My First Friend

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Tuesday, February 03, 2015
When you're young and your parents recently moved out to the middle of nowhere, far from any of your friends, you have to make do with what you have. When I was young, what I had were my brothers - Chris, three years older, and Greg, six years younger.

I can safely say that Chris was my first friend. I am certain that I loved him from the moment I saw him. I can tell especially in this one photo of us from my first Christmas. I was only about six months old, making Chris almost four. We're sitting on the floor together and he is clutching me to his chest, smiling at whoever is taking the picture. I am bending my head back, gazing up at this awesome person, this amazing protector, this first friend. I cherish this photo because I can see the joy and love in both of our eyes.

Equal Parts of a Whole | Image by Chris DeWitt

Three years ago today, my brother Chris passed away after long and difficult fight with cancer. He had just turned twenty six. There are very few words that can describe the pain of losing a sibling, especially in such a terrible way and at such a young age. Much ink has been spilled on the loss of parents or the loss of a child, but few can imagine the pain that comes from losing one of the only people who grew up the same way you did, who understands you to your core because they remember when you were little and used to play in the trees behind the old house. Losing a sibling is absolutely tragic and heartbreaking and horrible.

In the days and weeks after Chris passed away, I felt completely numb. I hardly remember his funeral except for the amazing support that I had from my family, friends, classmates, sorority sisters, and even friends of Chris that I had never met before. My parents encouraged me to see a therapist to talk through the emotions that I was having trouble processing - my sorrow at the loss of my brother, my new role in the family as the oldest child, the strong need to help my younger brother and my parents cope with this disaster. My therapist, upon discovering my bookish nature in my first session, assigned me some reading. She gave me a copy of George A. Bonanno's book called The Other Side of Sadness. The main thesis of this book is that everything you know about grieving is wrong. There are no seven steps, no teleological stages to get to some idyllic state of acceptance. Grief is a process full of highs and lows. Bonanno writes, "Relentless grief would be overwhelming. Grief is tolerable, actually, only because it comes and goes in a kind of oscillation. We move back and forth emotionally. We focus on the pain of the loss, its implications, its meanings, and then our minds swing back toward the immediate world, other people, and what is going on in the present. We temporarily lighten up and reconnect with those around us. Then we dive back down to continue the process of mourning."

After Chris died, this was exactly what I needed to hear. I needed to hear that my way of mourning was not wrong. It was not wrong of me to feel the deep parts of my heart tearing in two one minute, then laugh at a funny commercial the next moment. I couldn't possibly feel such despair at all hours, nor could I pretend to be the person I was.

As many people often feel after losing someone, I do have some regrets. Sometimes I wouldn't pick up the phone when Chris called. Chris was a talker and we could spend hours on the phone, jumping from topic to topic, and I didn't always have the time for him. I regret some mean things I said to him when I was in high school and he was my nerdy-artsy older brother and I wanted to be a cool kid. Mostly, I regret not spending more time with him. When I start to feel down about this, I have to take a step back and remind myself that there was no way I could have known that I only had so many years left with my older brother. I just always thought he'd be there. I thought we'd grow old together, trading hosting family gatherings, worrying about who would cook the turkey, going to each others weddings, playing with each others kids, and everything else that goes along with growing up.

One thing I absolutely regret is that I was unable to speak at Chris' funeral. I just couldn't. If I could have, I would have read the short prose I wrote during our last day together. Chris and I were alone in his hospital room on his last day. Everyone else was out getting lunch or taking a break or something. It was early afternoon and I remember the light being soft in the room. Chris was resting and I think we had a movie playing. I felt so inspired in that moment, reflecting quietly on all of our time together. Mostly, all I could think about was how he made every moment of our childhood magical. One of my favorite games we would play was out in the meadow in our backyard. He would do the voice of a fox that lived in the brush and he would think up the grand adventures. I'm talking Tolkien-level plot development. He would have it all planned out - big adventures, plot twists, weapons, and magical powers - a story where I was the hero. He was always bringing magic like this into my life. This magic is what I couldn't help but write about on that last day we shared.

The fox in the meadow. The wizard in the forest.
My first friend. My big brother.
You could make trees dance and snow forts into ice palaces.
You are the magic. You are the life.
And I will celebrate you for the rest of mine.

It's difficult to say what will trigger me to think of Chris these days. It could be a family tradition, a random memory, a song, or a photo. Inevitably, a million times each day, I think of something that reminds me of him, and I can safely say that I hope this never stops.

Miss you, Bubby, more and more each day.

Image credits: 1 // Phoenix sketch created by my brother, Chris DeWitt. Please do not use without permission. Contact me at if interested in this image. 2 // Photo of Chris, Greg, and I at my graduation in 2011.
2 comments on "My First Friend"
  1. Sending many hugs to you. This is beautifully written.

    1. Thanks, Maria. It feels good to be able to write about these things, even after so much time. Each year, I'm able to open up a bit more.


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