You might say I am an experienced griever. My brother, my only sibling, died more than 30 years ago. So, I know what to expect in the days, weeks, months and years after someone close dies. And yet, this year quite unexpectedly, I was tossed back into the turmoil of early grief. My past grief experience has helped in that I am not surprised by how hard the special days hit me, or how some people who I expected to be helpful weren’t, and others who I didn’t know very well before this happened stepped up in ways I would not have predicted. It has helped me to know that the intensity of my feelings during this tumultuous first year will not endure, and I know that as I grieve, the moments of joy will cause me less pain. I know that I will live on and that the love of my brother has lived on with me in every new experience. I also know that it still catches me by surprise at how intensely I miss him when milestone events happen, like the birth of his niece (my daughter) or this year, the death of our mother.
And yet, knowing what to expect and what the road ahead looks like gives me only so much comfort when the waves of emotion come. This is and will be a year of firsts and anniversaries of lasts. This first year is a gauntlet of firsts to cope through: first birthday without her, first holidays without her, the anniversary of our last conversation and the big one that is looming, the anniversary of her death. Each one brings a wave of emotion that crashes in and topples whatever calm I had cobbled together. is grief opens the wounds of the hurt from long ago, the death of my brother. I so wish he was here to help me through, or to share in my tears or for us to fight or whatever we would have done. Many have shared with me the image of them together in Heaven. This is comforting, but I really need them both, or at least one of them, with me right now to hold me while I cry and share a funny story that somehow I have forgotten in my moment of pain.
I share this story for several reasons. One is to provide support and a beacon of hope for those who like me, are in the early phases, the white-hot, searing pain of early grief. It gets better. Not with time. Time simply passes, but with grief work. By breathing through those intense moments of pain, by reaching out to those who can hear your story without trying to make it better, by allowing yourself to experience the emotions as they come – it gets better. Bit by bit, moment by moment. I say this as a reminder to myself as well as a bit of hope to you in those dark first days of the first year. For those of you who have been on the grief journey longer, take more steps in your grief, I thank you for being that hope in the distance. Your pain is deep, the time serves to deepen the pain for a while, I know. But when I see you standing up, walking ahead of me, a seed of hope is planted; hope that I might make it through this year. I hear your words of comfort and I see that once in a while you laugh without tears. When you reach out to me, I feel the bond and support that comes from not having to explain why a good memory sets off a new wave of tears. You may not realize how much that means to those of us who are new on the path.
What I love about The Compassionate Friends is the support that helps me in my new grief connect with those who are still finding a way to carry forward the legacy of their son, daughter, brother, sister or grandchild. When we stand together, the burden is less for us both. Thank you for walking with me, not taking away my pain, but sharing in the journey so I am not alone. In these moments of darkness, I will look for the love of my brother, my mother and all of our loved ones who walk with us on the other side. When you touch my hand, share a hug or listen to my story, I will see that as a gift of love from you and from those I love who have died.
My job this year is to hold on tight. To reach out to those who care and who understand my pain. I challenge myself to let go of the yardsticks that I might be tempted to use to compare one hurt to another. I know that it all hurts and that no matter how long I had my loved one, it was not enough.
I will accept support from all who are willing and able to share. This year is too difficult to exclude those who want to help simply because our losses are biggest challenge this year and different in some way. My one I will invite you to join me in, whether it has been one day or 1000 days since your son, daughter, brother, sister, grandchild died, is to remember first that our loved ones LIVED. I challenge us all to refuse to allow the moment of their death to steal away the memories and celebration of their lives. I will laugh and dance and sing and cry all at the same time, (watch out if I am driving next to you) because that is what my brother and my mother taught me to do. They taught me to live, not just when it’s easy, not just when times are good, but every moment. May you find those who listen, find those who can stand with you through the pain and my mother said it best when she said: May love be what you remember the most.
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