There have always been five of us Smith kids but now there are four. On Friday August the 14th, I lost my little brother and another piece of my heart was ripped out. The Smith family tree will never be the same again as we’ve lost yet another branch.
“Lost” is an appropriate word. When someone you love dies, you find yourself looking for them at random times when something makes you think of them. Grief , in the words of my cousin Travis, “Washes over you in waves”. One moment I am absurdly proud of myself for “hanging in there” and “holding it all together”. The next moment I find myself wracked with sobs in the shower or waking in the middle of the night in tears. I go into a restaurant and find myself thinking how Stephen would have ordered the biggest steak on the menu followed by the most decadent dessert on the menu and enjoyed both with great relish. I see the Fall weather coming and think that Stephen would love to plan a hike to Jones Gap. I log into Amazon and I wonder what Stephen would buy when I sent him an Amazon gift card for Christmas. I go into Michael’s or Hobby Lobby and I think of Stephen drawing pose after pose of his wolves.
I hear his laughter and see his signature hair flip in my mind's eye. It is etched there along with his smell-cigarette smoke and the blend of essential oils that were his shield against the anxiety that imprisoned him, secluded for so much of his life in his room. In the past few years, Stephen's Asperger's and depression grasped him more tightly than ever before and he became more reclusive than ever. It became a rare occurrence that some event or family get together managed to lure him out of his room.
I am angry at myself for not trying harder to break down his walls and get inside. All I have left now are his photographs and the memories that go with them. I never got to say goodbye or that I loved him. I’ve tried to make up for everything that I couldn’t do or say in numerous trivial tasks that I’ve applied myself to after his death. We tried to ensure Stephen’s funeral was perfect, down to every last detail. Our cousin Travis Smith officiated with words and sentiments that resonated deeply and touched many hearts. We chose flowers for his casket that were bright, colorful and reminiscent of a field of wildflowers. Many photographs of Stephen adorned the room where his casket lay, along with one of his beloved wolf figurines. I wrote his obituary myself because I wanted everyone to know Stephen like we did. It was both a dreaded and therapeutic task as I kept thinking of more I wanted to say and yet I procrastinated because I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted everyone to read about his life and who he was instead of just seeing the dates of his birth and death and who his family members are. Today my siblings and I are writing thank you notes to send out to everyone that has assisted us in our time of need. Be assured that we do not do this out of obligation, but rather as one more way to pay our respects to our brother. Soon, we will take the same care with choosing the marker to adorn his grave. We’ve already found one that is “Stephen”. We don’t attend to these details because we “have to” or feel as though we should. We “need to” to make everything right for our brother. As though one can set right the adversities and unfairness of one’s life by attending to the details of their death. Crazy, I know.
If you see us Smith kids or our Mom, know that we appreciate your prayers, well wishes and your generosity. Don't be very kind or say anything too sweet though because that is painful for broken hearts to handle and we are trying to be strong. Never wait to tell someone you love them. Never stop trying to break down their walls. Even when they get cranky about it. Take each moment you are in, treasure it and hold fast to it. Time and people slip away far too soon and you are left holding a photograph instead of being able to hug your brother again. R.I.P Stephen. I love you and I will miss you every day until we meet again.