I (Alyssa) have a dead brother.
It’s a fact about me – but not really an icebreaker, “get to know you” type of fact, so not a lot of people in my life now know this. It’s been a weird change for me. In December, we passed what would have been Grady’s 21st birthday. I’ve been thinking about this a lot and how much my life has changed since he left this earth 16 years ago, even just in the way I handle missing my lil’ bro.
Grady passed away on April 23, 2002 from cancer (a brain tumor). He was five years old. I was a quiet, little, nine-year-old in fourth grade. My world was completely rocked, and everyone around me was affected too. The school guidance counselor talked to my class (and if I remember correctly, possibly the whole fourth grade. . .), the funeral was at my church, and obviously my family knew. Everyone around me was aware. I loved it and hated it. It was nice because people just KNEW; I didn’t have to tell them. On the other hand, it was overwhelming hearing cliches like “sorry for your loss” 2348579382 times (which led to a handful of emotional suppression issues, but that’s a talk for another time).
Over the next few years, almost a decade even, it was nice. All I had to say was “April 23rd is this week” and the people around me knew that was the anniversary of my brother’s death, so if I was a little crabby or just a little off – that’s why! It was nice to have the ability to not have to talk about it if I didn’t want to. My family always stayed home that day and ate Grady’s favorite foods (a seriously disgusting meal, but it became tradition). It was nice that everyone in my life had some sort of connection to or knowledge of Grady still.
As the years went on, my other brother, Logan, and I grew up, and it became harder to miss school and a little easier to manage life on the 23rd. I still had friends in my life who would support me through the day, and people who remembered the date without me mentioning it. It was freeing for me to go back to school on the 23rd. I needed to know that life could go back to “normal” on that day. We still ate that
gross meal of Grady’s favorites together as a family and remembered Grady.
College wasn’t much different as I was either home on break or on tour with a choir basically every year. I didn’t much like being on a plane for 8 hours on the 23rd my senior year, but it was doable, and I was always with family or with really close friends.
It’s strange now though. No one around me really knows about Grady. If I mention April 23rd, it has no meaning to anyone around me. In a way, it’s nice because some people are awkward around me on that day, and I don’t have to deal with that aspect anymore. But on the other hand, it’s weird not having someone in my life who will be with me all day who knows what I’m going through and can give me encouraging smiles and pep talks throughout the day. I have Cody, but even he doesn’t have a connection to Grady. He asked me what I want to do Thursday, and I didn’t have an answer for him. I think I want to start my own tradition in his memory, but I don’t know what, because everything is so different now.
Now that I’m off in the adult world, I’ve passed a lot of the milestones I dreaded growing up. Learning to drive without my brother. Graduating high school. Having another brother to pick on my boyfriends. Graduating college. Getting married. At every milestone my heart has ached to have Grady there, but I’ve made it through, and I know that I will find a way to celebrate his life even when I don’t have my childhood friends and family here with me! In a way, I’m excited to see what traditions I can begin with Cody and which ones I can carry on from the past 16 years!