Background Noise

16 Jun

I grew up in St. Louis.

I played volleyball in grade school.

I’ve known my husband my whole life.

I am, generally, a democrat.

I have a small birthmark on the right side of my chin.

These are all facts about me. Some more important than others, but they are things that are always there. I might not think about them every day and they might not be obvious to anyone else, but they’re there. And they’re harmless. These things are simply part of what makes me the person I am.

My brother was killed in a car accident when he was 20.

Grief is the same as those other things. It also makes me who I am. But it’s not harmless. 

I don’t know if it’s because I lost my brother when he was too young, or if it’s because I lost him violently and tragically – maybe it’s the same for anyone who has lost someone close to them- but my grief hums in the background of my life, simultaneously silent and ear-splittingly loud.

No one else can hear it, but I can. It’s always there. It clouds every interaction I have and every decision I make. I can say with complete honesty that I think about my brother, and the fact that he’s gone, at least every five minutes of every day. And when I’m not actively, consciously thinking about it? It’s still there. A nagging, chanting voice.

It is a constant, painful, and shitty companion.


Last weekend was my 10 year high school reunion. The weirdness of that is material for another post. But one of the people I saw there is a friend of mine I have known since grade school. She lost her twin brother in an accident very similar to the one that took my brother.

She had a baby recently and in the middle of a discussion we were having about diapers and breastfeeding and going back to work she looked at me, tears threatening to spill out of her eyes, and said,

“God Kristina I miss him. I want him here. I never expected that having a baby would make me miss him so fucking much.”

I stopped breathing for a second. It sneaks up on you, this fucking pain. Because as unprepared as she was for it to hurt when she had a baby, I was equally unprepared for her to put into words something I’ve been feeling since the day my son was born and everyday since.

And for the reminder of it to practically bring me to my knees in the middle of a bar.


I expect the holidays to suck. I expect it to hurt when I watch his son and my son swimming and playing at the place we spent every Memorial Day weekend. When his son looks at me and says something with an expression on his face that is so like his father that it tightens my chest and knots my stomach, it doesn’t surprise me.

I know there will be days when I miss him so much I don’t want to get out of bed. I know that having to explain to my children why and how he died will not be easy. I anticipate the day when his son wants to know more about his dad and I have to find a way to put into words what was my brother’s light and kindness and love.


It’s the surprise that is so unfair. I don’t anticipate that a song on the radio will make me cry. I can’t plan for a days-long tailspin after I hear about a car accident that didn’t even involve anyone I know. My husband can’t understand why I snapped at him on the same day I overheard someone bitching and moaning about their brother when I would give anything to fight with mine.

I never knew that having my kids, while it is the greatest joy of my life, is also the worst pain. Not only does it just totally suck that they will never know my brother, but because now that I know what it’s like to love a child of my own, I can also imagine what it would be like to lose them. And looking into the faces of my parents, seeing it first-hand, etched there permanently like the markings on a tombstone, adds a fire and a screaming pitch to the background noise of my grief that is almost too much to bear. My imagination gets away from me and I am forced to consider the unthinkable.

You can never move on. You can never get away. The wound is cut freshly open every time something brings the grief to the surface. Your mind is never silent. Never still. The background noise is always there. You can never, ever heal.

I’d much rather have some annoying elevator muzak.


7 Responses to “Background Noise”

  1. Kat June 16, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    Wow. This is powerful and I cannot even pretend to know how this feels. I think maybe I’ll give my sister a call tonight just to tell her I love her.

  2. Life of a Doctor's Wife June 16, 2011 at 8:16 pm #

    I love your writing. But god, Kristina, I wish you didn’t have to endure this pain.

  3. hnr1227 June 20, 2011 at 9:02 am #

    I love you.

  4. HereWeGoAJen June 22, 2011 at 3:03 pm #

    I’m sorry that you have this pain. It’s such a hard thing.


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