Working when life (and death) get in the way

Some mornings I wake up early.

Some mornings I stay in bed a little longer. It’s not like anyone’s going to notice if I don’t start working until 8:30. Or 9 a.m.

But back to those mornings when I arise a little earlier. Those are the mornings when I wake up with a start and for just a minute, I think I’ve heard my brother’s car. But it’s not him. And it won’t be.

Because he died. And I’m finally finding a way to get past that and get back to work.

me and steve as toddlers

(Me and my brother Steve as toddlers)

Have you ever had that happen?

Something disrupts your life so much that it’s hard to get back into the routine?

You’re sad. Your concentration is nil. You don’t feel like talking to people.

The mornings are the worst for me. On most weekdays, my brother stopped by my house for morning coffee. That was our routine. It was a ritual and after he left, I’d get to work.

Sometimes his visits would only last 5 minutes. He had things going on. Sometimes, when I had lots of work to do, it would feel like hours. But always we’d have coffee and talk. We’d share news and gossip. We’d talk about our workday and solve life’s problems and sometimes we had crazy discussions. And whatever it was we talked about–or didn’t talk about, I guess it worked because we’d both be ready to get on with our day by the time we finished our coffee.

I miss reading him the quotes of the day that arrive in my email every morning. Steve would store some of those quotes in his head – “to use later” on his buddies, I suspect.

There were mornings we’d sit quietly. I’d be checking email. He’d bug the cat. Sometimes he was a little hung over from too much drinking the night before and I’d tell him so. “Don’t act like my mother,” he’d say. Other days when he tried telling me what to do, I’d tell him, “Don’t act like you’re my husband.”

A few weeks before he died, for various reasons Steve stopped coming for coffee. He’d still stop by for a brief minute or send me a text message but he didn’t come for coffee. He’d done that before. Stopped coming. Trying to get an earlier start on hot summer days or maybe we’d had a little tiff…whatever…it wasn’t that unusual that he’d not be around so much for a few weeks. That was Steve. I always knew he’d return.

Except this time he didn’t.

Loud. Silly. Funny. Annoying. Helpful. Obnoxious. Stubborn. Sentimental. Mostly he was just my brother. We spent most of our lives around each other. We shared friends and teachers and secrets. We held hands in the dark when our father died and I consoled him on more than one occasion when a girlfriend broke up with him. I drank beer with him when he was in a wheelchair after a truck accident and snuck out with him after his stag.

The ashtray he used to use—he was the only one I still let smoke in my house–still sits on my counter by the sink. The coffee cup he liked to use in the mornings is stuck in the back of the cupboard but every so often it comes out and I remember.

I still think about him in the present tense. I think I’ll give the leftovers to him. Or I’ll wonder if he needs anything at the grocery store. The sound of a car racing a little too fast down the road sounds like him. A song on the radio reminds me of his rock band days.

Running into one of his friends brings him back. So does the price of scrap metal. Pork hocks. And Crown Royal. Our cat when we’re going away and we need someone to feed her. Little things. Every. Single. Day.

I don’t want to forget and yet I try to forget.  Especially first thing in the morning. Because that’s when I feel it the most.

Damn, I miss him.

I wrote this right after my brother, Steve died unexpectedly on September 24, 2015 but was unable to click “publish” till now. I’m finally getting fully into work again and although the pain has lessened, I still miss him. Should I be thankful I’m self-employed and was able to lighten up on my workload when I needed to? I like to think so. It’s hard to fathom why things happen but they do. Carrying on with living doesn’t make us bad people. And it doesn’t mean we don’t still ache. We just learn to deal with it.

How have you dealt with bad things in your life and carried on? Have you had to make yourself work when it wasn’t in your heart? What tips do you have to offer to others trying to get it together? Please share your thoughts in my Comments section.


  1. writerspice says:

    This is so heart-rending and tender, Pauline. I’m with you. My step-father died suddenly a year ago this past December and I didn’t get much done for a few months. He was so supportive of my writing; my biggest fan, my mom calls him. It was my routine to email him and my mom whenever I got good career news or wanted to share a new story and and now when his address pops up it hurts to know I won’t ever get his few words of cheerful praise. It’s hard to let go of those little things, like you say. The ashtray, the coffee cup. Sending hugs – and thanks for this.

  2. You know my story Pauline. The only reason I went back to work was because the Vice at CASS called. Yesterday a boy walked into the class I was subbing and I thought he was Will. My heart soared…and then dropped to my toes when I realized that he couldn’t possibly be Will. I couldn’t stop looking at him. He didn’t really look like Will, but he had the same hipster glasses, a similar build, and similar features. I don’t know if this will ever end. It has happened so many times; but yesterday was very poignant. None of the students in the class knew a bit of what was going on in their sub’s heart; after all…I am suppose to be a professional, aren’t I? I don’t know if this will ever stop happening. Maybe when the fashions change…but that is a bittersweet thought, isn’t it? He is always on my mind, even when I forget about the crash for a few moments. I am amazed that life has gone on. I am amazed that the sun still rises. I am amazed that I am functioning, when quite a bit of the time I feel like screaming and hiding. If I had the resources I would go away; especially at Christmas and New Years and this time leading up to the anniversary of his death on Valentine’s Day. My heart goes out to you. As one of the FB pages I follow on the subject of grief says: “Intense grief is the price of intense love”. Sometimes I believe these sayings, and other times I believe they are bullshit..moment by…

  3. I’ve thought of you often. It felt bad to lose a brother who was not really young but not old either. I suppose it’s always too soon. But I’ve often thought that I can’t imagine how devastating it would be to lose your child. I think it’s okay to always remember and have those little heart-stopping moments. Maybe remembering helps keep us healthy. I can’t imagine forgetting would ever feel better! Take care!

  4. Sharon Emery says:

    Pauline you write in a way that makes you able to visualize everything you’re talking about. I can tell you it gets easier but not much. My brother Leonard died in 2005 and I lost my soul mate in 2011 and so many things tug at your heart. But that dull ache and lazy feeling does go away and you do begin living again.(((Hugs)))

  5. Lee Lee says:

    Pauline, I loved your story.
    It reminded me of the few days right after my husband passed and the way I felt. And do you know who spent a few days with my family….Steve. He was a huge help, just being there.
    How did I get through things to get back to work….I work with the public, that was tough, there were some people that wanted to see me at work…I didn’t necessarily want to see them, right away. I had really great supportive co-workers who helped me out…shielded me from the unwelcome ones at the moment, and let me take a minute to myself when needed. Then I would collapse at home when the day was done.

  6. Rhonda says:

    I too have went through a traumatic event in my life after 32 years of life turned into a what one would hope is a bad dream……not the same happening but in the end the same emotions, same feelings, same heartache, song on the radio triggers memories and tears, daily life changed, can’t think, numbness, don’t want to talk, world is spinning, no more normalcy, confusion, not sure your hart will ever get past the void and pain…..and on and on….

    “One day at a time” is a famous line…..this is where I can say to anyone going through any sort of turmoil….my advice….ine day at a time isn’t always easy…..set goals for yourself “one hour at a time”. Take what time you need.

    When ever an emotion takes over…Take a writing pad or a journal…write the date at the top of the page…write down that feeling….don’t look back at those scribles…start a new page for each day…..but never look back at them…someday you’ll look back and see just how far you have come. And talk to friends or someone…don’t hold it in.

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