Feelings That Never Leave You: Guest Blog by Carley Barton

This post was written by Carley Barton, copywriter, essayist, blogger of The Renegade Rulebook and recent keynote speaker for Creative Mornings Portsmouth. She shares this blog post, published September 2013, about her feelings after the loss of her only brother.

Feelings That Never Leave You

“It’s going to be okay, honey.”

“No. It’s not going to be okay. You still have another child. I lost my only brother.”

I didn’t realize fifteen years after yelling those words across an empty room at my grieving mother, that those would be the words we’d both remember to this day. I didn’t realize I’d think my dad was joking when he told me Josh was gone, or that fitting a person’s life into a few cardboard boxes is a thing that happens when they disappear. I didn’t realize how small and empty I’d feel without him, or how hard it would be to accept that he was never coming back.

Feeling small and empty, however, comes back every year.

Those feelings never leave you.

This year, on the anniversary of Josh’s death, I sat in my Brooklyn apartment in bed alone and stared at a picture of my dad holding Josh when he was a baby. It’s a picture I stole from a photo album years ago. I keep it at the bottom of my desk drawer. My memories of Josh are hidden under blank cards, and old journals that I don’t read, but hold onto in fear of forgetting my memories. Thats how I used to approach talking about my brother: A buried memory.

A friend once told me that when I talked about Josh, it sounded as if I had rehearsed a script. She was right. I knew my lines. There were several things I knew I could say about Josh that were impersonal enough to keep me safe from feeling anything. They would also keep the person I was speaking to safe from feeling awkward about the fact that they had just asked if I had any siblings and I responded with, “No, my brother died.” That conversation never gets less awkward.  More than anything, I hate that something in my life could make somebody else feel uncomfortable. But that’s what death is, sometimes.

Those feelings never leave you.

So for a while, I kept my memories of Josh tucked underneath stacks of business cards and restaurant matchbooks, somewhere near my stapler. I only opened them privately, on special occasions, like graduations, and birthdays, and on the day he died. I would say something in passing like, “I wish Josh could be here.” And my parents would say, “He would be proud of you.” We’ve stopped telling each other that it will all be okay. We accepted in some ways it won’t be.

After lying alone in an empty bed for three hours this year on the day Josh passed, I realized I wasn’t doing him any justice by staining my brand new West Elm pillow cases and depriving myself of sunlight. I still had all of my memories, and a whole day left to celebrate having somebody, for however long, who only knew kindness and unconditional love. He was too young to have learned all of the stuff that turns us hard over time. Had it not been for his influence, I would not be the woman I am today, capable of compassion that I thought only Josh was gifted with.

And those feelings never leave you, either.

Carley Barton is a copywriter with six years experience in digital media. Her blog, The Renegade Rulebook, is an ongoing open and honest account of her life's journey.