Human Condition: Out of grief, a new appreciation _lowres

 

Just over a year ago, I remembering clearly trying to restrain my tears as I drove through Calcasieu Parish on I-10 toward Baton Rouge. I was the next caller in the que for the radio show by Greg and Lisa Popcak, both counselors who open their phone lines daily to callers willing to share their struggles and/or ask for help. I did not want to be a balling mess on air.

My earphones in place, I struggled to get my question out as cerebrally as possible, lest my feelings take over and I revert back to weeping.

My brother, to whose funeral I was driving, had just been unexpectedly killed at the age of 27. How, I pled, could a seemingly good God allow for such a tragedy?

The counselors listened patiently, letting a few seconds pass after my question before responding. They then offered their sincerest condolences before telling me that they couldn’t answer my question. Keep asking God, they said. Argue if you need to, but don’t stop asking.

In the weeks following my brother’s death, I continued to ask the question. At the strangest times — walking down Highland at LSU, running the Louisiana Marathon or sipping coffee at Highland Coffees — I would find myself either leveled to tears or in a state of total disbelief over what had happened.

Though an “answer” to why my brother died seemed elusive, I held confidence in Dr. Greg’s advice.

As weeks turned to months and I failed to have a Mufasa-style appearance of my brother from the clouds, I realized day by day that the answer to my question would not come with a bang but in bits and pieces.

On visits to Highland Coffees, I began to write my and my brother’s story, which was marked by more than 10 years of estrangement due to his drug abuse, addiction and imprisonment. Though at times an exercise of tear-wiping more than writing, the more I persisted in reliving our past, the more I was filled with gratitude for the time we had together, even if only a short 27 years.

For just over a year before he died, we had experienced an opportunity to walk a pilgrimage together in Spain to Santiago de Compostela, a journey that provided us with much-needed reconciliation after enduring such distance and hurt.

As well, his death encouraged me to pick up the pen again, having always wanted to write but letting the habit slide amidst duties of fatherhood and being a doctor.

The more I wrote, the more I realized that our story could only be done justice through a book.

Last month, just over a year after his death, I published our story, “On the Primitive Way: Two Texan Brothers’ Journey to Santiago de Compostela.” Reading the comments of readers and reviewers who were touched by the work fills me with gratitude as a writer for having had the chance to play a role, however miniscule in a reader’s search for meaning.

It also fills me with gratitude for the “miracle” of our journey.

While I may always question “why” I lost my brother, I have him to thank for encouraging me to write, reminding me that Job, in his persistent seeking, was rewarded with 10 times more than what he had before.

— Roussel, who grew up Baton Rouge, is now finishing his residency at Harvard Medical School.

Advocate readers may submit stories of about 500 words to the Human Condition at features@theadvocate.com or The Advocate, EatPlayLive, 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810. There is no payment, and stories will be edited. Authors should include their city of residence.