Would you believe me if I told you that about a year ago, on a crisp October morning, I fell apart on a kitchen floor crying with tears that welled from somewhere from a place so deep I didn't even know existed? About a month before that, I started my therapy journey to work through the past, my brother's death. Or perhaps more accurately, what didn't happen after his passing. My family never dealt with the loss of my brother. His accident happened, he passed away, we were in a deep valley of grief, then a few years later, we moved from Japan to Los Angeles. Looking back, I wonder if my parents consciously or unconsciously moved the family as far as possible from the most painful memory they shared.
I went on living my life with a knowledge of my brother's death. I had talked to people about it, but it was more of a fact than my personal experience. Early last year, I shared where I was with my journey of losing my brother in the story "most sincerely." I thought I was coming close to closing the chapter of long grief... only to find out a few months later, it was only the beginning. Healing is like waves. When one of the challenging healing moment passes, the next wave rips the layer right off to expose an even deeper scar. The past trauma that is not dealt with can manifest itself in so many ways.
One of mine was how I disassociated myself from people around me when I felt upset or hurt. That was how I dealt with my brother's death 30 years ago, and that was how I was dealing with anything that brought similar emotions since then. I found myself reacting to the past, even though on the surface, it looked like I was responding to the present issues. The fact that I had a residual trauma experience in my body became evident over time. I can never forget the way my body reacted when I had my initial phone consultation with my therapist over the phone. It was supposed to be a "light" conversation to get to know each other before committing to start the paid sessions. I did not say nor describe my case more than I was accustomed to. I stuck to the fact, and my voice was composed entirely. However, my hand holding the phone shook uncontrollably during and after the conversation as if my body ran wildly, totally separated from the cognitive part of my brain.
I was diagnosed with a complex grief disorder, and just as I deal with many things in my life, I went head-on with my healing journey. A lot revealed through the months of therapy. Most prominently, I understood that I left a part of me at the age of twelve because shutting down was my only way to cope with my family’s challenging time. My parents were dealing with their grief, and there were no adults around me who were able to hold the space for my healing as I lived through the loss as twelve years old.
So the part of me who was stunted at the age of twelve, needed to be re-parented by 40-year-old me so that she could grow out of the experience. For the first time, I asked my parents how I interacted with my brother when we were kids. My mom kindly (and probably with much feeling of her own to process) dug up old photos of our family and found a few pictures that captured my brother and me. The October morning when I found myself completely broken on the kitchen floor was when I found out some of the hurtful things that were said to me shortly after my brother's death, claiming the cause of his death to be partially my fault though it was untrue.
When we talk about healing, it sounds so peaceful and calm, but in reality, my process was far from that. It was messy, confusing, and ugly. When I was in the middle of it, I wasn't sure if I would have a way out of the mess. The destination was unclear, and the journey was the only thing I felt I had during the season.
While I worked through weekly therapy sessions, I was surprised by the incompleteness of my childhood memory. I started to remember some of it; however, my living brother's memory never came back. I could picture our family eating dinner at our dining table. I could see many of the room's details and my parents and my sister, yet when I turned around to look for my brother, he was never there. I could not retrieve any tangible recollection of playing with him, riding in the car with him, or doing mundane everyday activities. It was like my brain managed to collage him out of my visual history. The insight was a jew opening for me. How could twelve years old delete her younger brother's memory as if deleting a file from a computer? It wasn't easy to accept. I dug deep inside of my memory, looking for my brother, only to find nothing. Eventually, over months of questioning and pushing myself, I came to a place of acceptance. Today I know that my brother is there in my memory like the blue sky is always there above us. Sometimes we can't see the blue sky with our physical eyes because of the cloud, fog, or darkness. No matter how hard I gaze with my eyes, I will not see the blue sky until the cloud split open. Now is simply not my time yet to see my brother in my memory.
My therapy session was starting to slow down as we got into lockdown in March. Slowly and steadily, I continued to process what came out of the therapy. Eight months of quieter and slower-paced life were just as healing for me as my weekly therapy sessions. Or maybe it was the combination of going through formal therapy, then having space was what brought me peace. My twelve years old self shows up less and less to make decisions on my behalf today.
Through the process, I became acutely aware of how my mission of Baum-kuchen to infuse inspiration to every day and to be present in life as it unfolds is the direct result of lessons my past has offered me. The meaning and depth of Baum-kuchen will never weigh as much if it were not for my brother and the "knowing" that lives in my body for not taking today for granted. For that, I am thankful. Thankful for the short five years in which he breathed his life into this world. His legacy now lives through Baum-kuchen and me, my sisters, my girls, and of course, our parents.
I am thankful that you took a moment to read my story. I decided to share this with you today because I believe we are more human than what seems to show up on our social medias.
I believe we ought to unapologetically celebrate the lessons from the shadow to shine from within when it’s time and when we are ready.
I share my story with you that perhaps the shared story will illuminate how similar we are as humans beyond race, ethnicity, the world views, genders, and/or whatever lines we might have built up to separate between one another.
Let our story inspire our path forward...