One of the things I used to love was waking up outside in a tent; when we were little on camping trips, in school on hiking trips and especially later at music festivals when I thought I had already learned all there was to know about life, love and heartbreak. I loved that eerie feeling that only comes when you wake up damp from dew with morning sounds around you that sound so different out in the open then they do in the house you grew up in.
When Colm died I found that same feeling, but now it was not only eerie, but also crippling sadness, and it wasn’t a feeling that I had in a certain time or place anymore-it was every morning, after every nap; and in the house where I grew up. I’ve never woken up already crying, but that first week I did. Sometimes I still do.
I found out Colm had died around 10:45 in the morning August 13th 2009. I had left my phone in the bathroom the night before and when I sat down and picked it up there were 10 missed calls from my parent’s house. I knew before I called that something awful had happened, and somehow-I knew it was Colm.
From that moment until I finally got back to Massachusetts is something of a blur, I remember everything but it feels like a movie that happened to someone else with parts coming up to the surface now and then.
Colm died in a car accident early that morning. That night on our front porch people began to gather-and they didn’t leave for that whole week of grieving. It was one of the most special times.
I can’t say I know anything about grieving, I’ve done it many times throughout my life (it seems that The Berkshires loses a young person once a year) but I’ve never been good at it. After Colm died I found that I held it all in for most of the time. When I would feel a crying spell coming on I’d run next door to the playground of the little school we all went to kindergarten and go up to the top of one of the paths and kick my heels into the ground. I don’t know why this was what I had to do in order to breath-but it was. Once a few of my friends followed me, and one of them started handing me sticks and little rocks to throw. When I threw them they didn’t make any noise and because of that weren’t as helpful as kicking my heels until they hurt, or snapping my fingers raw or pounding my fists into my hipbones until I had bruises. People were very concerned about me during all of that, another one of my friends went home and brought back a stress ball, Greek worry beads and something else to try to make me stop hitting myself I guess. I took the beads and began worrying them instead of hitting myself-but again they weren’t as effective.
I’ve found that you begin to do what’s expected of you. If someone tells you not to hit yourself, that it’s scaring him or her or other people, you stop. I didn’t want to upset people more than they already were-but in that I think I shut something up inside of me. These days, only six months later, I’m in a good mood all the time, I never talk about Colm, and if I do to people who don’t know I never mention that he’s dead. I never say “my dead brother” even to people who do know what happened. The only times I allow myself to get emotional at all is when I’ve been drinking, or sometimes late at night when I wake up and everyone else is asleep.
The other day when I was talking to some people who have been through something similar I felt the familiar feeling bubbling up inside, this overwhelming sadness, and I heard my fingers snap and then felt my fist ball up and connect with my hipbone. They didn’t see it, or at least didn’t notice anything strange, but for me it was such a relief to do that, and not have anyone tell me to stop.
These days waking up from sleep isn’t hard, it’s the waking up into reality. Sometimes I’ll be on the subway and a thought will come up and I’ll remember that this isn’t a dream, it didn’t happen to some other family, this is my life-it’s our life. I never forget that Colm’s dead, I think about it all the time, but there seems to be a difference between remembering and actually living in the reality.