When my youngest brother was born, I was 9 years old and completely smitten. I loved to pretend that he was my little baby and I would feed him, change him, dress him up, and just love on him any chance I got. Even with the age difference, we were always close. We had twin brothers that were the middle children and they were always getting into or creating trouble. They constantly caused problems for Darren and me so it was kind of an us against them situation throughout our childhood. The four of us loved each other and had each other's backs when other people messed with our siblings. But when we were at home together there were constant battles which drove our mother crazy as she had no way to control us. Especially the twins. When I turned 15, I moved in to my father's house because I thought my life would be so much better away from my brothers. It didn't really change much because the boys would always be at my dad's on his assigned visitation days and all summer long. However, me moving to our father's house deeply affected Darren who was only 6 years old. He would draw pictures for me and write little messages asking me to please come home. I was such a self absorbed teenager concerned only with my life that it never occurred to me that he was sad and missed his big sister. And boy, do I regret not being there for him.
Time went on and we all became adults with busy lives, mortgages, spouses that came and went, and kids to take care of. At some point I realized how much my family meant to me and I vowed to make sure the cousins would always be in each other's lives no matter what happened. And since the whole family always lived close to one another, it was pretty easy to keep our kids together. For many years we all spent a lot of time at family gatherings for holidays, birthdays, barbeques, and parties. Darren and I were always hanging out on the weekends with our kids. We would take the kids out to do fun things like going to the lake or the movies, roller skating, tubing down the river, and many dinners at one or the other's house. Our two sons were born only months apart so they grew up being the best of friends. All of our kids were very close and they made so many happy memories together. Until 2019 came and totally destroyed everything we hoped for.
In one single tragic instant the entire family was brought to our knees and we lost the ability to stand tall and strong. One morning in late February, I received a call from my father that Darren had not shown up to work and he wasn't answering his phone. Because I lived five minutes away from his house, my dad asked me to go check on him. We all assumed he had drank a little too much the night before and was probably sleeping it off. If only that had been the case.
My brother took his own life when he was alone in his empty house. The family completely shattered and we were left totally shell shocked. None of us could fathom why he had taken such a permanent action. Each of us knew that he had been slightly depressed but no one had seen the dark battle he had been fighting for who knows how long. We were absolutely crushed and had no idea how to deal with this enormous tragedy that had engulfed life as we knew it. Full of pain, guilt, and utter disbelief we somehow navigated through the funeral and the next few months that followed.
But the story doesn't end there. Darren's ex-wife and the mother of his children proceeded to break what little remained of our hearts. She sold all of my brothers belongings without telling us or giving us the option of buying the things we wanted before strangers came and took it all away. She then set in motion the most awful act of all. She denied us access to my brother's children. Over the last 3 years, we've only seen the kids a handful of times. The last time was more than a year ago. But I refuse to let her wipe away their father's family.
The kids are all growing up and I believe in my heart that my niece and nephew will never forget how much we love them. And one day they will make their own decisions about who they want in their lives and how they want to spend their time with those that continued to fiercely love them despite the selfish choices of others.
I know that one day soon, we will celebrate their father's life right next to each other. This is what my brother would have wanted. The hole in my soul that was left in his absence will never close but I hold a lifetime of happy memories close to my heart forever.
Love you, D, and I promise to never stop trying to keep our kids in each other's lives.