Before, After, and at the Same Time

Mary Swan-Bell
4 min readOct 22, 2019

We all have defining moments. Something happens — good or bad — and you know from that point forward you’ll measure life in terms of before and after that event. Often we have more than one, but usually we have at least one.

For me, the one was my brother Chris’ death in 1989. I have had others. A dear friend’s death in 1992. My brother Brian’s death in 1997. My dad’s death in 2011. Happy ones too. Meeting my husband in 1990. My children’s births in 1994, 2000, and 2006. But February 5, 1989, that’s the one.

For more than 30 years, I have thought of and looked at many things in my life in terms of before Chris died and after.

Before Chris died, I believed in magic. In God. In miracles. After, I felt jaded, skeptical and mistrusting of happiness. Foreboding clouded my joy.

Before Chris died, I often felt special, understood, and cherished. For too long after, I felt worthless, invisible, and unlovable.

Before Chris died, I believed that I was brave and strong. After he died, I felt weak and afraid when I really needed to feel brave and strong.

Before Chris died, I saw people as good or bad. After he died, I understood we all have good and bad in us.

Grief affects people in some very predictable and some profoundly different ways. My dad started to say I love you. A lot. Before Chris died he never said it. But after, he wore it out like a twisted penance. Maybe he thought professing his love to enough people would make up for never telling his son. It didn’t…make up for it, that is, but when my dad died in 2011, everyone knew he loved them.

Some families draw together after a tragedy; ours splintered. It felt like we each clung to our personal grief as if we each were the only one who lost someone. Before Chris died, we hung out, played games and laughed. After Chris died, we went our separate ways.

For 30 years, I have dreaded the anniversary of his death. I relive it every year. Waking up. Hearing the tone in my mom’s voice that made my insides instantly liquefy. Seeing my sister crying on the church bench in our dining room. Pinching my arm til it was bruised trying to wake up from what seemed to be the longest nightmare ever. I write about it. Every. Year. so…

Mary Swan-Bell

dreamer•mystic•seeker• author, Post-Its and Polaroids•