As I was writing my article for January’s Pacific Citizen about new beginnings, a devastating and heartbreaking ending happened to me. My brother, who I adore, unexpectedly collapsed and died on Jan. 10, 2022. His health had been declining, but he wanted to live, and I thought that he had more years to be with us … with me. I feel a grief that I have never felt before.
I have experienced the loss of my parents, relatives and friends, which has touched me deeply, but losing my brother, who I loved and who wanted to live so much, has taken me to a different level of grief.
I cry when I walk by a box of ingredients he put in my kitchen to decorate cookies for New Year’s Day. I tear up when I warm a bowl of food and put around the bowl a cloth holder that my brother made so I will not burn my hands. I look around and see a plaque he gave me to remember our parents. And I read loving emails, texts and Facebook posts that honor “Uncle Marty,” and I am suddenly reduced to sobbing.
In Brene Brown’s recently released book “Atlas of the Heart,” she talks about feelings that we experience. Sadness, despair and grief are in her chapter “Places We Go When We’re Hurting.” I am hurting, I am feeling great loss and I am mourning the emptiness that my brother’s death has brought to my life.
I don’t want people to feel bad for me. I don’t want people to try to cheer me up; that makes me sadder. I just want people to hold space for my grief. And what I have appreciated the most is people sharing stories of how my brother touched their lives and just sitting quietly while I cry.
One person sent me an email sharing how my brother gave her a rock that said “strength.” They met at a PFLAG support group, and she was struggling with her family. Marty told her when she needed strength to hold this rock and know there are people rooting for her. Her life is better today, and she still has this rock. Marty, you gave her the gift of strength and knowing others care about her.
I know another family that calls my brother Uncle Marty. He used to go pick up fresh blue fin tuna from them when the husband would go fishing. Marty would drive over 30 miles to pick up the fish and would take that tuna to a widow from Japan. Marty, you have such a giving heart, and that heart will be so missed by so many.
My brother used to bring me articles that he or others found about my LGBTQ+ advocacy. He would tell me, “I am so proud of you, Sis.” I would tell him how much he was part of this work I am doing, since he handled paperwork for me, so I could focus on supporting LGBTQ+ individuals and families. He would smile humbly and say, “I’m not doing anything big, Sis. All I want is to support you to make the world safer for Aiden and the LGBTQ+ community.” He was that kind of uncle. He was that kind of human being.
Two weeks before Marty died, he baked 48 sugar cookies for me because he thought it would be fun on New Year’s Day for my family to decorate those cookies. He felt weak. I didn’t want him to do it, but he insisted. Giving brought him joy.
Today, some of those cookies are in my freezer, and I don’t want to eat them because my brother made them with his love. I cry when I remember the last time I saw him, but I am also filled with deep gratitude that I had a brother who brought so much love into my life.
It is not just the things he did for me that showed me his love, but all that he was. He made me laugh when I was stressed. He made me feel like there is hope in this world … that people will do the right thing, not for money or fame or glory, but because it is part of being a good person.
He gave me the kind of strength that feels like a warm blanket that hugs you and makes you feel safe. I felt like no matter what, he would be there to catch me if I stumbled or pull me up if I fell. And when we would leave each other, we did not always hug because of the pandemic, but he would say, “I love you Sis.” And I would respond that I loved him, too.
These memories are what will keep me moving forward in between the moments of grief that I am experiencing. I understand more deeply when people tell me they are devastated and heartbroken. I want to be there for them in a way I couldn’t before because I did not understand the depth of loss that I am feeling now.
I will tell people I love more often “I love you” not in a fleeting manner, but stopping to really open my heart, so it reaches into theirs. It has already started with my remaining brother the night Marty died. It has happened with my children, my husband and dear friends.
And so for those reading this article, if you have an Uncle Marty, don’t just tell him you love him, but tell him the ways he has brought joy, happiness and learning into your life. If it feels awkward, send him a card, a text or email. Tell him while he is alive.
For me, I will move forward taking Uncle Marty with me every day. I will work to be the kind of person he continues to be proud of. I will use him as a role model of humility and humanity. And when I wake up each day, I will appreciate the extra day I have been given and will thank Uncle Marty for reminding me how precious life truly is.
Marsha Aizumi is an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and author of the book “Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother, Her Transgender Son and Their Journey to Love and Acceptance.”