What do you do when someone you love dies? What are the next steps? This feeling of limbo feels everlasting the first few months after losing a loved one. You wonder what to do, where to go, and whom to turn to. It almost feels like you’re free-falling, and you know you will eventually land safely, but you don’t know when, where, or how. This may or may not fit your exact experience, but it is my personal experience, along with that of many other people I’ve met.
On May 27th of 2015, I lost my older brother to a tragic death. I was sixteen, and he was twenty at the time. If you’d like to know his full story, click here. I want to focus on grief itself primarily—sibling grief at that. Losing a sibling is a particular type of grief that I feel is not focused on enough. We get lost in the background as siblings because it almost feels like we serve as the reservoir for everyone’s pain. We become the therapist for our parents, the friend for the best friends who once were a part of our siblings’ lives, the well for all the tears to fall into, but we have nowhere to put ours, at least for a while. Oftentimes, the pressure is amped up because whether we want to believe it or not, we have to try to fill that large hole that has been created in our parents’ hearts, somehow.
In my case, I felt like finding my support circle became difficult. I had expectations that didn’t make sense because I had complicated grief. I had grief that made sense and felt like the bare minimum in terms of expectations, and that was the moment where I learned who would be there and who wouldn’t be there for me. After losing someone close, you find that new people are being introduced to your life, people who are popping out of corners that you’d never expect to even reach out to you. I call this grief capitalism. I feel that people who reach out in a catastrophic moment either mean well or have a savior complex and are doing it to be able to say, ‘Yes! I was there for X when she lost her brother/sister.’ Capitalizing on others’ grief for your own social benefit is absolutely mortifying but common, and sometimes people don’t even realize they’re doing it. I would identify these types of people because when shit hit the fan later on, it didn’t make sense for them to be there for me. It was only when things had just begun that all eyes were on me in the workplace, at school, or in any social circles I was a part of. When this happened, I was not in the state to be aware of what was genuine and what wasn’t. The realizations came later on.
The reason why this topic is so close to my heart is not only because of the fact that I lost my brother but because of the transformation of my life that occurred due to the loss. I began to think of my own death constantly. I’d even envision my own funeral. I’d get upset that I wasn’t going to be there. I want to provide the cushion that my brother couldn’t give me when he died. I was scrambling for his words, his closure. I just couldn’t help but think about how upset he would be that he died. I was grieving his absence, and I was grieving the idea of his living self being so disappointed that he died so young. He had so much unfinished business, so many beautiful things to do, people to meet, and lives to change. I grieve over what could’ve been. Grief is multifaceted. You grieve absence. You wonder what they’d think about certain things if they were still around. You trade places with them in your head and wonder if you’re grieving ‘right’ or if they’d be grieving in a more loving or correct manner. Overall, grief makes you insecure. It is a constant reminder that you’re not doing enough. At least it was for me. I was constantly afraid I wasn’t projecting my love properly or connecting with his spirit the way I should be. This is where I touch on the grief of a sibling. Oftentimes, you have to put your grief on hold because a parent losing a child is an absolute horror, while losing a sibling is more expected down the line. Again, this is where you need to be there for your parents before you can begin your own healing.
Here are some things I personally ran into when I was grieving that I wish I knew when I first lost my brother:
The first few months are the worst; letting the grief wash over you is the only option.
Trying to find a way to feel better after losing my brother was unrealistic. I remember when he first passed, I tried finding people who had similar experiences and asking for advice. Anything I heard made no sense to me, and it won’t. That is okay. I learned that you have to learn how to grow around your grief. It will never become more swallowable. You just need to learn how to make the pain more digestible.
People don’t know what to say, and that is okay.
I remember when my brother had just died, people would say the general, ‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ which I didn’t mind. That made sense to me. Things began to get a bit frustrating when I heard, ‘He is in a better place.’ That is the worst thing you could possibly tell someone when they had just lost a loved one. For us, no place is better than here with our loved ones because it is simply all we know. It feels insensitive. People also try to relate. Someone actually told me they lost their dog, and they know exactly how I feel. Sometimes people don’t know what to say, and that’s okay. Remember, it is coming from a good place in their heart, but we, fellow grievers, feel your pain and wonder where people come up with this stuff.
People will capitalize off of the death of your loved one (socially).
I touched on this matter earlier. Please remember not to let this get to you. People will step in and pretend to be there for you, dig up old photos, and portray themselves as close friends. This used to drive me crazy. It still does, but again, there is positive intent in every negative action. I remember I would get frustrated, and I was reminded that sometimes people grieve what could’ve been, even with someone they didn’t know too well. People often, again, do not know what to do when someone passes, so they do what sounds and looks right to them. As much as I used to be resentful of these actions, I learned that as much as we don’t know how to feel, people don’t know what to say in the environment of grief.
Insecurity gets real; there is nothing but gentleness that you should give yourself.
I know it is complicated, and as I reflected on earlier, being gentle with yourself when you are grieving feels impossible. A very common part of grieving is bargaining and all of the ‘what if’s. ‘What if I called earlier?’ ‘What if I could’ve prevented it?’ ‘What if I had the money for the treatment?’ These make you feel like you could’ve done something more. This builds feelings of insecurity and resentment against yourself. I guarantee you that your loved one wants nothing more than to be kind and gentle with yourself during this time. You are not God. You are not the decider of disease, murder, accidents, and ailments. You can’t prevent loss and, unfortunately, cannot change the situation. Be gentle with yourself and remember that it is now a time to carry a legacy, and in order to do so, you must respect yourself and who you were and are right now to carry that legacy.
Express yourself and tell their story.
Whether that means screaming sad songs off the balcony, writing long poems about how much you miss your loved one, or dancing to their old favorite rapper, find the art that keeps them alive. Once things have subsided enough for you to talk about your loved one without bursting into tears (which took me several years), find a way to keep them alive through self-expression. This helped me immensely with my grief. I often play my brother’s favorite songs and dance to them (terribly) in the kitchen. I imagine him there with me. I know he is laughing at me, wherever he is. I also dove back into poetry and began writing about my brother. He was a nationally ranked speech and debate champion, so publicly sharing my poetry about him makes me feel like he is more alive than I am. I think of the movie Coco and how people don’t die until the last person who thinks of them ceases to exist. What a beautiful concept.
Death reveals strength and love in friends.
I reflected on the types of people that will be in your life post losing someone. The beauty of tragedy is the amazing friends who stick it out through your resilient journey. You find solid people who stay around. It has been nearly seven years since I lost my brother. I know who has a genuine heart because of this loss. I wouldn’t ever refer to any bright side to death; this is definitely the worst circumstance to find out who the authentic bunch is in your life, but it is the revealer of true friends, certainly. If someone sticks it out with you through your grief, know they will always be there for you through thick and thin.
Grief taught me preparation.
Through losing my brother, I reflected on the fact that I wished he had left me some kind of closure. He had no idea he was going to die, most people don’t, so I took this as a moment to prepare for my eventual death. As morbid as it sounds, I try to have conversations about what I want at my funeral. I even wrote a poem about it. I reflected on how I actually want people to be sad, at least for a bit. I do genuinely want people to enjoy their lives and live on, but yes! I do want them to carry my memory and create a legacy based on the positive things I provided in this world. I think that is how we create a better life for future generations. We carry positive memories and characteristics from our deceased loved ones. Since I can’t attend my own funeral, I’d want a spokesperson to read my thoughts and feelings about death. It would definitely be a stand-up style speech. It wouldn’t be my funeral if nobody laughed.
You will get through it; you will grow around your grief.
I never thought I could go a day without crying or a week without crying, but eventually, I did. I still cry. I still feel the pain of the absence of my brother. I grieve about lost years and what could’ve been every day, but it is different now. There is an enveloping sense of acceptance that I will not see him. I am not accepting of several aspects of his death and how he died, and I will never be okay with that, but for my own mind’s sake, I try to focus on what I accept. I accept and understand he is not here, and I can’t change that. That is why I do what I can. I will talk about him. I dance with his memory. I cry with him when I get sad. I write him letters without the expectation that he will write back.
I’d like to close this with the Serenity Prayer written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: ‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.’ I utilize this a lot in my grief, and it has helped me immensely. Good luck to you all, and Godspeed to you and your broken loved ones. You will get through this.
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ghada Morad of Los Angeles, California. You can follow her journey on Instagram, her Poetry Page, and her Justice Page. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more stories from Ghada here:
‘You are my strength,’ my mother told me. Every single morning for two years, she screamed and sobbed, and I calmed her down.’: Woman candidly shares her grief over sibling loss
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