Unlike my other posts with well thought out words, I can only embody the grief I feel. No song, melody, tune can soothe me or personify the true weight of losing my brother.
Jan 3: My brother died today. He was 32 years old. His birthday is February15. He loves the Cowboys. The doctors could resuscitate him. And he died.
Jan 4: I’m sitting in an airport flying home to bury my brother. He leaves behind my 15 year old nephew, A. He’s also survived by his wife, Ronnie, and her 5 kids (A is her stepson).
Qasim was my closest brother growing up. He always loved on me. Made me laugh. Told me to pull his finger. He tried to teach me how to play video games. He enjoyed SciFi novels like our mom. He was so smart, the smartest of the 5 of us. He was destined for greatness. He used to run around the house and pick me up. He loved to cook, chef extraordinaire.
Since being diagnosed in 2006 he’s being in and out of the hospital most of my adult life. But he was a fighter. He always said the doctors didn’t know what was wrong with him and that he was a solider. He was gonna keep fighting because well because he’s Qasim.
Q loved comics. He was the one that got me hooked on X-men. He used to swim with me and David and J.J. Baker in the ocean. And he would walk me to school. He played army men with me and my Barbies (he had those green plastic army men in a metal case that had stickers on it).
My favorite memory is when he played a part in a community play and this monster was out to get him. I vaguely remember standing up and screaming Run Qasim Run! He would call me while I was in school to talk shop always saying How ya doing, Miss Hoya?
And now he’s gone. It doesn’t seem real you know? It’s like I’m living in a bad dream where time has stopped and I can’t take a deep breath.
When people call/text/email/leave cards with their condolences I know that they are trying to help and be supportive but it also makes it very real. Real enough that people are sad for you because they know you—they know loss—and they know a 32 year old man has no business collapsing and dying suddenly. People ask how you are doing and because saying that you feel like your entire life is dissolving requires too many text characters and way too much breath, you answer with simple platitudes like “I’m ok”, “I’m fine”, “I don’t know”. And they respond with consoling rhetoric like “hang in there”, “this too shall pass”, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. Instead of my reply of “go fuck yourself” while I dwell in a wall of emotions, I just say “thank you”.
The logical side says people don’t know how to handle/respond to death and they respond in a manner that at once soothes their obligatory check-in and at lasts lets the aggrieved know that someone is thinking of them/ their needs.
But it sucks. Everything about the mass texts and the Bible verses, and the phone calls that I send to voicemail do nothing but magnify my loss. And in the end you feel very alone.
This is the type of alone where your breath catches and the syncopated rhythm becomes short gasps leaving you clawing at your neck and rubbing your eyes. Nothing is funny. Nothing is right. Nothing makes sense. You become numb.
In the end I just want my brother back. Getting on and off the plane to AZ brought me closer and closer to the realization that my brother is gone forever. Telling the story to all the people who called and asked bursts the invisible bubble where I thought this was just a dream. It’s funny that when I’m not absorbed in sadness I’m awash in anger and hate. I just don’t understand why he had to go.
Jan 5: The tornado gained force as my brother Alf and I tried to get everything ready for Friday. Time escapes us and it felt like no matter what we couldn’t properly honor our brother. There was too much to do and all I wanted was someone to hold me, make me feel safe again. That’s the destructive nature of death: it takes away your center leaving you numb, senseless, undeniably cold, and without a firm foundation to stand. Because there have always been 5 of us… Alf, Mi, D, Q, and me. 5 people who comforted one another, who spoke differently to one another, who completed each other, and who loved each other deeply.
There’s an unexplainable gap which leaves you distracted, absent, repeating yourself like Rain Man, wanting to throw tantrums, and lastly understanding that being an adults is the biggest crock of inevitable bullshit. Even worse that fear of abandonment dangles its head, taunting me in my acute aloneness. And the truth that no matter how tightly I hold on, you will eventually leave me— alone.
The fucked up part is the scheming, blood sucking, capitalist leeches that charge excessive fortunes to respect the dead: letting us know that for $1400 we can have 30 mins with our beloved deceased brother in that unsoothing dim-lit room with tinkling music playing in the background before we are handed the particles of his remains as he’s burned with the other poverty stricken souls. Thank you, you slimy son of a bitch for letting me know that I have 30minutes to say goodbye to the person I’ve literally known my whole life. What they won’t include is the urn. That’s the deluxe package that no one can scrape together in 2days. The urn– a carefully crafted domicile for a cherished member of a family.
Jan 6: After scouring shops with Alf, I had to make my brothers final resting place. One for Mommy/Daddy and one for his wife Ronnie. Did I mention that Qasim loved the Cowboys? I painted the boxes blue and white, Auntie lined the insides with velvet from a fabric store. Alf left me in charge of the inscription. I agonized for the 1.2days that I had to figure out what would immortalize my brother and express the eternal love/devotion we all have for him. I went with what I felt:
Beloved Father, Husband, Brother, Son
Forever young, Forever missed
I hope he saw that from heaven and smiled, I hope he knows how much i—we—miss him. I miss his smiles and his laugh and his hugs and his Carlton dance and his stern looks that made his nostrils flare, and his voice when he would call me Miss Hoya Hoya. I hope he knows how much we love him.
I got the engravings at Things Remembered (who will forever have my business). The lady behind the counter was so patient with me. Crying in the store holding the box that would soon house my brother. Painstakingly double checking the draft inscription, then sitting right in front of the store staring off into nothingness waiting with a crumpled face and cascading tears for the obligatory hour process to finish.
Even though there were three people in front of me, she completed the two plaques first. She smiled kindly as I finished my transactions (and my credit card was declined) adding a Q charm for my necklace, forever taking my brother with me.
I left the mall to sit on a bench in my gray dress and black sweater in the AZ sun waiting to be picked up for the viewing. All of a sudden it hit me that I was losing my brother today, that he was really gone. That this wasn’t a nightmare. I lost it on a bench in front of the biggest mall in AZ. Screaming out that I didn’t want to bury my brother. My aunts and uncle pull up. Everyone is trying to console me, trying to move me from the bench, trying to get me to talk it out. At that moment the realness of wanting C as a home plate shook my core. Doesn’t matter that I drove to his house Tuesday after hearing the news only to find out he doesn’t live there anymore. It’s not really a good look to be banging on someone’s door at 10pm in the middle of the hood in DC, crying. I didn’t really think all of that through. The whole week I kept thinking that he would know what to do; he would know what to say, he would tell me what I should be doing. The apparent loss of my best friend ( C ) and my beloved brother was too much at one time.
We get to the viewing at Tempe Mortuary. And you walk into a church like atmosphere with pews. My brother lays prostrate on a raised alter covered from mid-chest down by a quilted patchwork patterned yellow/orange blanket. He was still in his hospital scrubs, dots of blood marring the blue speckled cotton fabric, his lips chapped, hands crossed right over left. He looked like he was sleeping. I’ve never seen a dead body before, and I damn sure didn’t want the first one to be my brother.
We got to go up and say goodbye. I’m sobbing with Mi as Daddy holds us both. Mi whispering furiously “he’s got to get up, tell him to get up, someone go wake him up”, rubbing my hand. D arrives crying, boldly walks up to make peace with my brother: saying goodbye, talking to him. Alf says goodbye, prays over his body, crying. Mommy says a few words, crying, Daddy’s holding her slight frame. My sisters and I huddled together, crying uncontrollably. Then Mommy talks about leaving, about where we are going next. I’ve never been so angry at someone in my life. I just lose it. I’ve never had such an out-of-body experience, but I turn into an unrecognizable lunatic. I scream out about not leaving, not wanting to go, shaking people off me, ignoring the pleas for me to calm down. I’m telling them that we have to wake Qasim up. He has to get up because we can’t leave without him, because there’s 5 of us— all 5 of us have to go.
I think D convinces me that we need to say goodbye, I always listen to her. We walk up and say goodbye. I reach to touch Qasims arm, just like I saw everyone else do, to say goodbye— the cold, the frigid emptiness that permeated my body as my fingers glided across his once warm skin. I’ll never forget that. Never. It’s the type of cold that no matter how much you rub, kiss, cuddle it will never heat up or absorb warmth. It’s the ice that seeps in: my knees buckle and I collapse screaming because the weight of this reality has killed my optimism— just like it killed my brother.
I’m forced to get up—time rushing past us, the demand to evacuate the sanctuary because we didn’t pay for more. I stand up, really look at my brother. I promise my love for him and lay my head on his chest where no answering heartbeat heal to my hurt. I accept the hollow, and wish him well in heaven.
But it doesn’t mean I don’t want him back, that I wouldn’t sacrifice my all for him back. I never thought he would leave and I have to live with his absence for the rest of my life. Puts things in perspective, huh?
All I have left is one picture of all 7 of us together from Thanksgiving:
I love you Qasim.