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What does it feel like to suddenly lose someone you love?
Like when my friend, in her first pregnancy, asked me what childbirth felt like, I have no words to accurately depict what one goes through in such an event. But unlike childbirth, experiencing the death of someone close to you can be predictably said, across the board, to be some degree of excruciation.
Over the past 25 years, I have been on the other side of grief: I have seen people lose their loved ones, and I’ve remarked on how they displayed such a civilized mourning. They silently suffered, or gracefully grieved, and then they picked up the pieces, careful not to cut themselves in the process. I would stand back and witness such functionality with awe.
When my brother died, there was no grace in my family’s grieving, we did not send him gently into that goodnight, and the casualty was 5 out of 1. I’m sure there were people around trying to support us – I remember the mountain of flowers and wreaths piled upon his mound after the funeral. And cards. So many cards from people we didn’t even know. In retrospect, we had a lot of kind people in our community that reached out to us, although we were a close-knit family that kept to ourselves.
But what I remember most was death (I had developed a heightened awareness of death and its potential triggers), fear (everywhere I turned, the ambush of sudden death threatened to strike again), pain (more pain than all the Catholic lectures about hell had me imagine), confusion (there is nothing as disorienting as having to replace every pore of your existence where your beloved once occupied, with nothing; this is absolutely outrageous to the psyche).
How much fear, pain, and confusion one experiences following a loss may vary, but for us, there was just such a dastardly amount that:
my father’s successful construction business folded;
my parents’ once-happy marriage dissolved;
my parents lost their house;
my solid father lost his way;
my fractured mother started losing her mind;
my young, surviving brother got into gangs;
I attempted suicide numerous times, and ended up in an abusive relationship that would take a decade to escape, and nearly another one to completely be free from.
It took us 20 years, each in his/her own hell, to finally start healing. 20 years. I know this is not normal. Nothing has been normal for my family since my brother died, and we were knocked so out of orbit that we did not know how to regain footing. We were spinning, and everyone saw our spinning. Some tried to help, but many moved away because they didn’t know what to do with a spinning person.
Then we stopped spinning on the outside, but inside, we had still not found equilibrium. We walked around, each going our separate ways, in feigned normalcy. If people got close enough, they could hear the whirring of fear, death, pain, confusion. It scared some, disdained some, and made us easy targets for yet others.
But our season in grief, though long and relentless, has finally passed. We have survived, albeit in pieces as a family, but individually, fortified.
In retrospect, clearly, we went about it all wrong. I cannot, however, beat down that broken-spirited family further by blaming them for dying. We loved so deeply and thoroughly, and grieved accordingly. Grief, after all, is a story about love.
Yes, I can find the meaning and purpose for my brother’s death, or rather, the role it played in who and where I am today. But would I go through it again to learn the lessons? Unless it is part of my story to save the world, no.
It is not even worth having gone through it once unless it could be turned into something positive, healing, to help others, and to restore grace to our own lives.
And so, here I am.