Happy December friends!
A few months ago I needed to take a break after the sudden loss of my brother. My soul was drowning in grief, and the pain seeped into every crevice of my being. I honestly could not even comprehend living a day, hour or minute without feeling the intense waves of loss.
Today the pain still lingers and I’ve come to accept that it will always live inside of me in some way. But slowly, it’s easier to handle even though there are still hard days. Times when the tears fall freely and when I got lost in the thoughts of “what if” and “never again”. I call this the rabbit hole. Identifying and recognizing it helps me to stay clear most days and to understand the triggers that make me fall. A certain song, a memory or even a scent can instantly transport me back into the waves. Into the hole of darkness. But I know now how to not live there and I’m learning ways to cope with the pain and to sort through my emotions without being consumed.
In the very early days of grief and loss the smallest tasks seem unbearable. The thought of showering was exhausting. The idea of getting through a movie was insufferable. The attempt to fall asleep at night to a dry pillow appeared to be unobtainable. In the initial days your whole world breaks away and it leaves you in a darkness that only those who have been there can understand.
And those people suddenly stand out like a beacon of light. I can’t tell you how many people I talked to in those early weeks, how many hugs or how many times I heard “I’m so sorry”. But I can tell you that while all of them were genuine, I could instantaneously identify those who have lived this pain. Not the pain of a loss that is expected as with an older family member. We know that one day those goodbyes will come. Those losses while heartbreaking are very different in a way that is hard to explain without feeling it.
The type of pain from losing someone you never expected to live without is a whole different experience. This type of loss changes you. Your soul is altered. You’ve been to a dark place that cannot be understood by those who haven’t been there themselves. It’s as if we’ve been marked in a way that only those marked can see.
Seeking out others who have lost a sibling has been immensely helpful for me. There are a lot of support systems in place for those who lose a spouse or child, but the sibling loss is many times overlooked. One of my earliest pieces of advice came from my husband’s cousin who lost a sister a few years ago. I didn’t fully understand it at first but I quickly came to recognize its importance. She told me to focus on today and to not get caught up in the future. The first time I feel down that rabbit hole those words helped to pull me out. The questions and loss of future events is not yet something I can face. Maybe I’ll never be able to. Maybe there will be a line of items that will always be off limits. And that’s okay.
I truly lost a piece of myself the moment Andrew was gone. With a sibling you have another person who knows how you were created and how you got to where you are today. They lived through the same house rules, they know the same parent tendencies, the same funny stories and they shared the same secrets. When that is gone you go from having someone to share stories with to only being able to retell them to others who will never truly know. Inside jokes disappear in an instant. The sideways glances and chuckles across dining room tables are gone and the air suddenly feels painfully quiet and still.
When you lose a sibling your family changes. Your parents are different and from now on, always will be. Your grandparents are faced with a situation that they never dreamed of. No one is ever the same and you have to relearn your family. Traditions will change. Plans will change. Roles will change. Communications will change. You ask yourself questions that for some reason suddenly seem absolutely important like…..as the middle child, am I now considered the youngest? Am I no longer a big sister?
And now I see that this post has become a depressing glimpse into my grief. For that I apologize but I guess it highlights why I’ve taken a break from writing. Grief is something that you live in the beginning. I don’t want all of my writings to be of grief and loss and I think that right now they would be. I know that it won’t always be like this and I am working hard to process the difficult things now in hope of a brighter outlook in the days ahead.
Right now, emotions are complicated. I’m not depressed but I’m sad. I’m thankful for my family and I grieve for their pain. I feel absolutely blessed for the love around me and yet there are moments when I feel utterly alone. This is the walk of grief. The contradiction of joy while feeling absolutely broken. I have learned a lot since the day my brother passed away – a lot about myself and about those around me.
And here is what I learned…..
I have so much to be grateful for. My husband has spent countless hours sitting by my side as I’ve turned into a complete mess. My children are absolutely amazing. Our son is the strongest and most caring young man I’ve ever met. My family has a breathtaking way of coming together in the face of pain. The family I married into is full of compassion and love. And my parents are still able to teach and love us through the worst pain they will ever encounter. (I wrote a bit about them on my PsychCentral blog)
Life can be utterly difficult and painful. It can feel incredibly unfair and untrustworthy. I can say that this is the most painful situation I have ever encountered and yet I can see the beauty in it. It’s a complex web of emotions to feel both intense gratefulness and pain. The stark difference between light and dark became overwhelming a few weeks ago. November 25th was the 2 month point of when we lost Andrew. It was also our daughters 2nd birthday. It was the first time I went back to the cemetery since the funeral. And it was the first Thanksgiving holiday I was able to spend with my family in 4 years.
Living in both joy and pain can be exhausting but it shows you the entire gamut of life all at once. In one day we celebrated life and felt the pain of death. This truly puts everything else into perspective….We need to stop focusing on things that don’t matter. Stop wasting energy on old resentments or future worries that may not even happen. Stop building walls when you should be building bridges. Stop throwing away opportunities to heal or feel joy. Life is short and it can, and often does, change in an instant. Focus on those you love and make their world a little brighter and easier.
Until we meet again…..prayers that this holiday season shines light in even the hardest parts of your day.