Yesterday, I had a conversation with my brother, Jeremy while he sat on this very spot, in a quiet cemetery in Southern California. The bond between brothers and sisters is a difficult one to break, and whether all are here, or one is in the next life ... that really doesn't change. No matter how much geographical distance comes between us, that is a cord that will never be broken. Ever. Jeremy said, "They say it gets easier ... I say, It just gets different." I felt the old familiar throb of his pain beating at that same moment, inside of me. How profoundly true those words are for me. It just gets different... How profoundly and equally true, that no other human beings on this planet, know the way that feels for me, the same way he and my other brothers and my beautiful sister Natalie, do. This is our story, told from my perspective. I write it for so many reasons, but primarily because I cannot go and sit at his grave and talk to him like Jeremy does. It is my way of telling Cory that I remember and that I cherish him in that memory. That his brothers and his sisters have not and never will, forget the way he walked into a room and lit the whole place up. And it is my own personal way of saying, I forgive you, little brother. I don't understand why you left us way too soon .... but I forgive you.
It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, sixteen years ago. I still remember how cold it was, but it was sunny and beautiful and when the phone rang, and I saw it was my mom, I picked it up cheerfully, looking forward to the conversation with my family. But it was a phone call that etched itself into my memory like dark tendrils winding their way quickly around my body and soul and choking the breath right out of me, inside of mere seconds. I remember being brought to my knees, and feeling as if the sun literally blew out as I clutched that phone and listened to the unthinkable on the other end. Three thousand miles away, my brother Cory was laying in an ICU unit, with a bullet wound in his head. A bullet lodged there by his own hand. And he was still alive. I flew up the stairs and started packing a bag, even as the words were still slamming around inside my head. My brother was dying and I was three thousand miles from being able to say goodbye. It would be hours before I'd be able to get there. And they were indeed, the darkest hours I have ever spent in my life, encapsulated in a metal tube with wings, with 200 other strangers and my brother Paul, both of us in shock, trying to grasp what we were dealing with and coming up way too short. I remember very little about the time between that phone call and actually getting on the plane. What I do remember, is my parents waiting on the other end, to tell us he was gone. We were too late. We didn't make it in time to say goodbye. I can't put into words what that did to either one of us. It's really just not possible.
That week passed for all of us in a painful blur of memories that washed up on shore and then brutally went back out to sea, again and again, crashing on the sand of our existence. The roar of it all was nearly unbearable. When it came time to say our final goodbyes to Cory, we wound our way down the road, through so many other grave sites, to the White Chapel where the service would be held, and we were stunned by the fact that there were people spilling out of the doors to pay their respects to him. For many, it was standing room only, that day. They stayed anyway. Cory didn't just light up a room for us (but he did it best for us). He lit it up for so many, the chapel couldn't even contain them all.
In that service, we remembered the little boy with golden hair who kept getting lost on the beach because he was so involved in being whoever he was being, that he forgot where he was at times. He wasn't hard to find though. He was the tiny kid with the bucket on his head and his beach towel wrapped around his neck, who answered to Superman.:) We recalled his crazy love for Michael Jackson and how great he was at moonwalking and how he just had to have that same white glove. We read his beautiful poetry and lyrics that were full of his own personal longing and pain. We remembered his jokes and the way he laughed and made everyone around him do that too. How he could pick up a guitar or sit down at the piano and play a song by ear and what a beautiful gift that was to us. We recalled how he used to stuff food he didn't like at the dinner table, down into his socks and my mother would find little petrified morsels weeks later, tucked into the sofa cushions or underneath the couch. We laughed over his penchant for getting in trouble and my absolute favorite story about him ... when he crazy glued the front and back doors of our house shut and then proceeded to do the same thing to the piano keys, presumably so he wouldn't have to practice those lousy scales anymore. It was an easy testimony to how many other lives he touched, that I could see by simply lifting my head, and looking around that crowded room.
Cory wasn't perfect. He struggled in a mighty way with inner demons and some of them were not easy to slay. Oh, how he tried though. I really love him for that. He did try. And he loved... there was never any question about that. When he hadn't seen me for awhile and I walked into the house, he'd pick me up like a rag doll and swing me around. God, I miss that. I miss his music and his laughter. I miss it all. We all do because we loved him very much. The hole he created in our universe when he chose to go, is fathomless but the cord that ties us to him, runs right through it, unbroken. We miss him. It just gets different.
So why, again, do I write all of this? God, how many whys have I wrestled with since that day? I suppose I write it because I can't sit with Jeremy, with my arms around him while we both cry over this wretched thing that never goes away. I write it to remember my brother, Cory. I write it to deal with the Cory-shaped space inside of me that he left gaping and empty. I write it to tell you that I still love the holidays, that life goes on and we live it regardless of the dark places we remember.... but that sometimes, it's not always easy. Sometimes we have to work a little harder at it. And I write it to remind you, that maybe that cranky clerk at the department store, carries her own inner darkness. That the guy who just flipped you off in the parking lot, might just have something inside that causes him a great deal of pain. That you may want to consider that the person next to you, might have just lost their husband or their brother in an unthinkable, incomprehensible way. And instead of getting angry, practice a better, more healing emotion ... compassion, and forgiveness. Cory loved a song whose lyrics have always spoken to me: "If you open your mind for me, you won't rely on open eyes to see." Such a profound lyric in a sea of sound around me. Such a profound legacy. His music still touches me... even though he no longer can.
There are reasons people hurt during the holidays. Sometimes... very deeply moving and difficult reasons that you can't see, if you're only looking with your eyes. I think we'd do well to remember that this season because, for some, It doesn't get easier... it just gets different.