The Cheese Stands Alone

I recently enrolled in an online writing class. The class assignments include a requirement to submit two personal essays during the eight weeks of the course. The instructor and other students critique the pieces the participant submits. The student can elect to either submit two separate essays or to revise the first submission based on the class feedback and submit the “new and improved” version for the second opportunity.

For my first submission, I used an essay based on the blog piece I posted here- Sand, Sea, and Sadness ( Sand, Sea, And Sadness – Terri LaBonte- Reinventing Myself in Retirement )– about my trip to the beach the day after my brother died. There was a lot of feedback from the instructor and the students, which I took under advisement and considered in submitting my second piece- the revision of my first essay. I honestly do not know which version I like better. They are quite different, although they relate to the same event and same family dynamics. It was an interesting exercise.

One piece of feedback that kind of threw me was that the class believed my ending was “too pat” and “too neat and tidy.” The general feeling of the critique-ers was that I suggested that simply remembering the good episode with my brother at day camp allowed me to come to terms with grief and resolve my feelings. If I suggested that, my bad. Of course, one memory and one trip to the beach did not punch my grief ticket. My point in the ending of the blog post was simply that the trip to the beach and the memory allowed me to start the grieving process more elegantly and effectively. I expect that I will be grieving and remembering and processing emotions around my brother’s death for the rest of my life. This is one reason that I have continued to share blog posts about my trip and the misadventures I experienced. The grief process is very much still in my mind and in my heart. Even the blog posts that have a comic framework are a way of working through my feelings about my brother and his death. Maybe I am just not ready yet to relate anything even a little bit profound about this experience. I have not found the profundity of losing my brother in a way I can articulate yet.

However, there is a serious issue related to my brother’s death that I want to share in this blog piece. I am now the last of my birth family standing on this side of the Great Divide. My father died in 1996. My mother died five years ago this past September 2. My brother died on July 28, 2022. My brother’s death was not just about losing my brother. My brother’s death caused a tearing away of the last tangible thread I had to my family of origin, my childhood, the hopes I had for my life that never materialized, my youth. Don’t get me wrong. I have a great life and I am incredibly grateful for everything I have. It is just that my life today is not anything like what I pictured when my world was my parents and my brother and me living on the corner of Cerritos and Perdito in Anaheim, CA. Also, as an adult, I see that the world I knew then was not even the world I thought it was at the time… and now, never can be.

While I was in California, I took a sentimental journey. I drove past the house where I grew up. I drove past the church we attended. I drove past my old elementary, junior high, and high schools. I cruised down the streets where the neighborhood children played late into the evening on extended summer days. I stayed in Hemet, where my brother lived. My mother and father, and later just my mother, lived in Hemet for many years, as well. Everything in Hemet and in Anaheim looked so foreign and far away from any relevance to me. Bars and fences on all the schools. A new addition on the house. The church building looked small and lonely. The storefronts did not look the same as I remembered in either Anaheim or Hemet. Even the mobile home park where my mother lived before she moved to Florida was completely different- new owners, new name, and a new sign. I almost missed it completely as I tooled down the main highway.

Finding yourself the only one left is disorienting. I looked online for some context for what I was feeling and found that my perspective is common, though not discussed very frequently. Society, in general, tends to concentrate more on the grief of widows, widowers, parents, and children. There is an unspoken idea that, somehow, the grief of a sibling is not “that bad.” I do not know about that. I am sure it is more about the emotional relationship than the biological relationship. Besides, as someone once told me, “Comparing is despairing.” Nobody needs to win the misery lottery to suffer with grief. The grief of a sibling is as legitimate as any other. It can be quite complex, as well, because sibling relationships are often fraught with difficult emotions. Spouses choose each other. Parents choose to have children. Children may not choose their parents, but, at the very least, children understand that their parents are necessary to their lives. Friends choose each other. Sibling relationships are the only ones where the parties have absolutely no choice in the creation of the relationship.

When the difficulty of losing a sibling combines with the isolation and disorientation of finding yourself as the cheese standing alone in the world, it can be even more difficult. I found myself struggling with that realization the whole time I was in California. I did a lot of sobbing when I was alone, mourning for everything I saw that was not what I remembered it being. There is a lot I could say about what exactly I was mourning. There is a lot I could say about the regret and guilt. There is a lot I could say about disillusionment. There is a lot I could say about when and how I learned to live as myself instead of simply as the oldest child in the Goodness family. And, certainly, how scared I am that maybe I never did learn that. I am just not sure how to talk about any of that yet. As the people in my writing class pointed out, grief does not resolve so neatly.

This trip was about saying good-bye. Yes, it was about saying good-bye to my brother. But it was also about saying good-bye to the me I used to be, the me I thought I was, and the me I dreamt I would someday be. The good news is that saying good-bye to those “mes” may open the door for greater acceptance and appreciation for who I actually am.

In losing someone close to you, have you ever realized you were losing more than just that person? What was that experience like for you? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a fresh start today!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

4 thoughts on “The Cheese Stands Alone”

  1. Hi Dorry! I loss my sister last summer and then in August we released her ashes into the sea on her birthday. My sister was 12 years older than me, her being the oldest sibling and me the baby. She basically raised me. When my family from Missouri went home after the ceremony I felt this incredible loss. I realized then that I hadn’t grieved my sister’s passing until that very moment. I miss her everyday. I reach for the phone to call her about some family issue and it hurts all over again. I think grief is a journey with no destination. I know I grieved my parents passing, but it didn’t hit me like her passing did. I’ll miss her forever.

    1. I’m so sorry for your loss, Bonnie. I think one of the saddest parts of aging is experiencing all the inevitable good-byes.

  2. Terri, this is a very poignant post. I appreciate your writing. What you speak of is the death surround, all the factors that impact how we experience grief. Each successive loss allows for more grief work from past experiences. It can be such a snow ball. It would be impossible to get to this 7th decade of life without experiencing loss in so many manifestations. Like when my husband and I divorced. Not only did I lose a husband but my friend, lover, mechanic, dance partner, Mr Fixit, work mate, extended family, self esteem, self worth, confidence and on and on and on. There was a lot to work through. I am currently experiencing some anticipatory grief in relation to my 89 yr old mom and the potential of a rural home place changing hands, which is connected to the aging process and the loss of physical ability. Grief is big. And I’m always reminded that the business of dying and loss is really about living and how I want to do that.

    1. Thanks, Mona. Your perspective makes a lot of sense. The grief snowball is certainly real. Be good and gracious to yourself in your season of grieving. 😘

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