Next week is E's birthday. He would be 20 years old. It's been ten months since he died.
Perhaps fittingly, just this week I started a new job. I left a good career and a very good salary and pension to work in a large organization that does policy and advocacy for kids in foster care. My former boss thinks I'm crazy but my closest friends think the move makes perfect sense - the job requires the same skills I've built up over the decades in my career, in the service of the cause that is obviously nearest my heart. As I do my new job, I call on the struggles and confusion and pain and good humor that E shared so openly, and I like to think that E is there each of my efforts. I like everything about the job, although I only just started. I even like my office. It's quiet, with a pretty view of the hills.
Meanwhile, T has been thinking for months about how to mark E's birthday this year. He craves appropriate opportunities to publicly express his grief, as he wants, understandably, to be seen as a good brother, one who took responsibility for his younger sibling through all of his struggles. (T has actually lost two brothers; a year before E died, the eldest of his siblings was murdered. They had only known one another for a couple years but the loss was stunning. Now he has two deaths to mourn at the same time.)
And yet T has not been self-destructive lately, which is a mark of how much he has grown up. He still lives with us, which is largely a very joyful thing. This morning he bit me on the shoulder while I was getting ready for work. We pick him up every night from his job in healthcare, and if we go more than a couple days without talking, he usually comes up with some clever scheme to spend an hour or two together (and get us to feed him at the same time). He's old enough to go to bars, rent a car, and do all sorts of other adult things; I find that I'm able to treat him as a friend as well as a son.
The three of us decided to get a tattoo on E's birthday. We chose a three-legged crow, a mythical creature in various Asian cultures that symbolizes divine intervention in human affairs and "a great master in nothing to fear" as one source says it. To us, it also represents our family: one unusual being that rests on the strength of its three parts that has come through something extraordinary. Three is a meaningful number - both one more than two, and one less than four, which is what we used to be.