WARNING: #Blogmas Day 7 and this post is an incredibly personal one. It does contain some references to death that some people may find upsetting.
Sunday 16th December is nine days away and it marks five years exactly since my brother died early one Monday morning from sudden death. I am not sure how I feel about this. The past five years seems to have gone incredibly quickly and I have no plans to mark this day in any special way. I still feel sad that my brother died so young and I have accepted that I will never speak to him again in this life. My brother was not in my life on a daily basis and so I do not always miss seeing him. The times when we did speak were not frequent, but it was usually to discuss some annoying person on Big Brother or an episode of On the Buses that he had just seen on ITV3. So when I do miss him, it is usually when I want to share some hilarity with him.
Grief is a strange emotion and yet it is something that we all try to avoid speaking about. Even now if I mention to someone that I lost my brother, they apologise, as if they could have prevented it. They will always say, ’Oh I’m so sorry for your loss.’ But why should they be? They never met him. When my brother died, one of my oldest friends rang me but confessed that she didn’t really know what to say. Other close friends would just text, ‘Sorry for your loss’ but they almost felt better by avoiding me, as likewise they didn’t know what to say either. When I met my husband eight years ago, he had recently experienced the loss of his Dad and he would often say to me that, no one ever understands grief until they experience the death of someone really close. He was right. It was only when I lost my brother, that I realised just what grief is like and what my husband meant.
I recently read something that mentioned that grief is just love,
“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go” ~ Jamie Anderson
I like that analogy but I think that I prefer this one by Christopher Walken,
“Someday you will be faced with the reality of loss. And as life goes on, days rolling into nights, it will become clear that you never really stop missing someone special who’s gone, you just learn to live around the gaping hole of their absence. When you lose someone you can’t imagine living without, your heart breaks wide open, and the bad news is you never completely get over the loss. You will never forget them. However, in a backwards way, this is also the good news. They will live on in the warmth of your broken heart that doesn’t fully heal back up, and you will continue to grow and experience life, even with your wound. It’s like badly breaking an ankle that never heals perfectly, and that still hurts when you dance, but you dance anyway with a slight limp, and this limp just adds to the depth of your performance and the authenticity of your character. The people you lose remain a part of you. Remember them and always cherish the good moments spent with them.”
To me, grief at first was literally physically heartbreaking and overwhelming. It took over my life and it was all I thought about. I could feel a huge weight on my heart weighing it down. I couldn’t find any comfort. I couldn’t rest and I couldn’t sit still. When I first heard my brother had died, I knew I had to see him and yet if you had asked me before he had died, if I wanted to see a dead body, then I would have said no. I just knew I had to. We went to a hospital in Coventry and were taken to a morgue. I went into the room with my Mum and my husband. Oddly my husband had never met my brother and yet here he was meeting him for the first time, as he lay on a slab covered in a blanket with a white robe on. I screamed out as I entered the room. I couldn’t touch him as it made me squirm. My husband made me touch Sean’s hair and it helped. He was so cold and he smelt of death. His top lip had become slightly stuck to his teeth as if he were snarling but he looked as if he were sleeping. I thought he was going to sit up and laugh and say, ’Ha ha it was a trick and you fell for it.’ as he used to when he teased me as a child. I took photographs and as macabre as that sounds, over the next few weeks I looked at them for comfort and they helped me to cry and let my tears out. My Dad didn’t come into the room. He didn’t want to. That was when I realised that grief is a different experience for us all. It makes us all respond in different ways. As I stood there just looking at my brother, I focused on his hands and they reminded me of my son’s hands. They looked exactly the same. My Mother was lifting my brother as if to hold him. She was checking his body. Looking for signs as to why he died. But she couldn’t find anything.
After that we were taken to a room and given some of the items my brother had on him. There was very little, just a few pennies and some glasses. My Mum with her paranoia, thought it was a sign of something. But all it was, was a reminder that we take nothing with us when we leave this World. My Mother lost a child and I really do not know how you can live on when a child has gone.
When we were finally able to bury my brother, it all seemed so surreal. I couldn’t believe that it was his body that lay there under the ground and that was rotting away, until all it left was ash and bones. I still have difficulty comprehending this. To me, he was still alive somewhere in the air. Grief took a hold of me much later in the guise of severe depression. I worked my way out of it and now five years on I still have grief but it is not the open wound that it once was. I carry it with me but I rarely notice it, as I have become accustomed to it. Yet grief will often take me by surprise. I’ll be watching something on television or listening to the radio and a song or a reference comes on that reminds me of Sean. I might feel a tear but I will also feel a smile and a laugh. That was not something I could do in the early days. Other times on certain days when I am doing something really good, I might feel a bit of guilt that Sean can no longer experience such happiness. With each passing birthday, I feel so immeasurably lucky to be alive and live beyond my brother’s years.
I feel now that after five years, I have somehow recovered from the huge shock of my brother’s death and I have managed to overcome it. There was a very good piece of advice a school friend gave me early on, when I was first dealing with grief. She told me that her Grandad used to say, ’Life is for the living.’ I really didn’t understand that until much later but she was right. I had a choice when I first encountered grief. I could give into it and let it encompass me. I could let it choose my future life, make me paranoid and make me dwell on Sean’s death. I have two children though and for their sake, I had to learn to live with grief and kind of take the upper hand. It still makes me cry writing this and thinking about my brother’s death, but now I accept that. I can see beyond this. If nothing else I have learnt to make each day matter now. I can happily talk about the good times with my brother.
A writer named Vicki Harrison once said, “Grief is like the ocean. It comes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm and sometimes the water is overwhelming. All we can do, is learn to swim.” Grief is a powerful emotion and it is one of the few emotions that forces us to give into our natural instincts. Yet ironically it is something that we rarely discuss. People are given a brief period of mourning and then expected to just get on with their life. This conflicts with the very nature of grief as it is permanent and never disappears. We may mention that we were upset by someone’s death but we rarely discuss our grief.
So, as for marking the fifth anniversary of Sean’s death, I won’t be doing anything special. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care or I have forgotten, because I carry grief around with me everyday. Yet instead of controlling me, I control the grief and that’s what works for me.