16 years old. To most, that means prom, awkward encounters between boys and girls, learning how to apply make up, getting into arguments with parents daily, and finally getting that learner’s permit and begging anyone over the age of 21 to take you out to an empty parking lot for a few laps at 10 miles an hour. It is an age of hope, intense passion, and also confusion. When you grow up in a small suburban town like mine, you aren’t usually aware of a whole lot going on in the world outside the parameters of your block. Life still has that big shiny bow, pain is getting in a fight with your friends that will be over at the end of the week. Loss is breaking up with your “boyfriend” after a month of texting/facebook messaging and never actually interacting in person. And when you are 16, that is exactly how it is supposed to be, why rush exposure to the world’s cruelties? You have the rest of your life to be an adult.
I grew up like any other Irish Catholic girl in my town. I had two wonderful parents who were still madly in love and created a family together. My mom, Teri, is the epitome of supermom. She somehow got all four kids to where they needed to go, while taking care of everything in our family with ease. My father, Billy, is a retired NYPD officer who worked in the seven five during the crack boom fighting bad guys and busting big drug cartels. They will forever be my idols in terms of marriage goals. I was the youngest of four siblings, the only girl in fact. Being the baby sister of the Clancy clan was a role that I fully embraced, and never took for granted. I had the opportunity to develop relationships with all three of my very different brothers. At the top is James, who was in 7th grade when I was born. James is a natural born athlete, a little on the shier side, but witty as all hell. He left for college when I was five years old, so I remember taking over his room when he was gone, because he had a TV AND an air conditioner. Then whenever he came home from college for the summer, I wouldn’t change my habits, so every night he would come in, scoop my sleeping self up, and put me in my own bed so he could sleep. James and I probably had the least amount of full conversations when I was growing up, but his protective nature and inside jokes were exactly what I needed. He used to always sing the “Smelly Cat” song from the show FRIENDS, but would replace cat with “Mary”. For the longest time I didn’t know where this song came from, so I would get so mad at him for telling me I smelled. Over the past several years, James and I have grown very close, realizing how much we have in common. I always dreamt of the day my brothers and I could bridge the gap from just siblings, to also friends. In the middle of the lineup, is my brother Timothy. Tim was by far my “favorite” as a kid. He was always the nicest to me, and would always bring me with him to do cool things. I was never shy about telling everyone he was my favorite, we were just so similar. I feel like if I had been a boy, I would probably have turned out the most like Tim. Tim was also a gifted athlete (all of my brothers were, very annoying I know), artistic, and the best story teller I have ever met. He thrives off of filling a room with laughter while telling a tale from our childhood or maybe his hood rat college days. He also is the family “softie”, but I don’t recommend saying that to his face unless you wanna get punched.
And finally, we get to Terrence Calder, the youngest boy of the crew. Handsome as all hell, energetic as the Tasmanian devil, fiercely loyal, annoyingly charming, the list goes on. From the second Terrence was born, he never stopped. My poor parents had to take a big break from having kids after him just to regain their energy back. When he was around the age of three, Terrence backed my aunt’s Lexus out of the driveway. My mom would put him in a room with a childproof gate up so that he could not leave and she could put on a load of laundry. He would somehow get over the gate, out the front door, down the block, and across the street to the neighbor’s house where his brothers were playing. Living on the edge is an understatement. This adventurous attitude stayed with Terrence well into adulthood. He could pick up any sport and be great at it after a few tries, even golf. He was no student, but boy could he convince the pretty cheerleaders to help him with his homework. Terrence looked at life with a view that I am pretty sure no one else in this world has ever encountered. As a dear friend once said, he was our very own modern day Peter Pan. Living life with no regrets was a requirement for Terrence, as noted by the tattoo of the quote on his arm. Terrence was not always a man of words, but boy did he show you. He showed you with his ability to make anyone laugh, regardless of how angry you were at him. He hit rocket ship shots to the net from yards away with a grin on his face. He embraced you with a hug so strong you could barely breathe, but somehow you felt all of the stress and pain leave your body instantly. Terrence knew how to make you feel like the most special person in the world. He protected anyone that he respected, especially his family. I’d be lying if I said he didn’t through a punch or two to defend a brother or friend who was getting harassed. When I was in the second grade a male classmate called to ask me for help with the math homework. Terrence picked up the phone, and told the boy to never call his little sister ever again. The poor boy’s mother had to call back asking for me. The kind of loyalty Terrence exhibited was rare. I always admired how intensely he lived his life. Fear was not in his vocabulary, and growing up as a very timid, nerdy kid, I couldn’t help but gawk over his personality. Unfortunately, with that kind of personality comes another one, addictive. Even Peter Pan isn’t invincible.
January 28th, 2013 was a cold, snowy Monday. It was exactly two weeks before my 17th birthday. I was not really enjoying that year of high school, but overall I had nothing complain about. Until 10:13 am. At that time my guidance counselor came and found me, and said that my dad was in the vice principal’s office. Everything about this statement felt off. My dad worked full time and my mom was home, so he never would have come to pull me out of class. I raced down to the office to see my father and two police officers. I knew. When you have a sibling struggle with addiction, you always have a fear in the back of your head that the worst will happen. I spent a few years masking that fear as well as I could. But on this day, it all became real. Terrence did not wake up that morning. My handsome, loving, goofy older brother who I loved more than anything, was gone.
The months following Terrence’s death were challenging, to say the least. Each of my immediate family members, including myself, had a different internal battle to fight. I was not always honest with my feelings, because my parents lost a child, and my brothers were best friends from birth. I had the least amount of time with him, so in my mind, I had the least to be upset about. Naturally, I had no attention span, I couldn’t fall asleep without the TV on, I had crying episodes almost daily. Yes, I made it through high school, maintained friendships, and got into college. I played sports and went to prom. I did what every other 17 year old did, but my alone time looked a little different. There are things that no one tells you when you lose a sibling, things that still affect me. No one ever tells you how to properly answer the question, “how many siblings do you have?”. Trust me, that question can cause a lot of anxiety for a college freshman who lost her brother not even two years ago. You wonder if you should just say three, or say two and go into the whole story of how you had three up until 16 years old, now you only have two, or if you should just say two and shut up about it. No one ever tells you how to do that. You come to realize that most of your friends don’t have anniversaries. Every year there are two days that make me think about Terrence a tremendous amount, his birthday and the day he died. January 28th is my least favorite day out of the calendar year, and will be until the day I die. There isn’t much that can change that. But it can be hard to explain why you have to go to mass every January 28th regardless of the day of the week. It can be hard to withdraw yourself from life’s daily tasks to just take a second and miss your brother. Terrence was born on St. Patrick’s Day, which is also my grandparent’s wedding anniversary. It is a huge day of celebration in an Irish family like mine. I also went to the University of Delaware for undergrad, aka the biggest party school in the country. I like to say this day ties for my favorite, and least favorite day. It gets confusing when one second you’re slugging Jamo shots at 9 am dancing around with your friends, and then the next you feel tears filling your eyes and have to excuse yourself to cry about your brother not being able to celebrate another year of life, and the guilt that comes with all of it. No one tells you how to do that, either.
Death has a different effect on everyone. Some people hurt a lot early on, but they don’t have a lot of residual problems from it. Others never come to terms with what happened. In my opinion, there is no right or wrong way to do it. You just do what you have to do to get by. For me, I was fortunate enough to be smothered with love from amazing friends and family following Terrence’s death. I mean really, I have the most incredible army back home in my small suburb of Floral Park. I didn’t even have the time to process a lot of what happened, because I was so immensely loved and protected constantly. So for me, a lot of the effects came much later. I have what has been described to me as, “a crippling fear of loss”. Basically, it means that whenever I sense a relationship, whether it be a friend, significant other, family member, etc. is having problems or there is distance, I get so scared. Like hits me in my gut and brings me to the ground, scared. I think it is really hard for the people around me to understand, and I get it. I don’t even know how to explain it sometimes. I just know that a small bump in a friendship to me sends waves of panic throughout my body, and I can’t help but fear the worst. I immediately jump to, “I’m going to lose this person”, or “I ruined it, didn’t I?”. It is a genuine fight that I have to fight regularly. It is a battle I would not wish on my worst enemy, because this crippling anxiety is exhausting. It has definitely affected different relationships in my life, and I hate that so much. And I am sorry, to whoever this has affected in my life, I truly am.
Terrence’s 6th anniversary in Heaven is coming up at the end of the month, so I think that is why I felt compelled to write some things down. I think I just wanted people out there struggling with loss to know that, you are so not alone, and whatever you are feeling is normal. Most of all, I want those people to know that things do get better, and you can find beauty and strength in something so tragic. I know that I would move mountains to have Terrence back on this earth. But as a way to cope, I think of the silver linings that came out of such a tough experience. I like to think that my family is even closer than we already were, and we will never stop holding on tight. My brother Tim and his wife Karen recently had a beautiful little girl, Charlotte Grace. She is a huge blessing in our lives, and fills our hearts with so much joy. I also like to think I appreciate my relationships in general more now. My friends are some of the most important people in my world, and I hope they know that. I have been lucky enough to meet the love of my life pretty young, and he has given me a lifetime supply of love and happiness, and in a lot of ways he has helped me heal and grow so much over the past four years (thank you, Brian). I recently got to start living out my dream of pursuing my Doctorate in Physical Therapy at the #1 ranked PT program in the country, and I get to be surrounded by the best friends/classmates while doing it. I have tried very hard to live my life the way Terrence would have wanted me to. I try to take more risks, I try to love more passionately and laugh more frequently. Overall, I just try to keep his memory alive through actions and words of kindness and love. I still struggle, I still don’t get why people have to leave us so young. I still miss him every single day. But I am doing what I can, we all are.
There are so many things society doesn’t tell you about losing an immediate family member at a young age, but that is probably because there is no way to prepare for what happens. We just have to understand that death impacts the living, and it is up to us to decide which direction the loss takes us. Thank you, Terrence, for watching over me every single day. I hope we all make you proud.