On this day thirteen years ago we lost my stepbrother Kraig. It was a horrible and unexpected event that ripped through our family. I was attending college at UC Davis. My parents were visiting my godmother up in Sacramento.
A tragic motorcycle accident. Kraig was 19. I was 21.
Born on January 13th, 1989, thirteen was Kraig’s number. It’s the number he chose when he played sports. It’s the number he still sends me today to remind me that he’s still watching over me.
Our family lost Kraig during the beginning of my dark years and I was already well on my way to the rock bottom that alcoholism would take me to. I used losing Kraig as a reason to drink for many years. It was selfish, it was destructive, and it was a really effective way to avoid having to feel any of it. Or at least I thought it was. I would later learn that the shit you run from, like grief over a dead brother, is the type of shit that will take you down. Hard. There’s no bypassing it. Just delaying it. And by delaying it, it’s bound to come out sideways.
On this day I always send a little text to my stepdad. To acknowledge the day. To acknowledge Kraig. I don’t want to overwhelm him with my love, because he’s not really a warm and fuzzy kind of guy, but I hope that in some small way my reach out provides comfort and validation for him. We don’t talk about losing Kraig much, my family and I. The accident. What followed it.
It’s been thirteen years and I never forget this day. I still feel this day in my insides. Kraig’s absence. What it was like to lose him. To walk through that pain. It’s been long enough since the event that it feels like it should be a quiet remembrance. That anything else would be dramatic or inappropriate in some way. It feels weird to bring it up. As though the pain and loss should be well put to bed by now. But I don’t always feel that way. And I’m pretty damn sure my stepdad doesn’t feel that way either.
Today, May 17th, 2022, I take a break from my regularly scheduled programming – aka hard time in front of my work computer – and take Charlie on a walk. There’s some nice big trees at the edge of the field that’s behind our townhome. I walk Charlie and I think about Kraig. I send the yearly check in text to my stepdad. I think about the significance of today. I think about how today my life is so calm and peaceful. So opposite of how my life looked the day we lost him. That day, my life was already a dumpster fire. The accident just put wheels on it.
Charlie is desperately lunging at goose poop to eat and I’m trying to reflect on Kraig. We make quite the pair. I think about how I wish Kraig had gotten to meet Charlie. How much Kraig loved our family lab, Tony, who has long since passed. How much Kraig just always seemed to love life.
In the years following Kraig’s death I would be busy burning my life to the ground. Immediately after his death I was in so much pain, from the accident and other unresolved issues, I desperately wanted to make contact with him and know he was okay. Kraig did not disappoint. At the time I didn’t even know if I believed in heaven, angels, or signs from the Other Side- but I still got them. Kraig sent me a dream in which he gave me a hug and the message that he was okay. He sent me the song “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol. He sent me the number 13, and he sent along the sounds of motorcycles to remember him by.
As time passed, and now the work it took to achieve healing has settled in my bones, I notice signs from Kraig less and less. I wonder if this is because I am in less pain and because I’m also not an active participant in massacring my own life.
Maybe Kraig knows I am okay now so he doesn’t have to work so hard at reaching me. That I’m better than okay.
I walk Charlie through the green grass, the warm breeze wrapping around us. It’s a perfect spring day in Cincinnati. So much has happened in the last thirteen years. So much messy and beautiful life has taken place.
I think that Kraig would be proud to see where I have ended up. Who I have become. It’s weird to think about how he would view my life, when I know that him being here today is impossible. Yet, I also fully believe he is here with me. Watching. Guiding. I know that the best way to honor his memory is to be living the life that I am. A life of honesty. The sober life of a recovered woman. I think he would be jazzed to see the impact his life had on so many, and continues to have. He would have been there for all of it- my college graduation, our family’s move to San Diego, his brother’s marriage vows, his sister’s college graduation, me falling to my knees and then picking myself back up, my recovery, our parent’s move to Washington, meeting my boyfriend, my move to Cincinnati – and the million other things that have happened in between.
Life hasn’t slowed down, so much has happened, and yet time still stands still when my mind drifts to Kraig. He still sends me the number 13 as a sign. He still sends me the song “Chasing Cars”.
Thirteen years later I don’t want to cry when I think about Kraig. I am not sure when that happened, but it feels really good to be warmed by his memory rather than saddened by it.
Maybe if you’ve lost someone too, you understand what I mean.