sometimes feel like our pain doesn’t measure up to that of others as we try to process the weirdness of our emotions.
I am learning how to grieve the loss of a child. I’m still trying to learn how to grieve what will never be. To make things stranger, the man I would have shared a child with, also passed away. That added a layer that I now know I didn’t properly grieve or deal with. But the body keeps the score. And recent losses are compounded by what I never worked through back then.
That does some things to a person. But my story, like so many others like me, isn’t always seen as a valid grief experience. The average person probably wouldn’t say that to a person’s face. Yet it becomes apparent in a myriad of other ways. Do we need validation from others about our experiences or pain? Certainly not. But I will tell you that a lack of validation does, in my opinion, slow (or stop) the healing process.
I think what songs like “Bigger Than the Whole Sky” do for people, is that they absolutely validate the pain that others don’t see. They validate that our own loss was real and that others understand. This is the power of story. I have believed this and known this for as long as I can remember. It’s what compels me to write. Our stories, whether they’re true, or the ones we may create – have tremendous power to impact, inspire, lead to healing, or encourage. Plus there’s that whole entertainment thing.
As I gear up for another year of National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo), I was really struck by this “Pep Talk” by Kwame Mbalia, during this NaNoWriMo prep period. He says, in part, “Dice through the unnecessary. Trim away the fluff. Find the core, the kernel, the spark before the flame, that single instant of raw imagination, the chaos before the Big Bang, the heart just before it pumps. There is, for everyone, a singular moment in time when you recognized a concept within the millions of stimuli processed in your brain, and something formed. A character. An idea.”
I love this in particular, “…that single instant of raw imagination, the chaos before the Big Bang, the heart just before it pumps…” sometimes the heart of the story, which takes shape from images, memories, music, loss or whatever else under the sun, gets lost. It gets lost in word counts, fear, trying to accomplish a goal and turning writing into a task to check off a to-do list, etc. The story, the kind that makes you pen a song that helps others to connect with, and remember the life of a baby that was “more than just a short time,” deserves more than second best.
When that story has the power to help others to feel less alone, validates their pain, or opens the door to the hope of healing, it absolutely deserves my full attention. The story I hear in Bigger Than the Whole Sky, is another reminder of why I love to write. It also connects me to deeper levels of my own losses – which ultimately means that I’m drawing closer to healing. For those of us who grieve, there’s no way out – but through. Connecting to songs or other art/writing, other’s experiences, and allowing ourselves to feel the pain in the process, leads to healing.
Whatever Taylor Swift was writing about in this song – we know one thing to be true, if it causes us to face our own losses and pain, and helps us to feel less alone, that’s all that matters. As a writer, that’s the dream – that someday, the words I write will mean as much to others, as my favorite writer’s words mean to me.
I spent my afternoon feeling frustrated about the lack of answers to my why questions. Mix that in with the hurt that comes from having someone disappear and never look back & well, it doesn’t feel great. I spent a few minutes scrolling on social media this evening and this quote appeared in my feed. It fits well. I guess it’s a coincidence? Although, sometimes I think God uses these things (quotes that appear in my path, podcasts that fit the exact moment I need them, Bible verses shared online, etc.) to wake me up and remind me where my focus needs to be. I found it extra interesting that they shared this post today – but it was originally shared in July. I sure needed to see it today. Although it is easier said than done, it’s important for our well-being, growth, healing, and our future plans, dreams, and relationships – that we do just what this post says.
Putting someone else in charge of how we feel is just a bad way to go. I’ve lived it. I don’t care to go down that road anymore. While finding our way out of that is not easy and probably looks a little different for everyone, it is a key to healing and growth. What works for me, may not work for you. I’ve used (and am using) everything from meditations on apps such as Insight Timer, Headspace, & Oak to talk therapy to finding ways to interrupt my train of thought and re-direct myself and my thought patterns. After losing my son, I needed the distraction of laughter – as another example. I watched hours (and hours) of stand up comics online, Netflix, etc. It’s amazing what a little laughter can do for you.
It’s not easy to accept the cards you’re dealt – whether it’s circumstances or how someone treated you (or didn’t, as it were). But accepting the position you’re in for what it is, gives you the ability to focus on healing and your own journey. Though things aren’t exactly where I want them to be right now & today was a jab to the ribs reminder of that, the truth is – I feel more free than I have in years. And that feels pretty damn good.
I wrote a eulogy for my brother’s memorial service (held yesterday). Here is what I wrote. I missed sharing a few things as I was standing in that chapel. The emotion took over and I was shaking. I couldn’t read my notes. But I got through most of it. The photo above was where the service was held. We had to add chairs because there were so many people the wooden pews were full.
Matt Avalos ~ June 8, 2022
There’s a quote from a football movie, Rudy, that Matt & I loved growing up. The priest in the movie says to Rudy, “Son, in thirty-five years of religious study, I’ve come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts; there is a God, and, I’m not Him.” I feel like I know slightly more than two things – but not much more. I don’t understand why this happened. I may never understand. The day I found out about my brother’s death was the worst day of my life.
But what I do know for sure is that Matthew is the happiest he’s ever been. He is the healthiest he has ever been. He knows no more pain. He is at perfect peace. I’m sure the first thing he did was find all four of our grandparents. He loved them so much. They were four of the most important people in his life. While I grieve the loss of my only sibling and my parents grieve the loss of their only son, I also know that he knows total joy and happiness and that comforts me some.
Matt was a special kid and grew to be a loving, caring friend and man. When he was a kid, he was a daredevil and rode a “Big Wheel” like a big kid, before he was even out of a diaper. When he was about five, he jumped off a booth at church, fell flat on the concrete, knocking out his front teeth. Why? Because it looked fun, I’m sure. In the slideshow, you can see his school picture – the one where he looks mad and he’s not smiling – it’s because he was hiding a toothless grin.
He loved a good adventure and was always up for leading some mischief with our apartment complex friends. He was always making friends and always finding fun. He was the extrovert – I was the introvert. He made friends everywhere – he reminded me of my Grandpa Avalos in that way. When we moved into a bigger apartment, with our own rooms, he was so excited. To top it off, he had his cousins and apartment friends there the day we moved in. He headed toward the sliding glass door that led out to our patio. His toy guns were out there and he was in another world – excited to have so many people to play with. He literally ran straight through the sliding glass door. He ended up with some stiches in his hand and near his forehead. But he came through otherwise unscathed. But something about that is so Matt to me because he was too excited and happy to notice anything around him – including the closed door.
When we were kids, Matt and I played a ton of video games together – but Super Mario Bros was our favorite. We watched movies together and when we were with my dad, spent a lot of time mini-golfing at Camelot. I live across the country and hadn’t been in SoCal for a while. I was surprised to see it was still there. We watched a lot of movies with my dad too – some of our favorites where Ghostbusters, Strange Brew, and Stakeout. I’m sure my mom wasn’t too thrilled with some of those movies especially when Strange Brew had us walking around saying, “Hey Hoser,” to each other.
During summer football practice (my dad was a coach) and during the season, we would be walked down to the high school (it was at the end of my grandparent’s street), by our Aunt Diane or Grandpa. We’d hang out there in the coach’s office while they were watching game day tape or we’d go play “tennis” on the tennis court, or hang out with the football players in the weight room. I’ve always believed those years were formative and impacted Matt and his interest and skill in coaching, later.
Matt as an adult was a loyal and caring friend. He loved his people and that is obvious from what we’ve seen and heard from his friends since May 27th. Matt took good care of the people in his life. He was a good caretaker for my dad and he was a loving son.
On my birthday, just shy of a month before he passed away, he sent me a birthday message that made me cry – it was so sweet. It meant the world to me. One of the things he said was that we should take a trip for our birthdays in 2023 – we are both April babies. I loved the idea and began wondering what we could to do. I’m still going to do that trip – maybe camping – since we loved it so much. I will take that trip in his honor.
Here’s a quick note to add: One thing that has become clear to me since May 27th, is that I won’t – absolutely will not – waste anymore time. Our time is too precious & we just don’t know how much of it we have. I’m also determined as never before, to be honest with those that I love (about how I feel about them) and to never regret being myself, sharing my heart, and sharing it openly. I was regretting some of that over the last year – particularly sharing my heart with someone I never heard from again. But, I won’t regret being honest about how I feel, ever again. Losing my brother has reminded me of how quickly life changes. And I just refuse to live with regret any longer.