‘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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Disclaimer: This story includes death and sibling loss which may be triggering to some.

“On May 27, 2015, my brother, Feras, was shot and killed by a police officer in Long Beach, California. My brother was unarmed and in desperate need of medical attention. Feras was in a state of mental distress; he had jumped out of a two-story window and was badly injured. Instead of providing needed medical attention, the officer shot my brother seven times because he was not comprehending the demands to get down on the ground. All witnesses, including a fire chief and two firefighters, stated that Feras was no harm at all and was in genuine need of help. After Feras was killed, the police department nor the hospital reached out to notify my family of his death.

It took me seeking out answers two days later when I received a Facebook message and a phone call from a close friend to discover Feras had been killed. I found out the news at school. I began walking down the hallways at school, screaming, ‘My brother is dead.’ I had to be the first one to break the news to both of my parents. My mother was screaming in disbelief when I woke her up and told her. It was early, I was taken from school and sent home immediately due to having a complete mental breakdown in front of all my classmates. Soon after I attended his funeral, watching the lowering of the casket into his grave was the beginning of the end for my blissful idea of life. The days after this were filled with what I call my ‘grief alarm’, the screams of my mother every single morning for the next two years, sobbing, and I calmed her down without knowing how to even handle my own grief, at 16.

Woman and her brother together at a young age
Courtesy of Ghada Morad
Woman and her brother when they were little together
Courtesy of Ghada Morad

In 2016, we received news that the officer would not be penalized for killing my brother. This tragic event has been the defining moment in my life and underlies my present urge to advocate for our future generation’s protection from state-sanctioned violence and how to go about taking care of our mental health after losing a loved one in general. The detriments that occur after losing a loved one do not only affect you as an individual, but they slash into every single aspect of your life. It makes it difficult to sleep, work, eat and be around those who also endured the loss. It is an undeniable fact that losing a loved one destroys your life from the inside out, and being self-focused is nearly impossible but required to be able to get through the grief.

Woman and her brother in their teens
Courtesy of Ghada Morad

The year my brother died, my mother began telling me ‘Ghada, intee sanadee,’ which means, ‘Ghada, you are my strength/my rock’ in Arabic. This inspired me to begin searching for resources to attend university and be that ‘sanad’ for others. My brother’s death did not mean that his aspirations of providing for underrepresented communities like ourselves would not be carried out. I felt a desperate urge to support those who went through similar experiences as I did, in order to help myself. I had begun enduring the physical effects of grief a couple of years later: I was shedding pounds like crazy despite being a healthy weight, my sleeping patterns became abnormal, and my thoughts became cyclical and difficult to handle. Oddly enough, this led me to study psychology as an undergraduate in order to have a better understanding of life after trauma. I wanted to immerse myself in what I was dealing with. After my brother’s death, I would meet people who had endured loss fueled by social issues surrounding police/state violence, and I felt I had a unique ability to connect with them, and them with me. These interactions lead to a mutual understanding that healing is possible and that our resilience can lead us towards paths for permanent change.

Woman graduates colleges
Courtesy of Ghada Morad

I was especially inspired to pursue a career in mental health when I met the organization Say Their Names LA, a community-based organization in LA led by impacted individuals who advocate for families who have lost loved ones to state-sanctioned violence. I intend to continue to spread awareness surrounding not only state-sanctioned violence but grief itself, particularly sibling grief. I plan to aim at the stem of the problem and create environments for people to progress and develop in the best way possible, which leads me to my long-term career goal of becoming a grief counselor and eventually becoming a psychologist.

The other source that pushed me to want to work in mental health was the fact that I began going to therapy one year after my brother passed and have been involved in therapy on and off for years since. Therapy is transformative; it can be very difficult to get the hang of it and find a therapist that fits you, but it is essential to healing to have an outlet. I can attest to the fact that therapy is extremely expensive, and I only felt the effects of this once I lost my insurance, but there were community resources, and I was able to utilize those resources to continue therapy. After I completed my coursework as an undergrad and began therapy, I realized how stigmatizing it was to reach out for help. I remember crying to my professor about how I felt weak dealing with depression and anxiety. She reminded me that other illnesses and ailments don’t trigger us to wail and scream at our bodies as if it is our mind’s fault. We don’t choose our illnesses, there is nothing to be ashamed of. Utilizing medication, therapy, or any resource for mental health is not anything to be ashamed of. We don’t blame ourselves for bleeding when our skin is cut, we don’t yell at our skin for tearing. Why are we yelling at our brains for functioning in the way they are meant to?

Woman in black dress and graduation ribbon
Courtesy of LA Photography

There are no words that can describe the experiences that I went through after losing my brother. One of the most difficult memories I recall was when I went to visit my brother’s grave with my mom, and she was digging at his grave with her hands and yelling towards the ground ‘Feras!’ and crying. Her nails began to tear back and nearly bleed. I felt the desperation from her soul that day to just be with her son again. This is a memory I will never forget; it encompasses the grief of a mother. I remember learning about how we have names for those who lost parents, ‘orphans,’ and for people who have lost spouses, ‘widows,’ but there is no word for a person who has lost a child. It is the most unexpected thing to endure, to outlive your child.

Woman and her mom and brother together
Courtesy of Ghada Morad

With losing my brother, I thought that the world would look different, and those little things wouldn’t bother me as much. I thought that people would be better to me because of my situation, but grief and loss are not an exception to bad circumstances, bad situations, and even bad people. Since Feras had died, I received racist, hateful, and threatening messages from people. I saw comments I never wanted to read, got messages I never wanted to see. I learned about how awful and disgusting people could be. I hope this can remind people that Feras was a person, with aspirations and goals, a dream to change the world. Feras was an amazing person with a bright mind. He was goofy, sweet, playful, and understanding. He was only 20 when he was killed. He had just begun his life, he was nationally ranked #2 in speech and debate in the entire country, he was an A student who was just about to begin his junior year in college. He wanted to be a person who serves his community and helps people in bad situations. The greatest irony of his situation is that nobody could do that for him the day he was killed, and with the hateful messages, that feeling of fear begins to grow. To lean into the bright side, Feras has a large community that loves and supports him. Thousands upon thousands of people advocate for Feras and people like Feras. Regardless of the hatred my family and I endured, the amount of love and support outweighs it. People will be the way they are, no matter what. This loss did teach me who was truly there for me, and it showed me who my community was.

Two women hugging at a rally for social justice
Courtesy of Ghada Morad

Death teaches you a lot, catastrophe teaches you who’s willing to stick it out. It is the true weeder of faulty and one-sided friendships. The most important thing that death taught me was that I want to be treated in the best way possible. I realized how important every single moment of my life is because you never know when it’s your last day. I noticed this after my brother passed because he was dealing with people who weren’t worthwhile sometimes, people who took him for granted. I don’t want that, so I learned how to say no, without hesitation. It is taking a lot of practice, but I am getting there. There was a period where I’d fight for being treated right, but it is not something to be requested, it is freely given. That is where I realized I need to ‘hush until I heal.’ I would lash out, ask for love from people who had none to offer, ask for friendship from people who didn’t want to be in my life or deal with the madness I was going through. I realized I needed to heal and not go off on people who weren’t ready, or even at fault. I’d even lash out at the people who loved me and made time for me, I just didn’t know how to move on and accept the reality of my situation, the fact that the world wasn’t crying with me. None of it made sense at first, but now I’m healing.

I learned finally that healing is not linear. I’ve heard this many times, but I would still kick myself for not being okay. It’s okay to not be okay. Finally, I learned how to express healing with art. I began writing poetry, I got involved in mental health advocacy, and now I am surrounded by people who understand or are willing to understand my pain. That is the beauty of how grief is painful but necessary. Grief keeps you fighting for your loved one, in my case, it was to carry his legacy of being kind, helpful, spreading awareness around unjust subjects, and being a humorous person. I’d like to end this with a quote from WandaVision ‘What is grief, if not love persevering?’ If you carry that love for the one you lost, if that pain continues, your love for them is everlasting. Open wounds never felt so beautiful.”

Man in military uniform before his death
Courtesy of Ghada Morad
Man wearing cap and gown with his mother
Courtesy of Ghada Morad
Woman graduating college wearing black dress
Courtesy of Ghada Morad

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 subscribeto our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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