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I can't write much more right now but after I wrote that last post and before I even got a chance to post it, Mom said we should go through Chris's wicker chest.

My brother and I both had these; my mom started keeping stuff in them when we were tiny. Baby clothes, school reports, all kinds of keepsakes from our childhoods.

Both my parents and I just went through my brother's. It's the last thing left untouched since he died (almost 13 years).

I feel emotionally wrung out now, like an old dishrag.


Apr. 11th, 2018 11:48 am
hollymath: Postmark on a letter from Minnesota, like me. (postmark)
Put a baseball game from a couple of days ago on in the background. Twins are playing the Mariners, and for some reason hearing Ichiro Suzuki's name is a jolt.

My brother used to talk about him (he was a Mariners fan as a kid when his glove had Ken Griffey Jr.'s fake-signature on it (my first had someone I never heard of but the second was Frank Viola so that's all right). We had to go see a Twins game once when the Mariners were in town so Chris could see him play; I was okay with this though because I got to see Randy Johnson pitch.

The commentators said this is Ichiro's eighteenth season, how amazing is that.

I didn't realize it before, but there were still players playing that Chris knew about.

Well hell. Now I'm gonna be sad when he retires.
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It's funny how the littlest, most seemingly unimportant things fuck you up.

I did a survey about language learning today. Some of the things it asks are what language(s) you use when talking to different categories of family members: parents, older relatives, siblings.

I got kind of stuck on "siblings." I tried ticking the "English" box first (i.e. answering the question properly). But it felt wrong.

I changed it to "not applicable" and that felt wrong too.

I don't even remember which of the two I ended up going with. But I can't forget how both options made me feel.

I never know how to answer these questions, any questions that boil down to "do you have brothers or sisters?" Yes and no are both inadequate.
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...is what I said last year.

If you're going to die, don't die on a holiday that isn't on a fixed date. It means in future years the date of your death and the holiday will be on different days, and it makes two very difficult days. Last year, the twenty-forth of November was almost a week distant from Thanksgiving (which is always on the fourth Thursday of November) and I thought that was worse. But this year they're on the same day, today obviously, and my mom finds that harder.

So I'm glad they're able to do something different from how they usually spend Thanksgiving. My dad's sister and her partner have moved this year, they're fixing up what sounds like a nice house out in the woods in northern Minnesota, it sounds lovely. But it's also lovely because it's something new, because they're not doing what they always did, they're not surrounded by several generations of my mom's family without having their own children there. My aunt and her partner have grown-up children who are scattered around and who I don't think will be around this weekend. And since it's a long enough drive they're not just going for the day like they would if they were going to my mom's sister's, they're staying for the whole long weekend, which will keep them away from the whole holiday palaver, the Black Friday sales and the traffic and everything.

But I miss them. I didn't get to talk to them last week before they went, which is a shame. Thanks to Skype I should be able to talk to them at some point while they're at my aunt's, but still. I worry that they think I'm somehow unaffected by this because I'm not there, and we don't have the holiday. But I am, and I'm affected differently precisely because of those things.
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Today is my brother's birthday. He would've -- should've -- been 32 now.

I wish I could give him a better gift than remembering him.


Nov. 24th, 2015 01:35 pm
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Ten years ago my brother died.

It was in the early hours of the morning on Thanksgiving. He'd been out with friends for a drink, because all his old high school buddies were back in town for the holiday. It was only five miles drive home.

He wasn't drunk, the roads weren't bad, the weather wasn't bad. It was just one of those things.

It bugs me that almost no one I know now ever got the chance to meet him. My life has changed so much that it feels completely disconnected, and I'm going around mourning something no one else understands, a holiday they don't even here, something that I've never really known how to deal with.

I don't have a lot of words, but I scanned and uploaded some pictures a day or two after he died, when we were getting a collection of them together to be shown at the visitation and funeral. Here they are, with what I said about them to my LJ audience in 2005.

Read more... )
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Ten fucking years it'll be, in a few weeks, since my brother died.

One of the things I cried about, soon after when all I did was cry, was that I knew this day would come. That a year, then two years, then five then ten...probably twenty and thirty, hopefully forty and fifty...hell with medical advances who knows how many milestone I'll live through? I knew it wouldn't always hurt as much as it did then. And it hurt all the more then, for the consciousness that it wouldn't always hurt so much.

And it doesn't. It can't. Much as it feels like it, the strength of feeling isn't the only indication of the importance of a person. At first the grief is so intense it washes out everything else -- even memory, for me -- but our bodies are not capable of keeping that intensity up indefinitely. Practicalities assert themselves, stray thoughts return, your personality starts to assert itself again after being subsumed like everything else about your life. Eventually you can even get bored.

And gradually you don't wake up crying from quite so many dreams of him. One day you are introduced to someone with his name and you don't visibly wince.

After a long time, the balance tips and it's more remarkable when you are affected by things than when you aren't. When a song on the radio makes your lower lip quiver, when you feel bad at a fleeting moment of jealousy you had about someone else talking about their adult relationships with their own siblings, when someone ask you that innocuous small-talk question "do you have brothers and sisters?" and you have to try not to make the ensuing conversation too dark.

Sometimes now I do feel bad for not feeling bad more, or more often, or in the right way, or something. Sometimes I hate that hardly anyone important to me, outside my family anyway, ever even met my brother. Sometimes I worry that he's become a story, an abstract sketch of youth and loss, rather than someone I never felt I really got to know as a person. Sometimes I feel so damn lonely, having to face my parents aging on my own with no one to call up to compare notes, seek opinion, ask questions, answer questions, fight, keep secrets from our parents with (will they ever know that I don't think they raised any heterosexual children?), wade through the legal stuff when they can't stay on the farm any more...

Anyway, all that is to digress. All I was gonna sa is that it's been ten years, and my mom wants me to write a little verse for their local paper again, and I assured her I would, but I don't have anything I can say -- to that audience. It needs small words and nothing too...demonstrative. This kind of language I'm using here would be baffling and unhelpful to my parents, and small-town Minnesota.

Hell, I couldn't even think of anything when it'd only been five years. Only half as long.
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I wish my mom didn't explain to me every Father's Day since my grandpa died why my parents go to Red Lobster.

When my mom's dad was still alive, my parents always spent the day with my mom's side of the family. But now, they go to Red Lobster, because they miss my brother (they always claim it to be his favorite restaurant; I don't know if he'd have agreed, but it's done with the intention of memoralizing him anyway).

And every year my mom tells me this, tells me they won't be calling until late because they're going to Red Lobster (which means going to Mankato, which means they'll go shopping while they're there, which takes all frigging afternoon as I well remember).

And every year I think: I know.

I am not some stranger you have to remind of this. I know that my dad doesn't get to spend Father's Day with his kids (of course the same could be said for my mom but at least she can still spend Mother's Day with her mom, whereas my dad's parents died even before Chris did, so...). I know you never go to Red Lobster otherwise. I know it makes you think of Chris. I know you wish you could get closer to him than visiting his favorite restaurant. I know.

And I hate being told, because being told makes it sound like I care so little that I could ever forget or fail to understand these things. It feels like they don't trust the extent to which I share their loss, and that I bear witness to the rest.

I hate to be so self-centered on a day that's about fathers, and about all the people who don't have them or wish they didn't for whatever reason. I love my dad and I'm glad he's alive but I can't spend the day with him. I don't hate the day but I don't participate either. I just feel weirdly unsettled.


Dec. 9th, 2014 10:10 am
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I bought my last Christmas present yesterday, but I still somehow didn't quite feel like I was done yet.

I just chalked the feeling up to free-floating anxiety looking for something to latch on to -- a very plausible explanation! -- until I looked at the date today and realized.

It's my brother's birthday today. Getting him two presents was just part of my Christmas-shopping routine. So much so that I already had money put aside for that year's by the time he died (which, unable to contemplate spending on anything else, I ended up giving to charity), about two weeks before his birthday. The next year, I found myself veering toward his favorite store in the mall, before I realized and stumbled back to the direction I'd been walking in.

There's so much routine this time of year. So much that's the same as every other year, whether we think of it as tradition or torture. Thus some small part of my subconscious always nags at me that there's something incomplete, something we haven't done yet, someone we're still waiting for.

But we'd always be waiting, and we can't do that. Life goes on, and so too must we, but to what?

Nine years

Nov. 24th, 2014 11:52 pm
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The article by a woman whose daughter died a decade ago, which I wrote about recently, also left me with a bunch of chilling yet wonderful resonances, my own small heart being articulated and understood on a large scale in a way that was both painful and yet somehow really good for me. Here are the bits that I had stuff to say about )
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When I found a link to this article that labeled it merely "A parent’s lessons on living with grief, 10 years after her daughter died", I already knew that clicking on it would be bad for me.

But I did it anyway, of course. Because I'd had a bad day and didn't mind an excuse to cry? Because it's my mom's birthday? Because I was intrigued at that "10 years after." Because I'll read anything on the subject, in the hopes of feeling understood or just feeling less alone. As I said a couple of years ago,
I suppose it's because losing a brother at what we've been lead to believe is such an unnaturally young age is a rare thing now; it doesn't happen to a lot of people, so it's easy to feel lost and bewildered and alone.
I'm always hungry for anything that helps alleviate that loneliness.

The situation I read about in this long, wrenching, beautiful article ended up being eerily similar to my parents': a child in their early 20s dying in a car crash this time of year. It was ten years ago for this writer; it'll be nine for my parents in less than two weeks.

You hear a lot about the immediate aftermath of such a shock, and people kinda know what to expect, but what is there to say as the years go on and on? I was wondering this just today. And here I have an answer to that question.

Maybe that's why this is by far the most resonant and comforting thing I've ever read on the subject of the effects losing a child has on the immediate family.

I poured myself a glass of wine I felt I'd well-deserved as tears dried on my cheeks after I'd finished reading it, but I'm still very glad I did read this article. Because one of my big hang-ups is having to, trying to, failing to find words for my brother and my family now that I'm surrounded with people who didn't know him or what our lives were like then. None of my chosen family (with the exception of Andrew, of course) knew me when he was alive, which means they never knew the person I used to be...because I haven't been able to be that person since. Here at least are some of the words I haven't been able to find for myself.

Of course this writer's situation is very different in many details but surprisingly many of the experiences match. And in seeing familiar but always-unspoken reactions and insights reflected in this way, I feel like a part of myself that is usually hidden -- because neither I nor anyone around me seem to know what to do with it -- is being held up to the light. Reading this, I nodded a lot. I remembered a lot. It's awful to relive these memories but it's a relief to feel understood. It's worth it.

My parents are, by temperament or circumstances or both, not articulate people; they were not educated as this woman was, and they're part of a culture that (to put it mildly!) doesn't encourage or reward such openness. So to read here so many words that remind me of my own mom, particularly, feels like a kind of gift. I'm afforded a glimpse I never thought I could get of how my mom might have thought and felt, thanks to someone in circumstances similar enough that I can see my own parents and I all over her terrible, beautiful words.


Apr. 7th, 2014 08:53 pm
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In some ways, it must be awful for a family to have to mourn the sudden loss of a young loved one in public. ("What is your reaction to the death of Peaches Geldof?," the BBC asks. Send us your comments." Ugh. That someone has to read all those comments is unimaginable horror to me.)

But in some other ways it might be a comfort, to know that so many feel some small echo of what you do. Otherwise, grief can be so lonely. If a not-famous person dies, the reaction seems unfairly small.

I remember when Chris died, I almost wanted everybody to hurt, because I didn't want it just to be us. I wanted strangers to cry, I wanted a psychic disturbance, I wanted everyone to acknowledge the loss as if they felt it as deeply as I did. My mom resented having to do such prosaic things as eat, as if even metabolism should have stopped bothering her for a respectful interval, and I hated seeing anyone do anything normal; put on hats, drive cars, listen to the radio. So having the internet full of what I was thinking about could have been comforting to me in some strange way, I think.

"So young," people say, and of course it is but also, we are lucky to think this is remarkable: these things happen every day. They happen to strangers, ordinary people, so we just don't know it. Anyway, we can't know. Our minds and hearts couldn't take it, because there are actually quite a lot of these ordinary people, and the effect of this happening to me just once was enough to knock my life off-kilter for years (and, in some ways, forever).

But still I can't help being aware that while it might not always be as commented-upon, it's always just as much a tragedy.
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November isn't going according to plan at all, but the general plan of "not feel so shit at this time of year for once" seems to be going okay.

I measure my success (for once it feels like it's snuck up on me! that's better than it looming like it usually does) by how disconcerted I was that Mom, on the phone yesterday, was talking about...well, I was going to say "about my brother," but she isn't. No one does that any more. I don't do that any more. There are no more stories to tell about him.

So what we talk about is the presence of his absence, something that takes up the same space as him but does not grow or change or give us anything new to talk about.

She asked me if I want to write something for the local paper again this year. Which means she wants me to. So I'll try, but god. I scroll back through the last couple of pages of stuff tagged with his name and I see myself keep saying "what really hurts is that there's nothing to say." Even that is old now. What happens after you get beyond unchanging?

And rather than cluttering up your brains with another depressing entry later, I'll just add that I've also been thinking lately that I need to come up with a better answer to "do you have brothers or sisters?" I met a bunch of new people for work last week and so was innocuously asked this a few times, and I was awkward and it sucked. As David Sedaris said here
Now, though, there weren’t six, only five. “And you can’t really say, ‘There used to be six,’ ” I told my sister Lisa. “It just makes people uncomfortable.”
Plus in a way, it's not entirely true that there only used to be six; there still are six, in their pasts and their heads and their habits of thinking and interacting, as that piece he wrote proves so eloquently. There's only me now, but I'm not an only child.

I don't want to lie because I'm shit at this kind of lying; I'd only say something like "oh yeah my brother and I were like that" later on (I'm bad at compartmentalizing my life like this, which is also why sometimes not being able to be out as bi or poly is stressful), and confuse everyone like my boss does when he goes on about being an orphan and then tells stories about his mum and stepdad. And I hate euphemisms, so I'm not going to say "we lost him," which makes it sound like he's hiding behind the sofa, or "he's gone" which makes it sound like he's just somewhere else (which is especially confusing when all the rest of my family actually are just somewhere else), or whatever. Yet if I just say "I had a brother but he died," people are startled and I don't want anyone to feel bad for asking (less because of any altruistic concern than because it ramps up my anxiety, so it's no good telling me "don't worry about that, they'll be fine;" in my experience, they always are, but I'm not, not least because as I said in some ways it feels inaccurate or incomplete to speak of my having a brother only in the past tense; I don't know what it is but I still have something because I am not an only child). I don't have any other siblings to talk about to deflect attention by providing a bit of change of subject.

Eight fucking years I've had to work on that one, and I still haven't managed to crack it yet.
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A friend on Facebook is saying how stupid Fox News is for blaming someone shooting people on his liking "violent video games" and now there needs to be a video game registry.

One of the comments is about two kids who apparently on their way home from buying GTA V helped an elderly man out of his burning house, got smoke inhalation themselves, and spent a day in hospital instead of playing their game. Which I guess refutes the "video games make you an awful person" meme, but I already had all the proof I needed on that.

One of the most overwhelming wedding presents I got was a check from T, one of my brother's best friends. He grew up the closest thing we had to neighbors, and he and Chris had been friends since kindergarten. They were sharing a house at the time Chris died. And another thing they shared was, the day before, spending most of the night in sleeping bags outside Best Buy to get Xboxes on the first day the new ones were available.

T sold both of them on eBay and gave me that money as a wedding present. He explained that he didn't want video games now, or the money from them, and he knew that my parents wouldn't take the money from him (which is utterly true) so he gave it to me.

I remember crying when I read his note explaining the check, and I'm a little sniffly now (though that may just be my stupid sinuses), mostly because of what a good guy he is, especially at a time when he was hurting barely less than our family was. My brother had dozens of friends, all hit hard by losing him, but none like T.

Somehow it'd never occurred to me until now, coming up on eight years later, that since half that money was my brother's, T did for me something no one else could: he gave me a wedding present from my brother.


Yeah. Can't blame this on my sinuses now. I need to go find some tissues, and make some tea.

But I just had to get this out of my head first (and I also inconveniently timed this revelation for just after Andrew left the house for work).

T is getting married very soon, and I wish I could get him something as good for a wedding present.
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In the car on the way to Liverpool with Andrew's parents, I contemplated how my day would go. When we got back home I'd have to talk to my parents, of course...knowing it's Father's Day, I was immediately terrified by visions of having to talk to all of my mom's family again, phone passed from boring cousin to abrasive aunt to uncle who's uninterested enough in talking that I feel he's on my side.

But then I realized it wouldn't be like Mother's Day: for the first time, there was nowhere for my family to congregate. Both of my parents' fathers are dead now. And my dad of course doesn't get to see his kids today.

The card I sent seems a paltry substitute, though practically the first thing my dad said on the phone was to thank me for it. I said I hoped he'd had a nice day and he said "oh yeah" in that wonderfully encouraging Minnesotan way (this is about as strongly positive as anything gets in a land where the standard is "not so bad").

But the first thing my mom had said was that they went to eat at Red Lobster today, because it was Chris's favorite.

Nothing else was said, no guilt trip for being a long plane trip away when I'm the closest they can get to the children they love so much. But the stoicism is worse, somehow, than if they were to try to nag or manipulate or anything I could work up a lather of indignation about. I can hardly bear to think of it: them making a trip they often do to go shopping or eat at my dad's beloved Baker's Square, but even if they went to the mall today there's bound to have been some moment on the way there, some flash of if not conversation at least realization that they were able to get no closer to him than to go to a restaurant that's long been part of the mythology of their son's personality -- not that they would say that, of course, because they're much better at being Minnesotan than I am, with my heart of the sleeve of this blog and half my conversations, or no doubt more than half if I'm tired or drunk or otherwise feeling vulnerable.
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Man, this week is totally kicking my ass with little things that remind me of my brother and make me feel a little sad. It's funny how things come in waves: I'll be fine for ages and then...well, I'm still fine, just a teeny bit fragile. It's just a damn shame he's not around; I miss him.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (window)
A blog I read pointed me at this interview with Stephen Colbert in Playboy, and I read it -- cults, bears, interview guests, superPACs, and all -- because the quote they gave from the long interview was about one of the subjects I'll read pretty much anything about: dead brothers.

Colbert's father and two of his brothers died in a plane crash when he, the youngest of the family, was ten.

PLAYBOY: It’s been almost four decades since it happened. Does the grief dissipate?

COLBERT: No. It’s not as keen. Well, it’s not as present, how about that? It’s just as keen but not as present. But it will always accept the invitation. Grief will always accept the invitation to appear. It’s got plenty of time for you.... “I’ll be here when you need me.” The interesting thing about grief, I think, is that it is its own size. It is not the size of you. It is its own size. And grief comes to you. You know what I mean? I’ve always liked that phrase He was visited by grief, because that’s really what it is. Grief is its own thing. It’s not like it’s in me and I’m going to deal with it. It’s a thing, and you have to be okay with its presence. If you try to ignore it, it will be like a wolf at

I am drawn to people talking about their dead brothers for reasons not totally known to me but I suppose it's because losing a brother at what we've been lead to believe is such an unnaturally young age is a rare thing now; it doesn't happen to a lot of people, so it's easy to feel lost and bewildered and alone.

I remember just after Chris died, among all the well-wishes and expressions of love and concern -- touching and monumentally important though those were! -- the only person I could really stand to talk to was Hilary, Andrew's aunt, who told me about losing a brother a handful of years earlier.  Her brother was about twice the age of mine, but it was still considered a tragically young death, and I think it was of something quite sudden too.  I don't remember the details now, but I remember being grateful to have her to exchange e-mails with.  It might seem like the most horrid way to cope with such a blow, by thinking about other people who've experienced similar horrible things, but it worked for me.  She knew what to say.

I remember everybody telling me "I don't know what to say" and while (I hope!) I rarely if ever said anything as abrupt as this out loud, I always thought "Good."  May you never know what to say. I wouldn't be surprised if the only way to know is to have it happen to you.  Hilary knew what to say.  My mom knew what to say when a co-worker's son of roughly my age died suddenly a few years after Chris did.  Stephen Colbert knows what to say: "Grief is not the size of you," indeed.  "It’s not like it’s in me and I’m going to deal with it. It’s a thing, and you have to be okay with its presence."

Sometimes I'm more okay than others, of course.  Next week it will have been seven years since my brother died I'm not one for anniversaries -- I keep saying, he's no more gone that day than any other -- but it's hard on my mom.  Thanksgiving is hard on her, and it being a floating holiday, so the date of his death and the holiday are sometimes on the same day and sometimes not, means each year is hard in a different way: last year they were the same day and she was particularly dreading that, but this year they're almost a week apart and that just sounds like an unfairly extended period of agony.

But then of course it's all unfairly prolonged agony.  I think of the interview question Colbert got asked: It’s been almost four decades... And of course it doesn't stop hurting, and I don't expect I will have stopped hurting after four decades or any greater number of decades that I might live.  His story is part of my story.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (window)
I don't remember the last time I cried so hard, for no apparent reason. "Delayed mourning for a lot of things," a friend told me, which I knew, but it didn't really seem like an explanation.

It was the day we had to sort out the plane tickets for Christmas, first thing in the morniing. I was very careful -- this is something that often induces panic attacks in me; the terrifying expense and the huge importance of everything going right just pulls the rug out from under me every time I think about it -- but by the time it was all sorted I still felt like I'd been punched in the head. I stayed in bed a long time that morning, and when I got out, I was crying. Tears streamed down my face as I went to the kitchen to try to find something to eat; sobs tore up the silence as I went to blow my nose. Sometimes the crying folded me in half, curled me up like a bug shrinking from the touch of your finger, but mostly I was still able to go around the house and do things in what was left of that morning.

And yes, delayed mourning, yes the comedown of an outwardly-simplistic but inwardly-demanding act of sorting out the plane tickets (I make Andrew do most of it but it's still hard on me), yes yes, but I couldn't get past the feeling that the usually happy (or at least relief-filled; it's been a while since I could say I had a happy Christmas) thoughts of home and family and Christmas were making me cry.

"I miss my family," I told Andrew when I finally confessed the crying. He reminded me that I'd see them soon, that we had the tickets now to prove it.

"Not all of them," I wanted to say. But instead I said "I know." I knew what he meant, and I knew he meant well. But not only is the prospect of a Christmas Eve without my grandpa simply horrific, I was missing my brother that day, more than I have in a long, long time.

At the funeral and stuff for my grandpa, my mom had a really hard time. Of course she was mourning her dad, but she kept saying all this reminded her of Chris, and even though it was almost seven years ago now, it is the last time we had a funeral in our close family -- one of those where you pick out the casket and the pictures for the little video and turn up early before the deluge of well-wishers. At the time it didn't faze me at all -- I remember that stuff hardly or not at all; there's about six months there, including my own wedding, of which I have only the fuzziest and incomplete memories -- buut what else could it be, leaving me think of my brother all the time now? What else is making me cry and stealing my words so no one even knows I'm thinking this?

Who knows?

As everyone, including the excellent Bill of Mourner's Rights says, "grief is a process, not an event."

It's easy to make time for it and to get help from close people when it's fresh and new, but it never really goes away; it just lessens and we stop talking about it.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
I saw my grandma the last day before I had to fly back. She and my mom and her sister told a lot of old stories, most of which I'd heard many times -- or lived through -- and knew well, but one I didn't remember was about my brother wearing my grandpa's Vikings sweatsuit to bed one night. "He put the pants on and pulled them up to his chin!" my grandma said, miming the action and laughing.

And so tonight I am wearing that same Vikings sweatsuit to bed. It fits me fine.

So I am warm and thankful my grandpa and Chris feel a little closer.


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