The Time and Place – A Pondering

This is a super-short post to ease back into writing since it’s been….a very long time… We all have our faults. But this happened last week and it made me feel like writing this post so here we go!

There are two girls that I’ve been babysitting for about a year and they’re really cool kids but it’s been several months since I last sat for them. The younger of the two likes to chat with me and tell me what’s happening at school and in her life while the older one generally does her own thing while listening and sometimes joins in. So last night the girls and I were watching TV when the youngun asked me if I have brothers and sisters. And I said “Yes, I have three brothers and a sister”.

My brain did a double take.

While the conversation barreled on without me, my heart was palpitating just a little bit. I answered questions on autopilot while my head was in tailspin.

I have three brothers.

I had three brothers.

I still have three brothers, but one of them passed away in November.

I said nothing to the girls and just let it go. It wasn’t important for them to know and correcting myself would’ve probably put them in an awkward position. Well, maybe not, but even so it wasn’t necessary for me to say anything. It wasn’t the time or place.

My brother Tristan was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer last year in July. He passed away in November after fighting for four months. We didn’t have the smoothest relationship but we loved each other. I will never be able to express how grateful I was, am and will always be to the people, some of who were complete strangers, who donated money to get my sister and I tickets to England to see him.

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Erin, Kathryn, Kerry and Tristan

You gave both Kath and myself the opportunity to make sure that he knew how much we loved him.

The kids asking me about my family just sent my mind reeling. What do I say? It’s a tricky business, when is it appropriate to tell the whole story? And who to? I often feel anger towards some people who use their emotional back stories as some kind of macabre party-trick (and it does happen) because it’s unfair. It’s kind of like serving a plate of bacon to someone you know is vegetarian. Awkward and mean spirited. Since Tristan’s passing in November my family and I have been encountering all sorts of interesting situations. It’s an interesting conundrum that sends your logic out the window as your brain battles with your heart to try and figure out what is the most truthful answer to give that doesn’t mislead someone or cause them to inquire further (because most of the time it’s not something you want to go into right then and there). How much to people really want to know and is it the kind of situation where it is appropriate to tell them?

The short end to this story is that there was no need for me to tell the girls about Tristan’s passing, so I didn’t. I didn’t want them to feel bad and it didn’t feel fair to throw them into the middle of something that I was having trouble explaining to myself.

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Me, Trist, Kath in bed

Tristan is my brother and he’s always here with us. I think about him everyday. Some days I cry a little. Some days I cry a lot. But most days now I think about how he’d think this or that was cool -or awful- and I think about what he’d say about certain things and I imagine the face he’d make if I told him something and I laugh. I feel sad that he didn’t get to finish watching The Hobbit trilogy and that he won’t get to read the next Terry Pratchett book and I wonder if he’d get mad if I gave away the lava-lamp he left with me when he went to the UK (and no I’m not getting rid of the lava-lamp because it’s f**king cool). He’s still on my Facebook, his number is in my phone and I just saw his picture on G-Chat as my mouse scrolled over his name and his face popped up.

It’s hard to think that he’s gone when he’s everywhere at once and it makes me wonder if I will always automatically answer that I have three brothers.

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8 thoughts on “The Time and Place – A Pondering

  1. Erin, I get this to my core. My guess is you will always answer that you have three brothers just as I will always answer that I have one brother (and sometimes just add quietly to myself, ‘but he is gone’) Not everyone need know the whole story because not everyone will get it

    • It doesn’t feel real and I don’t know if it ever will. Thank you for commenting:) Logically I know I’m not the only one who has wondered this but it’s kinda nice to have someone else say it. Thank you

  2. I know it doesn’t take away the pain or the sadness, but I can totally relate my darling sister. The world really sucks without Trist. I still wear my wedding ring because getting married to Trist was by far the best thing that has ever happened to me – and I’m not willing to give that up. I guess confusing others is generally my fault, as I still talk about Trist in the present tense. But he’s a part of who I am. I am still learning to live in this world without him and I need him and I hate referring to him in the past. I guess it takes time. Time allows us to accept and contemplate… but know that we are family and we are in this together šŸ™‚

  3. Hi Erin, I also experience this. ‘Am I one of seven’, or ‘I was one of seven’? It was always a bragging thing for me, to come from such a big family, and I feel like I am cheating my heritage when I say ‘I was one of seven’. Either way, it is jolt of grief that comes at you from the blindside. A way for the body to pick at the scab of loss. Yours is still raw, and it will seep. Mines is already 5 years old and sometimes it gets bumped and still hurts. Innocent questions like these ‘angels’ in your space, give you the chance to reflect and strangely enough, helps another layer of the wound to heal. Take time, lots of it, to process this. Photos of him in your space reminds you of his life (eventually) – at the moment they may remind you of your loss. I refuse to change my skype name from my sister, even though her number doesn’t exist. When I see it, I have a little ‘chat’ with her. Bittersweet.
    Hugs x

  4. Hi Erin – this is a problem that doesn’t go away. I had four children; only two are alive today. Sometimes, as with the littlies you were with, it is not appropriate and would just be too difficult to explain. However, when I say, as I sometimes do, that I have two children it feels like a betrayal of my other children. The word “lost” also poses a problem for me especially as in, “I’ve lost two children.” That word just gets me. It implies that I was careless and lost sight of them and they just disappeared or something. I feel that I’m betraying them in some way by denying their existence. So, even though it may sound harsher, I prefer the words, “Two of my children have died.” Just the stark facts. But again, if it’s just a casual enquiry – basically making small talk – I do often say, “I have two children.” But then I often feel I have betrayed my children who have died – kind of negated their existence – in a sense.
    Love
    Estelle Goodall

  5. Erin, you will always have three brothers. Even though Tristan is not physically there, he will forever be a part of who you are. And part of who your siblings and sister-in-law are too. That bond will never break. Be comforted by the fact that you think often about him and know what he would say about things or how he might pull a face. May the fond memories always make you smile through your tears.

    • Hi Erin

      I was very moved by your post The Time and Place which I’ve just read now. I get unbelievably behind with my emails; if there are too many in my Inbox, I get cold feet and do something else! I think it stems from coming to the computer age somewhat late in life and always feeling on the back foot because I don’t know how the damn thing works properly!

      As you are probably aware we “lost” two children: our firstborn, Simon was born with multipile heart defects and died when he was a month old. Then came Julia and Greg and then Mark who died shortly before his sixth birthday. I am so incredibly grateful to have Julia and Greg in my life. I am so truly grateful to them for staying alive!

      I put the word “lost” in inverted commas because that is the way death is often referred to. It’s such a weird word to use; it implies carelessness or perhaps a child simply going missing in a mall or something! So, although it is a harsh word, I prefer to say “died” with all it implies about the very sad, harsh fact that they are no longer with us; we can no longer chat to them (although I do sometimes but don’t tell anyone!), but worst of all, there can be no physical contact – no hugs, no kisses, no comforting.

      I don’t always know how to respond when people ask me, “How many children have you got?” And, as you described so well, it does depend so much on who’s asking and the situation. Is it someone just making idle conversation or are they really interested in getting to know you better? Sometimes I feel really shit when I say two because saying four involves the inevitable explanation and it is neither the time or the place, as you so aptly described it. But to say I have two children feels like a betrayal of Simon and Mark and a negation of their very existence.

      You are a very special person.

      Much love Estelle

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