by Jonathan Kuiper
Excerpt from my self-published book, adapted for this article.
In 2005, my twin brother Stephen was killed in a car accident. I clearly did not understand until his passing that the grieving process is ongoing and there is no time limit. It wasn’t until a few months ago when a second edition of my book, Running With Vince, was published that I completed that part of my journey.
Running With Vince was an idea that popped into my head, just a few weeks after his death. I wondered what it would be like if Stephen, my twin, had been with me the morning and days that followed his death. The first wink that led to this idea came early on, even before he passed fully over. At the time of his death, even though we were miles apart, I was wide-awake and knew that something was odd about that morning.
One might think that twins get these inclinations often, but our relationship and bond wasn’t like that. We would joke with friends about one of us getting a headache after the other hit his head, but in truth, I never remember that happening. On the contrary, there were no shared physical ailments. We were polar opposites with different goals, life paths, and directions. Nevertheless, regardless of where we were in life, we both knew that we had each other’s back. That morning of April 16th, 2005, when I woke, my focus turned to him and I had song lyrics on continual loop in my head until my mother called with the news of his death.
“Turn the radio up for that sweet sound, hold me close never let me go, keep this feeling alive, make me lose control.”
The news was devastating, but on some level, it was also okay, because I knew my brother’s struggle and how from a larger perspective he was in a better place. Instead of dwelling on his immediate loss, there were so many things to do. There was no time to really grieve, to fully process what had transpired. In fact, though it may seem odd, I felt as though I was there as the other twin, who was being strong for all those in attendance.
Due to this, it was a daze, one where I kept dwelling on song lyrics. In the chaos of the days that followed, I looked up those lyrics. They were from Eric Carmen’s Make Me Lose Control. When I was able to listen to the whole song, I realized that my brother was sending me a message to pass on to his fiancé. Her name was Jennifer. In that song, the name was used in the first verse. I had to laugh because Stephen and I were both big fans of Eric Carmen’s song Hungry Eyes so when I realized the connection, I bought a copy of the song for Jennifer and passed it onto her. She said it was exactly what she needed to hear, to help her with her grieving. I understood the connection that was still present between us both. Stephen was reaching out, talking about the love of his life and how she was on his mind, in his final moments.
Similarly, a week later when I was back in Charleston, South Carolina, where I was stationed, I had this urge to buy Boyz II Men’s greatest hits. We listened quite often as teenagers to this group. Like the first song, I kept thinking about Stephen and his favorite number seven. Playing that track, I realized it was A Song for Mama. Once again, it felt like Stephen wanted me to pass on a message to our mother. I got her a copy of the track and it quickly became her song for the next year or so until finally the disc had scratched itself out. My mother found solace in the music and that message of love from her son.
After this second occurrence of song lyrics that I passed on to Stephen’s loved ones, I contemplated my story further. Clearly, Stephen was using me as a vessel. I wish I could say that I wrote the story shortly thereafter but instead after fleshing out the skeleton of the story, the actual process of sitting down and writing it took another six years. During this time were many moments when I felt that I should sit down and write this story, but I just didn’t feel ready. It wasn’t until spring vacation in 2011 that I decided I really wanted to write something in his memory. My brother had always bragged about me being an author when we were younger, and now I felt that if I didn’t write this story it would be disservice to him and the character that he played for so many in life.
The writing process was liberating because when I wrote the words finally flowed. Over the course of three or four days, I wrote the entire book and never felt alone. Instead, I felt like Stephen was with me, standing over my shoulder, whispering in my ear, and in some instances typing with my fingers. It was so therapeutic and allowed me to let go of the struggle I had with his physical departure. This doesn’t mean I was content with him passing, but I was finally able to come to the realization that it was okay to move forward. Regardless of our deep connection, it was okay to move further along my path and not dwell on what could have been for him.
In hindsight, recognize that my journey was not when the book was finished. While a first draft was complete, it took two more years until I was ready to add a chapter on the character Christian’s grieving. It makes sense that I was not able to dive into that aspect of loss until recently because in some way, the grieving process had continued and I had not come to terms fully with my loss. When we lose people we care about, regardless of whether they are a twin brother, a sister, mother, or a dear friend, there is a process we all must experience and embrace. It is naïve to think that with their physical form gone, that there should now be an immediate celebration and embracing of the new relationship.
It is important to recognize the passing of our loved ones from their physical existence, to honor the emotions we experience, and to reflect on how their role influenced our being at so many different levels. Mourning is natural and expected, and even when we are more centered and balanced, some loss will remain. The book focused on this opportunity to have a new relationship based on love. I have experienced that with Stephen. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that life is any easier with his spiritual presence acknowledged. If anything, in some ways until we come to grips and have a better understanding of this dynamic of love and energy, we miss the physical presence even more.
Those we care about the most are still present if we are open to receiving them and allowing a place in our lives for their new presence. However, contrary to what some are teaching, we should and will experience the full gambit of emotions with the physical passing. That will take time, not days or weeks, but years and maybe even a lifetime. At a cellular level, when a loved one leaves, I believe that we lose that aspect of ourselves, that physical memory. As that memory faded, it made my process more difficult. Something of a natural occurrence that I expect might also happen for others.
As mentioned earlier, it took years for my composition of Running With Vince. During those six years, I knew that when I created space for the book, Stephen would be there with me helping along with the process. Even though I was close to him, life can get away from us very quickly. We are inundated by the mundane, by the routines, by the daily stressors and in turn lose focus on ourselves and on those relationships that mattered the most. Whether in life or death, if we don’t open up to others and to our loved ones, then after they pass there is no room for a new relationship and connection. Until I got out of my way, and moved forward, Stephen wasn’t able to come in and be received at this different level.
Through love, our relationships never end. With love, we can move forward from our loss and beyond the grief that paralyzes many. When we rush the process, life can be more difficult and we can miss the connections that are truly important. Clearly there isn’t a time limit to this process, as my journey is still eight years and counting.
About the Author: Jonathan Kuiper and his twin brother, Stephen, were born in Boston, Massachusetts and raised in New Hampshire. Jonathan was educated at Stonehill College and Abilene Christian University. He values all types of education and learning. When not writing, running, or spending time with his wonderful dog, Portia, Jonathan coaches, teaches, and mentors high school students. He is the author of the book, Running With Vince.