When You’re the Last One Alive, You Float

An old friend wrote that he just lost his younger brother, who was his last family member. He was the oldest of four, and his sister and his other brother died in the last few years, as did his mother and father. I wrote him:

I’m so sorry to hear about Mark. It’s hard. My sister and I were not very close, until those last six months after she found she had terminal cancer. Being able to spend almost all of the rest of her life with her was a great blessing.  When she died, I felt the loss, of course.

But I also felt that all my past disappeared with her. There’s no one on earth who remembers me from long ago. I don’t remember much about me from long ago. I don’t remember all that much about our parents and grandparents. The one person besides me who really remembered them has gone and taken her memories with her.

It’s a weirdly disorienting experience, esp. because it’s mixed with grief, which makes you (made me, anyway) feel guilty for being disoriented, which feels selfish. The world feels less solid than it did, because part of what made me me, someone else’s memory of my history, is now gone. My sister had an amazing memory, down to my first phone number and street address. I relied upon her to remember. Now I can’t ask “Do you remember when?” and “Who Was?” and “What happened when?”

The loss of the last member of our family leaves you feeling unrooted or unmoored, as if some of the cables that had held you in place had snapped. You float about in a way you didn’t before, being pushed around by shifting winds you don’t expect. And those cables will never be repaired or replaced.


David Mills is the editor of Hour of Our Death. His last article, also talking about the pain of grief, was Her Absence Remains an Absence I Feel. His other articles can be found here. The letter to his friend has been revised a little, since the original was very personal.

The picture is Andreas Weiland’s “Balloons on a String.”

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