Besides my sister Robin, there’s no one in the world I’ve been friends with longer than Amber. And yet, even I had no idea what to say to her when I found out her younger brother had died in a car crash.
Four years later, this Castle Heart project finally gave me the nerve to reach out beyond the surface sentiments commonly accepted in our society. I asked her about how she is feeling now and what she’d taken away from that fateful night. I offered her this blog as a platform to open up, share, and say anything left unsaid.
This is the result, and it’s a message that—heartbreakingly—needs to be heard.
Thank you, Amber. I’m honored not only that you went to the trouble, but also that you bared your soul so honestly, so imploringly. I can’t help but think there’s someone out there that needs to read this today. And if they do, you and your brother will make a life-changing difference in that person’s life. Know that. Take comfort in that.
If Amber’s story reaches out to you, please let her know in the comments below.
I can see the episode play out before me as if I was a third party watching it unfold. It’s been engrained in my mind. It was a cold Sunday morning in February 2008. The phone rang. My heart started to race a little as I said hello for the third time; the silence on the other end was deafening.
Through the sobs, I was told disturbing news as I paced the bedroom floor. I remained strong on the outside, pushing awake panic for what seemed an eternity. When my parents hung up, it I felt like I was coming up for air after being submerged in water. I collapsed to my knees, trying to make sense of what I just heard.
Cory was gone. How could this be?
My younger brother was only 28 with lots of opportunities ahead of him. Tragically, he was taken in a fatal, fiery car accident the night before, February 10, 2008, just minutes from his home in Texas.
My brother was a passenger in a car with his work buddy and a mutual friend. They were last seen at a local bar celebrating my brother’s new job that he would be starting in the following days.
Their drive home ended atop a highway exit ramp where a semi-trailer had been parked illegally for days. Speculations developed that the juxtaposition of the trailer’s location, speed of the vehicle my brother was in, and alcohol played a factor in the accident, but we shall never know for certain. The fire destroyed most of the forensic evidence.
Unanswered questions left a gaping hole for anger, what-ifs, and resentment to set in, making closure all the more difficult. Being 1100 miles away, I was powerless and at the mercy of others’ cognitive abilities during this time of stress and trauma. This didn’t sit well with the part of me that likes control and resolution.
Many questions surrounding the accident are still left unanswered. Was the driver drunk or just distracted? Why didn’t he see the semi-trailer? Why was it left there in the first place? If they were drunk, why were they so foolish to drive? Was there no one to help them? Did he suffer?
For the next grueling ten days my parents rushed to finalize arrangements for my brother, first in Texas where he lived (and is survived by a son) and then Ohio where we both grew up.
Ten surreal days to replay the phone conversation in my head, to concoct the details of the car crash in my mind’s eye, and to battle the hundreds of questions swirling in my head. Ten days to prepare myself for the flood of questions and sympathy from family and friends. Although sincere and just, those were questions and sympathy I didn’t want to face.
It has been over four years now since I suddenly lost my only brother. Time has granted healing and provided a little space for me to tuck away the incident so it’s not at the forefront of my day. That mental room remains locked with a special key that I only access when I want to remember, relive, and reunite with Cory, such as the anniversary of the crash or when I hear a song by one of his favorite bands, The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
As much as I have come to terms with his passing and can freely share the details of the event, there is one piece that remains unsettled. Unfortunately, it’s not something that can be fixed, only accepted.
There were four grades between myself and Cory. I moved out of state to start a new life in college when he was entering the awkward, quiet teenage years. I wasn’t around much as he was growing into a young man. Then, away he went to the Marine Corp. Our communication struggled then, both of us private people (he more so than I), but it never mended.
Our lives were busy, and we were separated by eight states, different time zones, and that uncomfortable silence on the phone trying to prolong small talk.
There was never any bad blood or grudges. We just never took the time to know and understand each other as adults. I didn’t make it a priority because I felt we had time, and the baby steps created by social media seemed to be promising.
I waited too long.
The memories that I have of my brother are from our childhood. You know, the younger annoying brother … The one that always got car sick on every family vacation and never liked to get his hands sticky eating pancakes.
But the older he got, the more the memories get diluted from what I actually remember to stories I’ve been told by my youngest sister, his friends, and the things I’ve pieced together.
My memories of him as an adult are limited. I don’t know his favorite color, his favorite movie, or his goals and aspirations as a man. I never asked if he had thoughts of accomplishing grand things or what his fears were.
Who has a bucket list at age 28?
When I was asked to write this feature, I thought about how I could organize all of this limited knowledge of my brother into something important. But as I started putting things on paper, I realized what I knew of my brother would not be what was vital. It was what I didn’t know that would be most significant.
So what I hope to leave with you today is a plea:
Cherish moments, as miniature as they may seem.
Learn how to communicate, even if it is difficult.
Don’t take loved ones for granted.
Do it today, before you’re left with fractured memories and a sibling who’s a stranger.
“We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another.” ~Luciano de Crescenzo