The journey of grief: a book, a brother and a loss (Point of view)
The book sat unread on my bedside table for a decade, moved only for regular dustings and occasional rearranging of everything around it.
Its pages are beginning to yellow, but it has been a sentry to me for thousands of days since its arrival at the start of the new year 2012. At the time, it was the latest installment in a mystery series that my brother and I liked to read, and he gave me this one. I didn’t succeed then; now I can’t get over it.
Ten years ago this week Paul Robert Simison, my older brother and only brother, was killed on his way to work. Just two weeks prior, I had written a column about the man who had been his little “sister’s” best big brother, and our family had surprised him with a big celebration of his 60th birthday on March 15.
On the clear, sunny morning of March 28, 2012, Paul crossed the mountain from his home in Suffield to one of his favorite cafes and sweet shops in Southwick for a muffin before heading to his office in West Hartford. Jasper, one of the family’s canine companions, was in the back.
The driver of a large Ford F-350 pickup crossed paths with my brother’s car, killing Paul and Jasper. They were gone in an instant. I remember my sister-in-law calling to say that we had “lost” Paul. I remember hearing one of my three nieces sobbing in the background. I remember the primal scream that erupted from me.
Above all, I remember the overwhelming sadness that gripped me then and enveloped me for weeks. I spent the next six months to and from work as a place of solace where I could forget about my own life. When I wasn’t at work, I sat in a dark house, the house Paul and I grew up in, not wanting to see anyone, not wanting to go anywhere. I watched six seasons of “The Sopranos”; dark as it was, it seemed appropriate at the time.
Then I got help, leaned on friends, listened to others who had been where I was, and worked through what is known as the five stages of grief.
I also took my brother’s advice years before when I had problems in life: I turned to the mother of his dearest childhood friend. With our parents gone, he said she could be a good sounding board for me, someone who would welcome my visit and never be judgmental. She had been the first person I had called that morning. I wanted her to break the news of Paul to her son.
Mary Jackson Harding was everything Paul knew she was, and more. She became my reading partner. She became my wise wife, my confidante and, perhaps most importantly, my friend. At the time, she was 84, and our weekly Saturday morning visits ranged from sharing memories of Paul to candid discussions about politics and world events.
She had buried her husband at 50, so she knew well the path that mourning can take. She too had known my brother as a child and loved him as if he were one of her own. She was able to fill in my missing links to the childhood that Paul and I had shared. We were a very small family, just our parents and us, and they had been gone since 1982 when our mother died and 1991 when our father died.
She helped me find my way back to life among the living, to find joy in the moments, where and when they happen, to be grateful to have had Paul in my life for as long as I have, and to celebrate his life, rather than mourning his loss. His lessons have taken on even greater importance in our COVID-ravaged world.
Mary Harding died in September a few days before she turned 95. She had been through most of the pandemic, until she contracted a bacterial infection that landed her in a long-term care facility a year ago and from which she never recovered. .
Two Sundays ago, as we have done every year (except during the pandemic) since 2012, his children and I came together to mark what would have been Paul’s 70th birthday. We laughed, we toasted (and roasted) it and reminisced about happy times. Just as I suspect Paul would have wanted.
Life goes on, so now let’s get back to this book.
Cynthia G. Simison is editor-in-chief of The Republican. She can be reached by email at [email protected].