I live on a jewel of an island flanked by two mountain ranges. In the morning, the sun peeks over the Cascade Mountains, igniting the snow on the Olympics in shades of pink. And in the evenings, the sun slides behind the Olympics, bathing the Cascades in golden light.
The thing is: The mountains move. Not side-to-side, but forward and back. Some days, they look like they’re right on the shores of Puget Sound. Other days, they seem teeny and distant.
Why? It turns out that, when the mountains look close, there’s a temperature inversion. Warm air sits on top of air cooled by the frigid waters of Puget Sound. Light rays bend toward the colder air, causing the mountains to appear above or taller than their actual position. The greater the inversion, the bigger the mountains seem.
The point is: The mountains seem bigger because of something in my environment.
And so it is with my grief. My beloved little brother Tom Roush died earlier this year. We were born a year, a month, and a day apart, and we were a set.
This planet is teeming with 7.7 billion people, but in the absence of a single human being—this particular human being—my world feels hollow and empty. It was so, so much richer when he was in it.
Some days, I’m OK. Some days—lots of days—I’m not. Today, I was taking the garbage out and heard a single-engine airplane overhead. Then I saw a passenger jet flying low over the horizon. I thought of Tom, remembering how much he loved planes, and how he would have known what kind these were just by hearing the sound of their engines.
I went inside to make lunch for my partner’s birthday and realized that I’d never get another birthday card from Tom. I was never much of a card person, but he always spent time picking just the right one.
Like the mountains, my grief looms larger depending on environmental conditions, and my loss seems much bigger on those days.
But sometimes, the mountains are invisible. At night, for example, I become blissfully unaware of my loss, only to rediscover it in the disorientation of morning, when I feel the weight of sadness in my body. Other times, the mountains are obscured by clouds, hidden my need to attend to the banalities of life. But when my task is complete, the clouds part, revealing the mountains again.
There is no moving these mountains. But in their mercy they grow, they shrink, they disappear altogether and, in so doing, they help me learn how to live without Tom.