Gregg and I have spoken many times about the difference between the effects Katie's death has on us (as her parents) and the effects it has on David (as her brother).
One of the biggest differences that we perceive is that David's life is still in the "building" phase. He is going to be a senior in high school. He is working at his first job. He is making friends, developing his athletic skills, growing taller, stronger, hairier (is that a word?). His voice has dropped to a much deeper tone. He is maturing. Most of his life is in front of him: college, first love, a career, perhaps a family of his own, working years, retirement. It is all waiting for him.
Gregg and I are in (what is politely called) "mid-life." We are always laughing about the Mike Myers skit on SNL that features "Middle-Aged Man." My childbearing years are over. Our hair is more gray than dark brown (the color we started with). Gregg has been with his company for over 20 years. Gravity is doing its work. We have laugh lines around our eyes, and other lines, too, from living.
Our next house will be smaller than this one. We want to simplify, lighten our load, downsize, streamline our life. We want to travel lightly. We are not building and adding, and at 50 and 53, most of our life is NOT waiting for us. We've lived a good life, but we aren't "starting out" anymore. This is not to say that life holds no more mystery nor adventure for us; it does. But we are not in the "expanding" phase, and having Katie pass away was a huge subtraction. She is part of us, our flesh and blood, one quarter of our family, and she is not here anymore.
David cannot produce another sister, but he can get married and have children of his own. He is full of confidence, optimism, strength of will and certainty that he is right. He is healthy. I'm thankful for this.
When we were in Europe, I found that I was hyper-vigilant about his physical safety. I felt threatened about him falling when we hiked on the edge of tall cliffs. I feared that a crazy driver might pick him off as we crossed busy streets in large cities. I stressed about rogue waves on the Ligurian and Mediterranean seashores. I didn't like the look of the super-high gondolas in the mountains, suspended thousands of feet above the ground by the slender cables that supported them. I "felt the fear and did it anyway," as the saying goes, but I felt the fear, and I verbalized it, too. I don't even remember all of the specific fears about safety, but I was besieged by them, and they made me tired. They also made David look at me differently. I could see something like contempt or pity or disrespect in his eyes. It hurt.
When I was David's age, I went whitewater rafting, rock climbing, and summited 14,000-foot peaks. I rode horseback and competed in camp rodeo events. I went to Europe for 5 weeks without friends or family. I applied to the toughest colleges that I could find, and chose the toughest one that admitted me. I spent a quarter in England - my first quarter at a new college, where I knew no one. I drove across the country, alone, in my early 20s. I navigated strange cities on my own. I moved all the way across the country, to the opposite coast, away from my family, by myself. I was NOT a fearful woman, and I did not shy away from adventure. I still love adventure & learning new things.
When I saw that look in David's eyes in Europe, I was deeply saddened. I felt as if he wasn't seeing ME.
Yesterday, as we drove in Seattle, we discussed Katie's death, and he said that he felt that I had been traumatised by it, but that he had not. He was forever affected by it, but he didn't feel it was a trauma, for him.
I agree with him. I told him that I had seen the look in his eyes on our trip, and I thought I knew what it meant. I told him that it made me sad to see it, because when I was his age, I had looked at my own mom that way, and I have intentionally worked throughout my life to be a courageous and adventurous person. I have purposely done things that my mother was afraid to do (of course, now I know that she is very courageous in her own ways). I told him that, after Katie's cancer, I thought I would never be afraid again, but I am...not afraid of death, but afraid of loss. Of another, heart-breaking, life-sapping, world-shattering loss, and of the pain that that kind of loss brings with it.
It does no good to live in fear. Fear is not a protective armor; fear cuts you off from life. I know this. But apparently, in this space, it's what I'm going to have to deal with.