December 30, 2016 started like any other day. I woke up tired for work, but I was actually having breakfast; waffles to be more specific. I was enjoying my waffles, and I thought to myself, too bad Rudy’s not here, these are good waffles. That’s when the phone rang, and my heart dropped because I knew something was wrong. The caller ID read Pomona Valley Hospital. I immediately felt shortness of breath. As I answered the phone, I heard a soft female voice ask if I was related to Jennifer Fuentes. I said, “Yes, she’s my sister-in-law.” She said, “there’s been a motor vehicle accident, and you need to get to Pomona Valley Hospital.” I started walking in circles. I started shaking, and then I asked, “what about her husband, my brother, is he okay?” She said in a very nonchalant way, “he didn’t make it.” I fell to the floor as soon as those words came out of her mouth. I felt like I was spinning. I couldn’t hear, and I couldn’t breathe at all. All I did was scream, “no, no, no, this isn’t happening, not my Rudy, not my brother.” Forgetting I was on the phone with someone at the hospital, she tells me I need to get to the hospital. I tried to calm myself down because the house number was the only number they had. I called my mom, and I told her what happened. She then replied, “I have to go; my son just died.” That is something I’ll never get out of my head. My thirty-three year old brother was gone in an instant and without warning.
I have three siblings — a sister and two older brothers. Rudy was the oldest, and although we were eight years apart, Rudy and I didn’t see much of an age gap; we were still as close as ever. Death is such a harsh and ugly word; when I talk about Rudy, I don’t say, “he died.” When I speak about him, I choose to say I lost him. Kind of silly, right? I never thought that at the age of twenty-five, I would have to deal with such a big loss in my life. I would often think about how I would handle the loss of my mom or dad as I was getting older and in every scenario, Rudy was there to take care of us and help us through it. But here I am grieving the loss of Rudy. He was always there for my siblings and me. Twenty-five years just doesn’t feel like enough. I feel so cheated; my whole family was cheated. His wife only had twelve years with him, and they never had a chance to have a child together. My niece lost her uncle and her godfather at the age of four; she had to suffer such a great loss at such a young age. They were so good together; Rudy treated her like his own daughter. It makes me so upset that at four years old, she had to learn how short and unpredictable life is.
My siblings and I are known as the forgotten mourners. How are we forgotten? People all too often are concerned about our parents and Rudy’s wife, leaving the siblings left hanging to figure things out on their own. They would ask, “How are your parents doing?”, “How is his wife holding up?”, “You need to be strong for your parents” and “Be strong for his wife”. Who is going to be strong for me? Who is going to be strong for us?
Losing someone you grew up with is one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced. Losing my brother has been one of the loneliest times of my life. People come and go in your life, and it takes a special kind of person to stick around for the hard parts. Anyone can hang around for the good and fun parts of your life. When I lost Rudy, it felt as if I lost most of my friends and some family because it was “too hard” for them. How was it too hard for them when this is the life I’m living now? You shouldn’t focus on who is no longer there for you, but on who continues to check on you to see how your day is going and who is there just to listen to you. The ones that allow you to vent about the silliest of things and the heaviest of struggles during your grief journey. I have a special group of people who have been there for me since that dreadful day, 12.30.16. Some of the people I would have never thought would have been there for me have done so much out of the kindness of their hearts, and I am beyond grateful.
Before all of this mess unfolded, I was like any other 25-year-old with the love of live music. I went to shows (a lot of shows) specifically my favorite band “Pepper”. I went to so many of their shows that I have been lucky enough to befriend the band. I am able to make contact with the guys in the band and their significant others. I also have all of their support. Bret Bollinger of Pepper was even kind enough to record a special song for us to have for Rudy. Being able to use it for his memorial service was even more special to me. During the times this past year where I’ve been so low and in such despair without my brother, I listened to it daily, and every visit to the cemetery, I sing it to Rudy. Something so simple as this song has given me the strength to get through another day without my big brother Rudy and given me the push I needed to continue to live for him.
This past year has been a real struggle for me, but as slow as my journey is taking, I am moving forward. Everyone is going to tell you how you should be grieving or how fast or slow you should be moving. Your grief journey is your own; no one is in charge of it but you. You may be surprised at who befriends you in your most vulnerable year; be open to it. Don’t be afraid to talk about your grief or about your sibling (or loved one you are grieving). If you’re a social media person like I am and feel like letting your emotions out in a post, let it out. Don’t think, “Oh, they’re not going to like this, it’s too sad.” It is for you and only you. Grief is our last act of love. “Where there is deep grief, there is deep love.” I’ve been lucky enough to have found a few “grief sisters” through social media. I am so thankful for that!
If you’re more of a private person, journal and get it out. That’s all that matters. Society does not tell us how to grieve and deal with our heavy emotions that come with it. As much as we avoid it, it will catch up with us sooner or later. If we are not ready for it now, that’s okay; when we are ready, it is going to hurt just as much as it hurt the very first day without our beloveds. There are some kinds of hurt that never really go away as much as you want to from from it. That hurt will always be with us, and we just have to learn how to manage it, to mold it into our everyday life.
I was the lucky winner of being the first person to get the phone call from the hospital and learning what happened to my brother. Then having to call my mom and tell her that her firstborn son was gone. It has been one of the biggest challenges of my life. Having to live with the flashbacks of what happened that day was so hard. I didn’t sleep for weeks. I had all these voices going through my head — everything that was said that day. I thought they would never leave me. Now, one year and a few weeks later, they are still here but not as persistent. On a rare occasion, the flashbacks the voices of that day tend to get the better of me, and that is okay. It’s just a bad day. It means tomorrow is an opportunity to start fresh and leave yesterday behind. There are going to be good days and bad days; how we handle them is completely up to us. I have come a long way from crying for weeks straight, not sleeping, being afraid to drive, not even being able to go out and get my nails done without crying. It’s a learning process; it’s like being reborn. A life without Rudy felt like starting this life all over again. Though I have days, nights or even weeks where I can’t handle it, that’s when you reach out for help, guidance, advice or just vent to a friend. A grief sister, in my case, or anyone who is grieving a loss so great that only a few will ever understand.
To the family and friends who have helped me along the way, I sincerely thank you, then and now, as you continue to offer your presence and guidance, especially my family, my band, Britt, Meg, Ray, Nessa, Adrianne, Isa, Monique, Rachel and SO many more. I wouldn’t have made it this far without everyone’s help. One year later, I’ve made it and continue to learn and grow.
I leave you my fellow siblings and grievers with this: “It is now, in this world, that we must live.” We must live, not just survive. Remember it is okay to continue this life without the loved one we are missing. We are not forgetting them in doing so; we are honoring them every day by choosing to live again.
Love, strength and light,
Alyssa, a sister in grief