My older brother, Jeremy, would have turned 40 years old today. But he's been gone for 13 years, which is hard to believe. The years seem to fly by, and while I often think of Jeremy (especially when I see my tattoo), it's days like today that really make me stop, remember and reflect.
The sadness I feel at this time this year is a bit different than it's been in years past. It is felt by the heart of a fully grown and now married woman. When Jeremy died, when I was 16 years old, one of the things that crushed me the most was the knowledge that he wouldn't be around to see me get married. To hear my engagement news, to lovingly give my fiance a hard time as the protective big bro, to sit in the front row as we said our vows.
At my and GT's wedding, I had a memorial boutonniere placed on the chair at the ceremony he would have sat in. A candle was also lit for Jeremy, as well as for all our other family members we wished could be there to celebrate with us.
See, he is always in my heart and, more often than not, on my mind. The littlest things can remind me of him, but it is on his birthday, the day of his death, and in important moments of my life that the loss stings with unusual sharpness. The pain that has dulled with the passing of many days and years becomes more palpable. I'm not reminded just of happy memories, which are what typically fill my thoughts. I remember what was taken too soon.
It's also harder this year because I am across the country, far away from home. I can't go to the cemetery to place flowers at his grave. But I know that act is more for the living than it is for the dead. I can honor my brother's memory simply by taking the time to remember him, acknowledge his impact on those he touched in this world, and on me.
So tonight, I will celebrate Jeremy's 40th birthday with one of his favorite simple treats: a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream drizzled with maple syrup. That's a fun little trick for jazzing up plain ol' vanilla that he showed me when I was just a kid, and I thought my brother was so cool for coming up with it. Heck, I thought anything Jeremy did was so cool.
No matter how many years go by, even though I am now older than he was when he died, he will always be my super cool big brother, a guy I looked up to and loved—and forever miss.