I had one sibling. A brother. He was 21 months older. From childhood on, I was always with my brother. As children, we played spiritedly, we fought vigorously. We were two children in a house with two parents. We were together on holidays, at swim lessons, a boring visit to a relative's house, the same school.
In adolescence, ours was a relationship common among brothers and sisters, striving for separation and distance, figuring out who we were alone. In adulthood, it was a time of coming together, of sharing our experiences raising children and building careers.
When he died, I feel I died.... All that comprised who I thought I was - the opinionated sister, classical pianist, the artist - were a reaction to all that he was.
However he and I chose to live, we knew that each of us was trying to carve a place in this world that would make us happy. This knowledge that each was living life gave us peace.
My brother vanished from my life when he was 41. This untimely death was made worse by the fact that, for my brother, life really did begin at 40. After enduring the growing pains of his 20s, and the busyness of his 30s, he was finally enjoying the proverbial fruits from his career as a medical professional. He revelled in his two small children, and found time to ski, to play jazz piano, to travel.
On a sunny Saturday in March, 2009, he was skiing a glorious mountain in British Columbia when an avalanche rose behind him: a massive, formless exclamation of nature. It swept him over a cliff, encasing him in a frozen tomb.
For many months after he died, concerned people gently inquired about the well-being of my parents, of his wife and children. My well-being, so it seemed, was not of concern.
Only on one occasion do I recall a friend asking me, "How are you doing?" Out of habit, I started to give details about the family, but she interrupted and asked again, "No, how are you doing?"
I was startled, for I had not thought about how I was doing. And I realized I was not doing well. I lost my parents as I had known them before he died. I lost a future with my brother. We would never raise our families together; we would never share those inside jokes about relatives or laugh at the idiosyncrasies of our parents. We would never, in the natural order of things, say goodbye to our parents together, and we would never grow old together.
I lost myself. My brother was my other half. A half I had not embraced, probably because being the younger of the two, I wanted to be exactly opposite of all that he was.
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And he was a lot of things. He was mercurial, brooding and very, very funny. I was talkative, emotional, easily teased. He played jazz piano, I, classical. He had a propensity for logical problems, complex math and physics. I gravitated toward the arts, to literature, to anything aesthetic. He was a sportsman. I dabbled. He was a pensive person, but could find humour in everything. I was light and effervescent, but didn't laugh easily.
Every day I am grateful his death was quick. But when he died, I feel I died, except my demise has been slow, gradual. All that comprised who I thought I was - the opinionated sister, classical pianist, the artist - were a reaction to all that he was. Once he vanished in that shroud of snow, my ongoing reaction to him fractured, and I was left with fragments.
He vanished; I broke. Now, I am piecing together a new me, one that includes engaging in interests my brother held close to his heart, and to my surprise, interests that naturally hold my attention. While I still play classical piano, I now happily take jazz piano lessons. I enjoy books that interested him, topics in science, economics, particular novels.
I like to laugh, often. In a kind of rebirth, I am forming a new me: a combination of my brother and the person I was before he vanished. His half and my half equals me, now.
Funny, but it took his death for me to realize we were not so different, that the differences were imagined, that it was unnecessary to build myself into someone who equalled the opposite of all he was. We were really the same - on the inside. My brother left many marks on this earth, especially in his children, who remind me of him every time I look into their faces. But he left his mark inside of me, too.
Who I am now reminds me of my brother, constantly. I remember that once I had a brother, that once we had rivalry, that I am who I am, became who I became, because of him.
Sandhya Kohli lives in Toronto.
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