Five Years into the After: A Letter to Owen

Author: Kelly Lennon Fitzpatrick

Hello Little Brother,

I think about you every day. I know you know that. Each year around your anniversary, the thoughts become strings of words, and I’ve tried to record my changing feelings around the times “Before” and “After.” This year, the words have changed and are less for me and more for you — my conversation with you. We feel you all around us, and are reminded of you each time we see a hawk or another Godwink sent our way, and I want to tell you how much you have impacted us, even in your absence. 

So what’s new, you wonder? What is different since you left us? We’ve grown and changed and, although it’s still heartbreakingly sad, I am proud of us. You would be too, I think.

Owen and family at New York Run

Owen and sisters

Owen and sisters

Five years into the After I say “died.” I say, “when my brother died…” Well, I usually do. I’ve never written it before, so that’s new and jarring all over again. What I mean, though, is that my voice stops trailing off mid-sentence, and I don’t always just go with “when the accident happened.” So, that’s different. 

A lot of things are different. The life we all lead is almost unrecognizable. There are new places, players, and partners. I’ve gained weight, lost it, and gained it again. Grief and varying circumstances have commingled with weddings and funerals, and births and deaths. There was a pandemic, and the world turned upside down. Since our world had already somersaulted in 2017 when we lost you, it seems we weren’t even surprised. Nothing will ever really surprise us again. 

So, there are all of these changes. In some ways, they are great, a mixture of blessings and grief distractors. When I don’t see the same people or go to the same places, it may not be as obvious that you are not here. It doesn’t sneak up and surprise me anymore, the way that it used to: when I would search for you in the uniforms, or in each tall man with Oakleys on, in every beat-up Jeep, or Cole Swindell song.

We have made a new family in the Mississippi family that has supported all of the crew’s family members since the accident. The Yanky 72 family has only gotten closer over the years, first at memorial events, and then slowly building our own connections outside of the organized days.

Some things haven’t changed, though. I still miss you. We still miss you. There are usually coins or signs on your headstone each time I visit, reminding me of how many people I don’t know that miss you too. I still haven’t gotten a tattoo as a symbol of how I carry you and your loss with me, but quite a few people carry your memory with them in that way. I struggle with how I’d hold you in art — you the Marine, but really, mostly, you my brother. But, I do still stop at David’s for bagels when I am on the right side of the river. I still keep your cap in my closet. I still think of you on sunny days, and every day. 

Owen as a boy

Owen and sisters as small kids

Five years later though, I’m beginning to see how people live with only the memory of a person, how the loss integrates into the living of life. In my desperation to remember all the moments, I have started creating journals for many of life’s pivotal moments, a lesson in appreciation unknowingly taught by you. My lifetime of half-started journals has transformed into prompting myself and others to record loved ones in blank spaces. I’m making them in memory of you, and to finally take a step forward in thinking about how I want to honor your life and your legacy. 

In the early days, I was a participant in memorials and special events. I searched for you in the pageantry of the Marine Corps. I appreciated it, of course, but I also thought about the twenty or so years you lived prior to making that commitment. What I remember most are video games and nights with your friends at our house, you helping me move, telling stories on the deck, and eating pizza in the Poconos. I remember your humor and your wit, your long gait, and the way you shook your head. I remember you coming back from Ireland with long hair and a new taste in music. 

This person, my brother, is the person I have been trying to find the best ways to honor and remember; but slowly, I have come to realize that I have always been honoring you, and will only continue to do so. And you will live in us, just as important in the After as in the Before.  

Owen and sisters at graduation

Kelly Lennon Fitzpatrick is the surviving sister of Sergeant Owen J. Lennon, U.S. Marine Corps Reserves

Photos courtesy of Kelly Lennon Fitzpatrick