“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.~Anne Lamott~

I read the above passage recently, and it eerily felt like I could have written it myself. I can so relate Anne. I feel that shit down to my broken bones. Anyone who knows me well knows of my on-again-off-again romance with canes ‘n crutches. I’ve had my plethoric share of breaks and fractures over the years and casts of many colours to boot. I learned how to twirl a cane pretty early on in my career as a professional accidentalist. I think Charlie Chaplin would have been proud. I simply adore him. My affinity for Mister Chaplin extends far beyond the handsome walking stick he wielded in the movies. Charles also co-wrote my favourite golden-oldie classic of all time, “Smile.” His silent films and talkies were a cinematic thread sewn through my childhood. My Nana sure did love her Charlie Chaplin flicks. Coincidentally so did the owner of the pizza place my family and I ate dinner at on most Thursday nights, when I was growing up.

Fun Fact: I kissed Charlie Chaplin’s ruby ring once. That happened – true story. The ring was on the finger of a barfly I met one night, after singing ‘Smile’ at a karaoke jazz bar in Manhattan. The moment I stepped off the stage I heard him, “I KNOW that song! I LOVE that you sang THAT song!!” he drunkenly, bumbled at me. I knew he was flyin high and I didn’t want to engage so I attempted to walk by him and give that dismissive smile that says ‘thank you, now kindly buzz off.’ But he missed my signal completely and continued to drone on. “I LOVE that song! That song was written by my best friend’s Grandfather!” he continued to shout at me. What did he just say? Now he had my attention. I turned towards him and in an exaggerated motion, much like Chaplin himself, the tippler comically stood up, and swaying like a gentle flower in a Spring breeze he spoke, (rather royally may I add) “I am Charlie Chaplin’s, granddaughter’s best friend! I am wearing his ring you know.” Then he forcibly concentrated his wide-eyed focus on me and hissingly tempted “Would you like to sssee it?” I glanced around the room to gather if I was the only one witnessing this. To my surprise, all the other barflies were perched and pointed on their barstools, simultaneously and monotonously nodding in unison. The bartender also bobbed his head up and down in solidarity. He gazed back at me, and with a look of almost resignation, he shrugged and said, “It’s true. He’s telling the truth.” What happened next felt beyond my control. As the intoxicated stranger held out his hand, I did the only thing I could think to do. I knelt down at his feet, took his hand ceremoniously in mine and held the resplendent, incarnadine jewel up to the light as I kissed it… Everyone clapped.
They must have.
They do in my memory.
My brother loved that story.

“Why so glum chum?”
Someone once told me that you can trick your body into feeling happiness by forcing yourself to smile. “Bullshit!” I said. But I looked it up. It’s true. According to Neurologist Dr. Isha Gupta, “a smile spurs a chemical reaction in the brain, releasing certain hormones including dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine increases our feelings of happiness.” In other words, “Turn that frown upside down” and “Fake it till you make it!” right Doc? Researchers at the University of Kansas also published findings stating that smiling helps reduce the body’s response to stress and lower heart rates during tense situations.

Whew. This last year has been waaaaay tense and unbearably stressful. And difficult. So so so difficult. I told my besties that I felt like I could physically feel my heart-breaking. ‘Broken Heart Syndrome.’ Yeah, that’s also a thing. Look it up. The grief of losing my little brother in such a horrific and unexpected way scared the life out of me, and then back into me. I have never known that kind of pain or that depth of sorrow. Nor did I know that I could stand outside my body and watch it crawl around on my porch like a wounded animal. Did I just make that sound? Who is screaming? What did they say? Can you repeat that, please? Yes, he did have a home. No, I didn’t know who he was with. No, I didn’t know he did those kinds of drugs. Yes, he was loved. Yes, he has a family. Yes, I know where my mother is. No thank you Sir, I’ll tell her…

365 days ago today I stopped drinking alcohol. I knew that my life depended on that decision. On Thanksgiving Monday of last year, I had been drinking for ten days straight since finding out about Vic. I had slept, but not much, and I drank when my eyes were open. My grief-induced insomnia could only be broken by poisoning myself so much that my body and brain had no other choice but to clock out. I made a conscious effort to stay numb. I had to, to survive it. I don’t think I could have gotten through it any other way. Then I awoke on Thanksgiving Monday and opened my eyes to a calm quiet that I am forever grateful for. It was a stillness that was greedy and giving all in one breath.I realized at that moment, that all I physically had left of my little brother were these intense feelings that were raging through me like a train on fire. Anyone reading this who had any experience with my little brother will laugh at this… and knowingly. This next part might sound a bit nutty, so stay with me here…That pain, the physical, and excruciating and debilitating, pull-at-my-chest pain, was the only physical sensation I had left of him. It felt like it was a part of him storming around inside of me so why did I want to block that out? Every memory, every fight, every make-up, every joke, every conversation… I would be numbing them out too. So I just stopped. Much like that iconic scene in Forrest Gump when he stops running and turns around, I said out loud to myself “I”m pretty tired… I think I’ll go home now.” Unbeknownst to me in that moments, my brother said something of almost the exact nature to my Mom the day he died. He was tired. But he didn’t’ make it home.

‘The Drink’ had its hooks in my brother for many years. He struggled a lot with that demon. It was the one thing we couldn’t get him to stop doing. Begged him to slow down on, pleaded with him to get control of. The thing that ruined Christmases and family gatherings and caused me not to invite him to my wedding, or caused me to plan the next intervention. So I just stopped. I can’t think of a better way to honour him than that. I refused to mourn him in that nowhere place, hidden in the shadows of my dark and stormy grief. Instead, I chose to hold my face to the sun and let the new fractured parts of me grow, as gnarly as they may appear. That’s how he lived his life while he was here and so I feel like I carry him on, in a way. I am so grateful for that raw and powerful and sad and beautiful moment exactly 1 year ago today.
I am so grateful to still be here breathing.
I am grateful to be loved by my friends and family.
I am grateful to all those who fiercely loved my littlest hobo brother.
I am grateful to those who saw his light and continue to shine it upon his larger than life legacy and in his memory.
I am grateful for those who stand as a beacon in the dark for souls who are feeling lost.
I am grateful to those who love and accept and understand and humanize those who are lost to us in this way. They are someone’s family and they ARE loved. Thank you for including Victor’s story in your outreach work and for raising awareness surrounding this unparalleled epidemic of drug poisoning.I’m glad to know that my brother walked with you on one of his final days. I do believe this is the final picture taken of him.
And I am eternally grateful for this song…

SMILE
Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrows
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You see the sun come shining through for you
Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although our tears may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile
Smile

*photo credit: walkwithme.ca

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