There is no grief like the grief that does not speak. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Some days it seems like the light has burned out. Anxiety fills the spaces where the light used to shine before Eric died. I wait patiently for a tiny spark – a glimpse of my old self. But it doesn’t come. Those days are the dark days.
And the dark days are happening too frequently.
I was unprepared for my brother’s death. He died suddenly and without warning on October 9, 2011. It wasn’t accidental or intentional. Eric’s death was a tragedy no one saw coming.
In the months following his death, it was difficult finding grief support. Other than my wife, children and friends, I couldn’t find resources to help me grieve my brother’s death.
So, I moved on. And that decision has been haunting me since because
I didn’t grieve fully. I didn’t receive the help I needed. I was left with a wounded heart that wept for my brother. But with God’s grace and the love of my family, I’m learning a few things about sibling grief.
These things may not be clinically correct or what a professional grief counselor would recommend, but they are helping me heal a little more each day.
After hearing the news, I went into management mode. There were phone calls to make; flight arrangements to coordinate and hotel rooms to reserve. It took a few hours before the reality brought me to my knees. Eric was dead. That was when I let the tears come.
More than two years later, I’m learning not to manage the tears, but to let them flow whenever they want.
Cry for your brother or sister. Cry as much as you want.
A year or so after Eric died, I accepted he was gone. There would be no more weekly calls, no more visits and no more times when he would call me, “Mouse.”
Eric was dead. I accepted that fact.
But what’s been more difficult to accept is the person I was before he died is gone, too.
The brash optimism is gone. Feeling strong, vibrant and invincible is gone. My enthusiasm is tarnished and my spirit feels cornered.
After a difficult day recently, I asked Mary Beth if we could go to the neighborhood bar to have dinner and grab a beer or two. She agreed.
Sipping Harps, my wife told me directly, but compassionately, that I will never be the person I was before Eric died. Mary Beth suggested my anxiety would improve once I accepted that fact.
His death has left holes in me – holes that will never be patched because there’s only one person who can do it and he isn’t here to fill the holes back in.
When grieving the death of a sibling, accept that how you see and experience the world will change.
When you lose a sibling, you also lose a piece yourself, forever.
Accepting this somber truth is taking me closer to healing.
There’s something about losing a sibling that makes you feel vulnerable. Maybe it’s the proximity in age or knowing the DNA strands are similar, but the death of a brother or sister can evoke feelings of panic and anxiety like no other life event can.
Since my brother’s death, I’ve been obsessed with my health. Not knowing how he died makes me suspicious of every cough, itch or ache. To make it worse, I have a atrial septal aneurysm, which magnifies even the smallest cardiac or stroke symptoms.
My health concerns reached a crescendo last summer when I experienced frequent panic attacks. Along with taking medication, I found that meditation helped the most.
Meditation helped to center my thoughts. It separated my rational thoughts from the irrational ones. Each meditation session began with a simple command – breathe; simply breathe.
When the pain or anxiety over the loss of your sibling feels suffocating, remember to breathe.
I’m still taking daily medication, but I’m not meditating as often as I did last summer. Instead, when I feel the anxiety begin to rise, I close my eyes, think of Eric and breathe.
When a sibling dies, forgiveness becomes a two-way street.
Months after Eric left us, it was clear I needed to forgive myself for his death. Thoughts like, “Why didn’t I do more? Why him and not me? What signs did I miss that could have prevented his death? consumed me.
But my rational mind has helped me realize an important truth, “His death wasn’t my fault.” He died as a result of his conditions – his choices – and perhaps his destiny.
After finding the way to forgiveness, the need to forgive surfaced again. This time, I had to forgive Eric for leaving me.
Anger at the Universe shifted to anger at my brother for not taking better care of himself. I viewed his lack of self-care as selfishness and I was pissed. Remembering my self-forgiveness journey, it was clear that my brother deserved forgiveness just as much.
Invite forgiveness into your heart so you can begin forgiving yourself and your brother or sister.
He is gone and I am here. My faith tells me there will be a day when we will see each other once again. Eric will probably give me a big smile, give me a hard time for wearing my hair too short and then call me, “Mouse.”
I will savor that moment. No doubt it will melt away the pain as the dark days surrender to the light and quiet my grief forever.
Need to talk?
I’m not a life coach or a therapist; I’m still learning how to grieve my brother’s death. If you need someone to talk to, you can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to sharing my experiences and receiving your support, too.