Endings and Beginnings

Eric C. Miller about 5 years old, painted by Irene Bowers

I began this post in early December and realized as I was writing it that it dredged up deep feelings of sadness. I could not finish it. Perhaps it was the accumulation of pandemic isolation and the uncertainty and stress due to some serious health problems my husband experienced last year. I decided it was too sad for the holiday season.

Then I decided it was important for me deal with some unresolved grief.

In December of 1962, my first year in college, I came home to Wallowa, Oregon. On December 21, I welcomed a baby brother into our family, Eric Christopher Miller. i went back to school and was only home for short periods during the next few years. I got married between my junior and senior year in college when Eric was three. I wasn’t around him much and didn’t know him well. But from my mom and dad and my other two brothers I knew him as a kind soul, creative, musical, and artistic. My younger brother, Carl, can speak more to that as he is a couple years older.

Carl and Eric built a motor scooter and tore up the field around their home where they lived in Toutle, WA.

Eric at 14

Eric died in a car crash in 1979, in which my brother Carl was severely injured. It was a difficult time for my family. I had just delivered my son, which was a joyous occasion overshadowed by the death of my brother. In those days my doctor would not let me travel with a newborn, so I didn’t get to participate in the grieving process with my family. My other brother and his wife helped my parents in the aftermath of Eric’s death and Carl’s recovery.

When Eric and Carl were little, my mom took them up to Mt. St. Helens in the summer to go sledding. Mom and Dad and the two boys often picnicked at Spirit Lake. My husband and I visited them two years after we got married and joined them at the lake. We saw Mt. St. Helens in all its glory, its snow-capped peak towering above us.

The year after Eric’s death, Mt. St. Helens erupted, and that cataclysm eclipsed our family’s loss.

Eric’s death devastated my parents, and as people sometimes do, Dad idealized him. I’ve included a copy of something he wrote and framed. I love the story about how Eric wanted a space in the garden to grow candy bars. He was the one who ate all his Halloween candy by the next day, while Carl worked on his until Christmas.

It took a long time to process Eric’s death. Because his birthday was so close to Christmas, the end of the year has always brought conflicting emotions. I believe part of my recent sadness stems from missing family and friends. They help us deal with sadness and pain. My husband and I are fortunate to have children who still like us. They each came several times last year to help us deal with my husband’s serious medical issues, and they keep in touch via video chat. My husband is healing and life is getting better for me and everybody.

Years after Eric died, I wrote a poem eulogizing him. I’m not a poet, and I never submitted this anywhere, but writing it helped me express my grief.

My mother told me once she didn’t like people asking her if she was over it. She often said you never “get over” the loss of a loved one. You learn to live with a new normal and you hold fast to happy memories.

Here we at the beginning of a new year. I have realized how grateful I am for family and friends who have been so supportive. I will reach out to all and make sure they know how important they are in my life. And I will hold fast to happy memories. Every day is a new beginning.

THE ROAD TO PARADISE (Spirit Lake Highway)

Before the eruption, on a quiet, misty morning, 
I watched spirits rise from the lake
and listened to the whispered elegies of Douglas firs. 

At the end of the road, old Harry Truman
thumbed his nose at the government and the world.
The world wept when Harry and the land and
57 strangers were eulogized on television. 

I’ve stood on that highway between the tombstones
and the tourist traps, and read the epitaph for a death
that went unremarked in all that vast calamity. 

There in Nature’s rejuvenation,
the mountain rises from its ashes—
mindful requiem for a brother.

Eric’s grave overlooking Silver Lake in Washington. Mt. St. Helens beyond is obscured by haze.
My father wrote this about Eric.

Endings and Beginnings