Because Life is a Gift

Yesterday my phone rang and my brother’s name showed up on the screen.

iPhone screenMy brother died last year, but I can’t bear to delete his phone number from my list of contacts. This was the first time in these months that, for whatever reason, there he was, on my iPhone screen.

In that very instant, the strange collection of feelings that is grief tumbled over each other all over again, flashing in front of my eyes like the pages in one of those animated story books you flip through with your thumb: longing, fear, anger, disbelief, whatever you call the feeling that makes you want to wail out loud.

I’ve spent the last few weeks in Hawaii, visiting family and friends in this beautiful place where I grew up. In my visit here this year, however, I have not yet returned to the Big Island, where my brother lived, and where I spent considerable time last spring when John died suddenly.

But even my time on the island where we grew up has been filled with moments of sadness and grief, regret, longing, sharp pain: returning to my parents’ house, John’s picture prominently displayed in every room; walking down the beach at Waimea Bay, remembering the last time I did that I was with him; hearing his friend sing a Waimea Baysong we played at his hospital bed as he died; seeing so many friends and family who loved him too, in their presence for the first time since John’s funeral.

So tomorrow I’ll head back to the place we said our final goodbye. And while the feelings of loss are not so shocking or raw as they were last year, the deep pain of missing him: his hugs, his exuberant “Hey, sis!,” even the vague yet perpetual feelings of worry for him while he went out of his way to make the world believe he was doing just fine—all of the things that made up my brother—will be missing.

To find words that encapsulate grief must be near impossible, at least this has been my experience, because the feelings of living without someone you love change almost constantly. Sometimes they rush over me like a pounding ocean wave; sometimes they lurk in the corners, brushing by like a shadow. I feel in one instant so deeply grateful to have known a gentle giant who always looked up to me somehow…and so viscerally angry at his own—even at my own—inability to fix his pain.

I often think, if I could only see him one more time, I would either shake him with fury or put my arms around him, hang on as tight as I possibly could, and never, ever let go.

But I know when I walk off the plane tomorrow he won’t be there. It may be another occasion of doing the next thing you have to do, until the sorrow recedes enough so that you can breathe again. Or it may be a sweet rush of memories that make my heart glad.

I don’t know.

However the grief decides to show up this time, I guess I want to say that this year of wandering through it has made me want to do two things most urgently of all.

John Dill Obituary PhotoFirst, I want to go somewhere—his grave, or the open bay where we spread some of his ashes last year—and say out loud that I’m so glad I had you, John, for the years that I did.

Because life is a gift, and this year has taught me they were so very precious.

And second, I want to gather in close everybody I love, those whose presence in my life I have not paused to cherish enough.

Because life is a gift, and this year has taught me they are so very precious.


(I spoke about John and this year a bit more here.)

6 Comments on “Because Life is a Gift

  1. Your words bring the feelings of loss, frustration, and love so close to home. Even after 30 years, the death of my partner Scott brings back many of the same feelings. Please find some comfort that, of all these feelings, love is the one that never dies….jim

  2. Life is a gift and you are a special gift to me and many. May you continue to be strengthened and blessed. Pastor Amy I love you.

  3. This story really resonates with me. I have seven brothers. I have not yet had to suffer the pain of losing any of them. However, I left home when I was 19, to go to college. I have lived in other cities, apart from my family since then, visiting with them for very short periods at a time, over a period of nearly half of a century. Needless to say, when I decided to spend this Summer with one of my brothers, of course, he had changed. I am very uncomfortable with the changes — conservative theology,contradictory life style, attitudes toward women, conservative politics, etc., etc. Actually, I am mourning, too. I have lost my little brother, and the grief is very painful. I guess I need to get to know this new person, but probably again, from a distance.

  4. Amy. I read every word of this message as if they were my own. I still have my brother’s contact information as well as his last voicemails I cannot delete. Every time I go home to NC I think, this time he will be there. I could go on and on …. After three years it is still too painful. I just wish I was there with you today, to hug, cry and celebrate brothers with you. Thank you for sharing your pain for through your grief, I can better understand mine. Sandy

    Sent from my iPhone


  5. What a lovely tribute to your brother, Amy! How blessed you both have been to have had each other in your life.

  6. Thank you, Pastor Amy, for sharing your grief, your anguish, your thanksgiving, your year of saying goodbye to your brother. Those of us who have experienced significant grief in our lives can resonate with what you say. May God continue to bring healing to you and nourish you in your vacation time this summer. Alan

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