I’ll never forget it. We were in Grammies ice cream very soon after Gabe’s death. We were getting ice cream. Because sometimes something so awful happens and you have to do something good. Something happy. After we all ordered they rang us up, and said “Just the four?” Just the four. It was a punch in the gut feeling realizing that we were now just the four. I wanted to scream NO! There are five. There were five. There SHOULD be five.
In an instant our family had gone from a family of five to a family of four. Early in June that year we took our first vacation as just the four. It was nice in some ways- we got to get away, get out of our house that held so much sadness, and try hard to create new memories. But Gabe’s absence was palpable. When we got to the cabin in Tennessee the boys were excited, but Gabe’s excitement for everything was always so electric. If he had been there he would have been running from room to room, loudly exclaiming about how wonderful the cabin was, claiming his bed, and immediately playing pool. He would have changed into his swimsuit and gone right into the hot tub. He would have then obsessed about what we would do next because that was how he was- always looking at the next fun thing to do. Ready for the next bit of excitement.
As the months passed that four not five thing became a regular thing- going out to eat, to movies, even going to parties. Replying that four of us would attend. It slowly got a little bit less painful, but every time it stings.
Since that first vacation we have had two other vacations- one with each of our families. And they are wonderful but also extremely painful. We know that Gabe is missed, but we shouldn’t be able to fold an entire row of seats down in the van. We should need 3 in the back. We should need the box on the roof for extra things because there should be another teenager packing his boogie board and way too much stuff. And when we arrive there should be that exuberant person running through the house exploring every inch. He should have been there complaining because he was impatient and never wanted to wait for anything. He always wanted to do the next thing.
Vacations are maybe one of the hardest things- seeing the cousins grow up and wondering so much about where he would be fitting in. I’m sure he would be talking about college with the oldest ones, and he would love being followed around by the youngest ones. I know him not being there is painful for everyone else, but for those of us who lived with him it really is a different level of hurt.
But sometimes we have to do things that hurt. We have to keep going even when we don’t want to. We have to put on a happy face even though the tears are just below the surface. We have to make new memories for the brothers who have been through so much. Because they deserve happiness. Because we all deserve happiness. Even more now than before. So there will be more vacations and new memories. But we will always remember and we will always wonder. What would it be like if there were still five?