“Just Keep Paddling” - Wesley Cook
My brother Doug being gone is a reality I can barely accept. Although the tearful dry heaves and the sensation of leaving my own body from despair are very real, the far deeper pain is the void. The absence. My lungs fighting for air from the desperate cries, is at least something I can connect with in my own reality. The void is so much worse. I feel that something is missing within me. It's like watching a phantom limb sinking, to the bottom of a dark and wild ocean, while I lean over the side of my little boat, in a storm, screaming and begging for it to come back. It's something that I know I can't replace, nor can I fight hard enough to undo what has happened. I'm happy that, even in blissful intoxication or grim sobriety, I don't blame myself for it sinking. This was his decision, and it was one made over the course of years. Yes, years. Doug would never have wanted me to sink with him, but what he did want, more than anything in life, was to end it. A deep and demanding sorrow has finally claimed its greatest prize, one of my heroes.
Although he was a big-hearted, loving person, he could never shine the light on himself that he bestowed, so graciously and frequently, upon others. It's one of the greatest tragedies that could happen. It's a harsh injustice, not only to himself, but to all who loved him.
I've tried writing songs and articles as a way to, "Talk it out," and I have finished some. This process has started to put a cork in the dam of swells of sadness and heartbreak, but it's just that, a cork in a dam. It's like an ant making a deal with God. It's a carrot on a stick. Seemingly laughable, but, sometimes it's all you can do. You must visualize the light within yourself. It may come save you some day, even if only for a moment. I've had practice doing this with smaller obstacles in life. Now, I get to see what I'm made of. This is the greatest pain I've ever felt in my life. I'm lost. I'm sad. I can't get away from myself or what this is. I have to face my reality. I have to make myself ok. Will that ever happen? I don't know, but I have to believe that it's possible.
So after watching my sad, heavy phantom limb sink over the edge of my lost little boat, unable to bring it back with all that I am, I collapse in sheer defeat. I cry for what feels like hours, days, months, years. I shut myself off and go inward. I numb myself. I am angry with myself. I'm angry with life. I'm angry with Doug. I imitate the happiness that I feel I possess somewhere inside, but can't seem to find. However, I've discovered that these merciless, wrathful conditions are not constants. They are waves and storms. Like all waves, they come in, and then they recede. Like all storms, they attack with fury, and then they go home, at least for little while. When the storms break for the moment, and I'm lying on my back, alone in my boat, and the tears dry long enough to open my eyes, I can see stars. They're so beautiful. I can see majesty. I can feel Doug next to me. I believe that I can go on. Sometimes feeling that hope, if but for a moment, is all you need to paddle just a little further, or embrace the silence and drink in the peace, while it's there. I must hang on to those moments, and remember the good. I must.
Although I'll never be complete again, I feel I'm lucky to have had him in my life at all. We fought, loved, and lived together. I learned from him. His fingerprints are all over my soul like living colors on a canvas, painting my memories lovingly. His absence from my physical reality can never change that. My love for him is too powerful a force to ever truly leave me. Love is what the little light inside is made of. The storms are afraid of that little light, you know, but it's hard to believe it when the crashing waves snap your ores and knock you on your back.
The memories are illuminated by the light and guarded fiercely. Sometimes, memories of a person are all that you have left of them. So, before the person in front of you becomes a shadow and a memory, make sure that you hold that person from time to time. Hold them so hard that you can't breathe, because when the day comes that they stop breathing, you will wish with all that you are that you had.
I'm still paddling, alone, far out at sea, but I stop to see the stars when they appear. I'm still bailing water to keep from sinking and vigilantly guarding the memories. I can feel that light in my heart. I know land is out there somewhere, though I'm far from seeing it with my eyes. I can only feel it for now. Just because I can't see Doug with my eyes, doesn't mean I don't love him. So, I can't let this be any different. These conditions may never stop, perhaps they will, but if losing the pain means losing the memories, then let there never be peace for me again.
Doug used to say, "Everything will be alright." It's something that I believe to be true. Even if it's hard to remember when those waves attack my poor little boat, I believe it with all my heart. If you are suffering in your life, I hope that you'll believe with me, that there is light within you and land out there somewhere. Just keep paddling. Just keep paddling.