My brother died two weeks ago. Writing that sentence is so weird to me because it still doesn’t feel real. His funeral is on Wednesday. I’ve had messages from people from all over the world, people who he reached through his own blog, people I’ve never met. I’ve also had radio silence from people who I once considered very close friends. It’s a strange contrast.
People don’t know what to say so they end up saying cliches, like how he was an inspirational and amazing man, how it’s good that he is no longer suffering, that he’s in a better place. And I suppose all of those things are true. But he wasn’t just an inspirational man. And, perhaps selfishly, I’d rather he was suffering and alive than this painful alternative. You can get better from suffering. You can’t get better from dead. All of these things are things you tell yourself to make yourself feel better after someone passes, to give you comfort and peace of mind, but it doesn’t change the fact that my brother was alive two weeks ago and now he’s not.
My brother did inspire me though, and he inspired me to be honest. So often I’ve felt a pull to express my honest thoughts and feelings through this blog but I’ve held back in fear of upsetting someone, or offending someone, or of over sharing. It’s a very British attitude that I’ve never related to. My honest thoughts and feelings are not the kinds of things you perhaps should say outloud. They are raw and tumultuous and messy. I deal with depression and anxiety on a daily basis, and depression tends to make things chaotic in your mind. The way I cope with things is not to focus on the positive, like Matt so often did, but to stare directly into the darkness and talk about it, not always giving it a positive spin. I like to talk about the things people don’t like to talk about.
Not to say Matt wasn’t honest, because on his own blog, he was candidly so. All of the terrible things that were happening to him, he put it out into the world. I think he had a secret hidden agenda, though, which was that he wanted to give the world hope. He didn’t focus on the negative, he didn’t show the darker thoughts he must have had, he made sure that everyone was fighting along with him. In that sense of course he was inspirational.
But that’s not who he was to me.
I’m sure he would want me to remember him differently, but he was my brother, and I will remember him the way I want to remember him. Sometimes he was bossy and unreasonable. He was stubborn and opinionated. He’d get mad at you for not enjoying sport and at the same time roll his eyes at me for my own interests. We had very little in common. I know people don’t like to focus on these things once someone passes away but I don’t want to put him on a pedestal either. He was human. Imperfections come with the territory.
However, in spite of all these things? We loved each other fiercely. Bad mouth my brother to my face and there would be hell to pay. Poke fun at me in his earshot and he would slam you. He was the first person to stand up for me and, when he found out about the abuse my ex partner put me through, he was the first person who needed to be held back from doing something drastic.
He was supposed to be there for my whole life. My younger brother, he was supposed to be the last of our small family to go, not the first. People experience grief and it should be grandparents, older relatives, eventually parents. All death is terrible, but you expect your sibling to be there when it happens. I don’t remember being told I was going to be a big sister, but I do remember deciding at some point while my mum was pregnant that I was going to be the best goddamn big sister I could be. Just by existing, by giving me that incredible title of Big Sister, Matt changed my entire identity, my entire life, before he was even born. That title will never go away.
I saw him moments after he’d passed. Patrick said something a few days afterwards that would stay with me; he said it was no wonder people believed in souls. The body that was lying there on the bed, pale and lifeless, it wasn’t him. His soul had left him. He was too still, too empty. For most of the first week, I couldn’t shake that image from my head. When it passed, it was replaced by how I want to remember him.
The memory is of us as a family last Christmas. He got given this ridiculous machine that fired cricket balls at you at 70mph. Instead of being sensible, we put it up in the living room and I watched as cricket balls came flying towards him, convinced the windows were going to be smashed to pieces, and all of us laughing.
I can’t possibly summarise our relationship in just a few hundred words. I don’t think I could fill a book with how much I could say about my brother. He changed my life in ways even I will never know, all of the little actions and reactions and cause and consequence that happen from growing up together.. All of the ripples of our lives. For a long time, I felt frustrated because I wanted a closer relationship with him, but so did so many other people.
You always think you have time.
At one point, when I was three years old, my entire being was dedicated towards being the greatest big sister I could possibly be. Perhaps I achieved that, perhaps not. I know he would say I did.