A PATH TOWARDS HEALING
Learning to find hope after the death of a family member
Johnson County LIVING WELL Magazine
In the U.S. today, there is a natural, assumed order to the deaths we will experience in our lives. We believe that our grandparents will die first, then our parents, then our brothers and sisters, and then our children. However, that is not how it happens for thousands of people each year, and that is not how it happened for me. When my brother Scott and cousin Matthew, were just 17 years old they died together in a fiery car accident. In a sense, our siblings are parallel travelers in life; we have a shared history. We expect this to be the longest relationship we will ever have. Our siblings are part of our past and part of our present. We expect to grow old with them. It’s devastating to lose them before their time.
People ask, “Do you have closure?” I remind them, “Closure is for bank accounts, not love accounts.” I really don’t even understand the concept of closure. Growing up with a brother made me the person I am today; if he had never been in my life I would be a very different person. We never get over the person who died, what we get over is the intense pain. When our sibling dies we lose the relationship we once had but we don’t sever those bonds. We continue to have a relationship; my brother continues to be an important part of my life and he always will be.
The majority of siblings in the U.S. today will spend 80-100% of their lifetimes with each other in some capacity. Our siblings serve as our protectors, confidants, rivals, and role models. Growing up, we spend 33% of our time with our siblings, more time then we spend with parents, friends, or teachers. So it is ironic that bereaved siblings are often the forgotten ones in the aftermath of death. They tend to experience their loss being unacknowledged or minimized as they try and support their parents through their grief. When a bereaved sibling discloses that they’ve had a sibling die, a common response is: “That must have been really hard on your parents,” or “You need to be strong for your parents.” There is often little or no acknowledgement of their loss. However, we have not only lost a sibling, we have lost the future we thought we were going to have.
It is important to avoid clichés when speaking with those who have lost a sibling: They’re in a better place, time heals all wounds, cherish the memories, God doesn’t give you anymore then you can handle. These clichés don’t help; they only serve to minimize our loss. Before my brother Scott died, when someone had a death I would send a condolence card, now I send myself.
I, along with the thousands of bereaved people that I have interviewed on my radio show and worked with, have learned how to eventually find a new normal and create a new relationship with those who are no longer with us. We have leaned on others hope until we’ve found our own. The reality is that we don’t forget, move on and have closure, but rather we honor, remember, and incorporate our deceased family members into our lives in a new way. In fact, keeping memories of your loved one alive in your mind and heart is an important part of your healing journey. Thankfully, our deceased loved ones are a continuing presence in our lives and always will be. Remember, you don’t have to walk this path alone. If you’ve experienced a loss, there are many groups and organizations, such as the Open to Hope Foundation opentohope.com and The Compassionate Friends thecompassionatefriends.org, that can help you. I wish you peace, joy and love on your journey, and may your ongoing connections with those you’ve loved and lost sustain you even during your darkest hours.