Generally, people strive for routine and predictability in life. Day to day variations in a schedule, for example, traffic congestion or unexpected visitors, do not break the patterns we establish. Even larger interruptions to our routine, like the upset of an injury or an illness, only modify the norms we come to expect in a small or temporary way. Yet, the loss of someone close to us produces a full stop. The loss of someone close places a marker in our life story, with a distinct before and a distinct after. Enduring grief, loss and love, changes us.
We have the ability to absorb tremendous pain.
Grief is different for every person. I lost a sibling unexpectedly. In the immediate aftermath, I found small comforts or pleasures I previously enjoyed in life were gone. Food, when I did eat, was bland. I could no longer savor the first sip of coffee in the morning. The TV, when turned on, was nothing but unbearable noise. The show I recently obsessed over, forgotten. Hearing my favorite song played on the radio was empty and meaningless. I felt numb. The crush of family and friends offering support was a small echo. An invisible film separated me from the rest of the world.
Grief is not something you heal from and it is definitely not something you “get over”. After the first few weeks, I only cried when I was alone. I cried in the shower. I cried driving to and from work. I held my pain at bay just long enough to find a moment alone to let it out. Eventually, the crying subsided. The pain was still there, but I absorbed it and made it a part of me. I carry it still.
The death of a sibling while my parents were still living, meant my loss was eclipsed by theirs.
Loss is different for every person. My Mom likes to inform me whenever she visits the gravesite; something she did daily the first two years. She also quizzes me about how many times I go, as if there is a ticker timer tallying the number of visits any person makes and whoever goes the most, cares the most. Touring the gravesite is not a declaration of bereavement, but these trips are important to my mother and part of her process.
Loss does not preclude you from experiencing joy. In the first few days following my sibling’s death, my sister and I looked at each other and promised we would feel joy again. It was a decision, not a feeling. We weren’t being optimistic at that moment. We felt helpless to try to comfort my mother in her loss. Our promise to each other that we would feel joy again was also a promise that we wouldn’t need to focus our support on each other. For a time, I became an imposter of myself. I tried to do the same things and act the same way I had before the loss. Eventually, I gave up this façade. I accepted that I had changed. The essentials of my life are simpler now, my attention more focused… and yes, I do feel joy.
Nothing allows for a more acute understanding of what you have than its absence.
Love is different for every person. The sibling I lost was my favorite. I know that’s a taboo thing to say, but it’s true. There was a familiarity in our approach to the world, in our vulnerabilities and in our determination. Maybe the order we were born into the family and the age difference between us drew us together. The bond that formed between us was absolute. I would forgive this sibling anything and defend everything. By the time I reached adulthood, I recognized this favoritism was impolite to my other siblings and damaging to those relationships. I made conscious efforts to equal my affection for all of my siblings.
Love isn’t finite or predictable. After someone dies, no matter how perfect your relationship with them might have been, regret bubbles to the surface. The death of my sibling is no different, but the one thing I cling to is the knowledge that I didn’t withhold my preference all of our childhood. Everyone should be someone’s favorite at some point in their life.
Enduring grief, loss and love will be different for every person and every relationship. The only commonality is that it will change you. As with any profound experience, it should change you! I will never stop missing my sibling or mourning that death, but I have become more defined, grateful and accepting in life now.
Related Article: What Not to Say When Someone Suffers Loss
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