July, Siblings, "Family" and Gratitude

July is finally over. A month that brings bittersweet memories, much reflection and a guilt free opportunity to take a stroll down memory lane. In July, I practice being grateful with all my heart. I visit all the people that are most important to me, and make sure they know I love them. I visit my memories yet consciously work on not being so blinded by what has happened and what I’ve lost that I lose sight of what’s in front of me. I celebrate. I hope to one day live all twelve months with this kind of open heartedness, but what can I say...I’m a work in progress. Being grateful is difficult, and I find it to be one of my less traveled roads. It’s a lot of work, and self work, is the hardest. Baby steps. But, here I am, climbing  onto my soapbox of victory to shout to the universe, “Look at me - I’m grateful - and I survived another July." July, historically, has also been self portrait month...

But this year, after a hike into
 "location territory", I said f*ck it...
I'd rather do this instead. So I did,
without guilt, as I pondered July.

I remember when we were kids, Dustin and I, we would stay up and watch scary movies. Waiting on purpose for it to get super dark, just to up the spook factor. We would get ourselves so scared that if one of us had to pee, we would ask the other to stand by the bathroom door to keep watch. Just incase. (Side note: We lived in a real creepy house, where spooky shit would happen all the time. No kidding.) It was such a comfort to know that you had your sibling keeping watch. Lame, I know. But it was what we did. During the dark times, figurative and literal, one of us was always waiting by the door. Indoors or out, no matter the circumstance or activity. Be it camping, hiking, walking the mall, going to the movies, fishing, hunting (I know! I’m sorry fellow veterinary friends...it was a different time!) and even in our own house...we were each others protector. An act of solidarity. We had each others backs. Who knew that being the watch dog for a bladder emptying sibling held such weight?! Dustin was very protective of me for a younger brother...and I miss that, terribly. Having someone in my life that no matter what, was going to be on my side. Make sure I was ok. Always had my best interests at heart. (Now, before you start hearing a tiny violin screeching in the background, let me tell you that this isn’t that kind of post. It’s not about what I’ve lost, it’s about what I have. This is actually about gratitude, but sometimes you have to wade in over the mud and rocks to get to that place that’s fit for swimming.) It’s been 12 years since Dustin died, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about him, miss him and wish he were here. I wonder about what kind of person Dustin would be today, what he would be doing. If he would have a family, kids. I wonder as a full grown adult, if he would still want to hang out with me, still be relentless in his quest for frequent hugs, hold my hand  sometimes and sit real close to me on the couch while sharing blankets for late night movie marathons. When life quiets down, and I have time to wonder, this is always the first place my mind visits. 

Family is what you make it, and who you make it. My life has been teaching me this all along, but it rings more true the older I get. We all get to choose who we let in, what roles they will play in our lives and us in theirs. The level and duration of the relationship are all decisions to be made. Dustin and I had a surrogate family. A family that we made many memories with. No more or less important than our own family, just separate. It was my very first lesson in choosing family, or having them choose you, and how it really works. It meant a lot to both of us to have those people in our lives, and it still means so much to me. Whenever I get a chance to spend time with them, I run! It’s like a little piece of home in a way. The fond memories I have of how much they did for us floods my heart. I am so very grateful that they were there, and were willing to accept not only me, but my little brother as well. We were a package deal, and they were good people. Back then, it was amazing to me that people like that existed. But now, all these years later, I realize I have been lucky enough to meet folks of a similar caliber throughout all the turns my life has taken. These are people that I have added to my heart and life, and so my family grows. Anyway, that passing thought turned into a long sappy ass side story that I’m not sure ever landed squarely on its feet. The point is, I am glad they were there to teach us the things they did and to allow Dustin to experience some of the things that he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do otherwise. This IS about gratitude after all, right?! And I can’t think about the course of things without thinking about them, the kindness and generosity they showed and the lessons that were learned on what constitutes family. 

Blah, blah. Ramble, ramble. How do you encompass a lifetime of memories, a heart heavy with loss and a spirit light with love and gratitude in one blog post? I’m not sure. I  don’t think it can be done. But yet somehow I feel obligated to try. I almost feel like I have to, to be respectful and fully aware of what I have.  A yearly tradition of showing my love and appreciation for having been blessed with such an amazing brother. Now, I’m fully aware that my human nature is to romanticize the past, view my memories through rose colored glasses and all that shit. But I remember very clearly that it wasn’t all glitter and rainbows. Trust me. Dustin and I fought, hard. We threw punches, ruined each others stuff, did terrible things to each other. But as dramatic as our fighting could be, our love for each other held the same kind of intensity. You name it, we went through it...together. For as long as I live, I’ll wish we could have gone through some grown up stuff together too. It’s a delicate balance, the memories of the past and the actuality of the present. 

I can’t write this blog about celebrating survival and family, blood or otherwise, and not mention Andrew. I am so fortunate to have such a wonderful step brother in my life. In fact, the “step” has just fallen away, years ago. I owe a large part of my healing, recovery and present happiness to Andrew. He has helped to fill that spot in my life and heart that Dustin filled for so long. It’s not about replacement or taking over where someone else left off...it’s more like an expansion of my actual heart muscle that has allowed me to embrace our relationship and it’s importance to me. My mom brought David into our lives so many years ago, and he brought his children. It wasn’t a perfect fit in the beginning, and there was plenty of disgruntled kids at times, myself included. But I could not be more grateful for the relationship that Andrew and I have built out of our merged families. I am so proud of him, and what he has accomplished. I get excited when I think about his future, and what he will make of it. Proud actually doesn’t begin to describe my feelings when I think back to Andrew at 3, and Andrew today. He has taught me so much over the years, and I can only hope I have done the same for him. Most importantly, he has shown me that my heart is big enough to cherish what’s gone and embrace what’s here at the same time. It’s our several times a week phone calls and random texts that often times keep me going! Now...I don’t know if Andrew would stand outside the bathroom door, just to make sure I was safe, but I think that I’ll ask him the next time he comes home! 

As I’m getting real close to wrapping this up (I know right?! When will it end?) I can’t help but think about a sibling relationship that I was fortunate enough to witness recently. One that made a lasting affect on me, moreover helped me see that I may already be where I’ve been trying to go. Make sense? Don’t worry, it doesn’t really to me either, but I’m running with it. Being in the presence of these two adult brothers, well, it melted my heart. The connection was powerful, the embraces emotional. Their laughter was hardy, abundant and unpredictable. The jabs came just as swiftly as their heartfelt smiles. It was so clear that they really loved each other, and that no matter the situation, if they were together...shit was going to be all right. They’d make sure of it. One of these brothers is a friend of mine. A good friend, you know, one of my people. Someone I have known for years and years, yet have never seen this side of. I wasn’t surprised by his kindness, I have known him for a real long time remember, but more in awe at how much richer his life is than I had thought. I found myself observing from a place of longing and sadness, feet firmly planted in anger and jealousy. But only for a moment. I do have this. I had it then and I have it now. What I had with Dustin doesn’t cease to exist because he’s physically gone. It’s still here, with me, and tangible. It’s just private, as it lives in my memory and heart. The relationship Andrew and I have built is just as real, and it’s happening now. We have made each other family, and that counts. 

I’m grateful that my “can’t see the forest for the trees” days are getting less frequent! 


  1. Aaaah!!! Just what I needed! What a pure tonic of love your writing always embodies! Thank you Brandy - your are an amazing writer - its like therapy, every time, for my soul. Love you girl!!

    1. Elle, I am so humbled. Such kind words, thank you!

  2. I miss what I had with my sisters so badly that I crush it and stuff it down deep inside and hide it with the anger, sadness, pain, and bitterness that comes from their betrayals. A different kind of loss. A different kind of coping. Your words remind me to look for what I can be grateful for.