19,133 days

east wind’s rain and north wind’s clearin’
cold old southwest wind’s a fair wind home
one bell two bells don’t go grievin’
all our bad times past and blown alee”

–Gordon Bok, “Saben the Woodfitter”

If I live to awaken on August 14th I will be a different person in a kind of way. Sometime during the hours that comprise the preceding day there will come a moment when I will have lived 19,133 days. That’s how many days my older sister lived. Nineteen thousand, one hundred and thirty-three days.

She was born 497 days before I was and she died on April 3rd of last year, so sometime on August 13th of this year, or perhaps the hours just around the edges of that day (I can’t figure it that precisely) it will become true of me that I have lived longer — first by a second, and then by several minutes, and then by hours — than the sibling who preceded me into the world. That morning, I will have crossed a psychological border into a territory that I was never meant* to inhabit or tread into or even see.

Seems no matter whom you talk to, the mountain is sacred ground.

Day 19,122; a selfie seems inevitable. Jeni felt a strong bond with Mount Rainier all her life, so I snapped this one thinking of her when we visited the old rock a few days ago. More about that soon…

In some ways — maybe in most ways — this is a meaningless thought exercise, just one more way for a naturally melancholic overthinker to punish himself for being such a bumbler as to lose a sister, to not fully appreciate and properly cherish a family member while she lived such that there would be no feeling of loss when parting time came, no missing. We can’t demand that every sibling drop dead after the elapse of a certain precise time span. And this happens all the time. In fact, Angela has the similar experience that she has now lived longer than her own mother did. It is nothing new under the sun.

Moreover (really? have I become the person who says “moreover”?), this day and this reality have no inherent significance for my little brother, who is just as bereft as I. The difference between Ben’s age and Jeni’s was a different difference, and if he survives me, as is my hope, the countdown that begins on the day I shed the coil to the moment he becomes the “sibling who has become oldest” will constitute a different number of days for him; 1,589 days in fact.

So, yes, it’s ridiculous for me to dwell on this. I could with just these few thoughts dismiss the whole idea. But in another way, perhaps only to me, I think it’s the saddest thing in the world. I lose my place as the middle child, and my sister stops preceding me into my ages.

I used to look at these photos and think what a long time ago that was.

Jeni, Matt, Ben.

I’ve been thinking about that day a lot (it almost goes without saying). About what I should do. It feels like I should do something, mark it somehow. Take the day off, maybe, although there’s no point in just having more time to be morose. Jeni’s grave is very close to where I now work. I could go there on my lunch break.

Anyway, if God ordains that I should open my eyes next Thursday, the landscape I see will represent what I think is the final leg of my journey as my sister’s brother. I’ll be the second-born oldest child, for the rest of my days on Earth. Maybe I’ll stop thinking about death so much; maybe it becomes easier to see every single day as a gift, something extra, a special bonus opportunity that not everyone gets.

stars thy compass, cloud thy canvas,
rock thy keelson, wind thy course to steer
one bells two bells don’t go grievin’
all our bad times past and blown alee”

———————————————————–

*What is “meant” to be seems to me ultimately indemonstrable, but one could argue the point, and you know what I mean.

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6 Responses to “19,133 days”


  1. 1 angela August 6, 2014 at 22:27

    Even though “it is nothing new under the sun”, it is still difficult, and even shocking to enter that strange realm. I understand counting the days, too. I used to count how many days it had been since my mom died. As if just knowing how many days, months or years had actually passed could keep her memory, the feeling of her, closer to me. So many markers. I was 16 when she died, so when I turned 32, I felt shocked to think that I had lived another lifetime since her death. I anticipated turning 50 (the age that my mother was when she died) with fear, guilt, and then relief. I did it. I made it to 50, and I am healthy and strong. Now the next marker will be when each of our daughters turns 16. I have to admit that I have started counting (in years) in anticipation. Until then, I will live each day to the fullest, a gift, as you said, something extra, a special bonus opportunity that not everyone gets.

  2. 2 Barb August 7, 2014 at 08:11

    I’ve just read your blog and of course I cry. It’s not “supposed” to be the way it is. I should have preceeded all three of you so I have been feeling all along that the loss is all wrong, all upside down. I am finding solice in coming along side others in my community who are going through recent loss. It helps me loosen my grip on my own pain. God is good and His mercy endureth forever. The 23rd Psalm says it all.

    Mom

  3. 3 LG August 7, 2014 at 08:32

    I have nothing to add, just that I loved this post.

  4. 4 Cheryl August 9, 2014 at 17:28

    Just as we know to be kind to ourselves, be kind to your feelings. They are exactly you. None feel what or exactly what you do. This time, this day, this exact second is one of sorrow, of emptiness, loss. Never ridiculous! Never! Nothing invalidates your experience and what you are now experiencing through remembrance and feelings. Cliche: It IS what is. You are real, your mind, your thoughts. Let yourself have this time of sorrow. I really don’t think you are excessively morbid and over-thinking this at all. Take your moments, remember and feel. You won’t be here long. I don’t think you are that kind of person to fall into a deep pit because you feel deeply and longer than perhaps another would.
    ~ Take your time, take what you need, tuck your sister in that place in your heart where she lives forever. When you are ready, you won’t forget, but you will be in a good place.

  5. 5 Matt August 11, 2014 at 07:59

    I wasn’t planning to reply to comments on this one, but it might seem snubby since I usually reply to all (initial) comments. So here’s to say thanks to those of you who’ve read this and/or offered your thoughts. Cheryl, you truthbombed me. Thanks for that. For the record, I doubt that I feel more deeply or longerly than any other…just maybe more verbosely than many. 🙂

    • 6 leatherhead109 August 29, 2014 at 13:04

      If you could envision a bloke, walking down the street. His feet stumble, he hesitates, regains his stride as his feet maneuver to recover. That was losing Dad. I was ready for it, I think. But see that same bloke, he sees a pothole and maneuvers to avoid it, but it’s a big one, the best he can do is negotiate. Suddenly his knee buckles and although he isn’t down in the pothole, the climb across its rim is painful and slow. Trying to figure out why that particular leg is lost its plumb, it’s steadiness. That was Jeni. That leg still doesn’t work just right. But I suppose it’s on the mend.


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