Losing my brother: Five years on

Time feels like a strange concept when you’re grieving.

It feels fleeting, brief and sudden, like you’re racing against an hourglass, watching each grain of sand as it trickles away. And yet it some moments, it feels like an eternity.

I was only ever aware of this after my brother died.

In the early days of my grief, it was about surviving. It was about getting through a single day without collapsing from the weight of sheer panic and despair. It was all about trying to see that little glimmer of light at the end of a very dark and distant tunnel. You wonder how you’ll ever get through it.

Then time starts to feel like a large predator, grabbing at your ankles as you feel yourself slipping behind. You become more aware of the value of life when you lose someone you love. You realise the fragility of life and how every moment counts. There’s a pressure behind those thoughts that nobody seems to recognise until grief touches their family.

You feel like you owe it to your sibling to live your life to the fullest, to do all the things they wouldn’t do, to live in the moment and seize every opportunity that comes your way.

Last May marked five years since my brother died. It was the first anniversary where I had realised just how quickly the past few years had gone.

Most of those early years I don’t remember. Every once in a while, whilst I’m laying on bed struggling to go to sleep, a moment will flash by like a passing train. Inevitably it’s a haunting memory, the look on my brother’s face before he collapsed or the moment he was stretchered out from the back of an ambulance. But sometimes it’s a comforting memory. A simple, yet happy time when we were blissfully unaware of the pain that would consume our safe haven.

In December I turned 25. In the grand scheme of things, it rather an insignificant age. It’s not a milestone. Nobody gets a big birthday party or a special tacky glass or teddy bear to commemorate it, and yet for some reason I felt sheer panic in the pit of my stomach. It was like I’d woken up and noticed I’d slept in for too long. Five years had passed without my brother being alive.

You can’t blame people for moving on with their lives. I understand. But it doesn’t stop you from resenting it. The earth continues to spin on it’s axis, even when your world is falling apart.

I’m five years away from the moments I last spoke to my brother. Five years on since I last held him in my arms and told him I loved him, even though he was a pain, like most little brother’s should be.

The truth is that time doesn’t make it easier to deal with. If anything, sometimes it’s more difficult. When you first lose someone you love, you’re inundated with support. Cards and flowers cover every inch of surface within your home. Your notifications are constantly popping up, Facebook messages from school friends who are thinking of you or emails from family members with poems about love and loss. But what happens when the flowers wilt and die? What happens when the messages dry up and people move on?

We are left with an emptiness that will never quite be filled. Over time the pain is no longer as overpowering or unbearable. It’s more of a heavy weight that sits on your shoulders and seeps in to your being, becoming part of your DNA, your identity. Grief changes you. The pain reminds us of what we have lost, what we will never again find and how fragile life is. We wouldn’t change it. Although at times it’s more painful than words could ever express, it is who we are now. We carry it with us for the rest of our life, hoping we will find other human beings who are compassionate enough to notice our loss, respect our story and allow us to frame it on our wall, etch it into the tapestry of our life.

Five years without my brother may seem like a long time for those who haven’t lost a loved one. But for our family, we carry this grief with us for the rest of our lives. We are navigating a treacherous terrain and no matter how far we might get on this journey, there is still a chance we could slip or fall.

I have learnt time changes when you are grieving. It takes a new form.

I panic sometimes that another five years will go by in a flash, another five years without my brother’s voice or his smile will pass me so fast I can’t comprehend it. But one thing I do know for certain is that he will always be a part of my life and who I am. No matter what happens, he is always there, shaping who I am and who I want to be.

If you haven’t already listened, I did an episode about sibling grief for Beyond Today, a podcast by Radio 4. I shared my story alongside other bereaved siblings, including correspondent Matthew Price. I hope it’s helpful to those who need to talk about their grief:

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06w5z3m

Thank you,
Georgia

Guest Post: Kelly from ‘This is Only my Opinion’ on Surviving Grief

‘I don’t know how you do it?’

This is a phrase I hear quite often. I suppose it’s because I don’t keep Louis, Corey and Elliot a sordid secret. I speak their names as I would my living children and this then triggers curiosity and subtle questioning about what happened to these three little boys I speak so highly of.

‘I don’t know how you do it?’ makes it sound like something I’ve strived to achieve an accolade for when this path was not a choice I would willingly take. It’s the cards I’ve been dealt. Surviving the journey of stillbirth and neonatal death has been one hell of a ride!

When someone dies you pretty much expect to be upset. You expect to cry, and you expect to feel sad. But what is difficult to compute and unexpected is that sometimes these emotions don’t happen or display themselves the way we predict them to and then you start wondering ‘what’s wrong with me?’and the answer is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

The days after Elliot’s death and the run-up to his funeral, I did nothing but cry. I cried so many god damn tears I am sure my tears had tears. But then something happened and I just stopped. I didn’t cry at the funeral. I didn’t cry at all for weeks after and I would look at myself and get angry, willing myself to cry because my heart ached and I wasn’t ready to stop crying. When I am crying the world knows I am breaking, people can see my anguish and they can see from the tears that I’m crying, that I am still grieving.

The parts of grief that you don’t foresee and often don’t anticipate when your child dies is the anger, guilt, blame, bitterness, hatred, the failure, self-persecution and the time.

Grief needs to be treated with respect, and grief requires patience from the person grieving but equally from those around you. It is in times of great hardship that friendships and relationships are challenged to the brink. Those that fall short ‘unfriend’ from Facebook, ‘evict’ from your insta, and ‘abolish’ from your twitter. You need to make life easy for yourself because you have been thrown one of the ultimate tests and the deadwood will only drag you down. Don’t be scared of what they might say when they’ve realised you aren’t popping up in their news feed because believe me, they won’t say a thing because people really don’t like to confront a grieving mother, and that’s because they never know what face they’ll be greeted with. They might get ‘sobbing and bawling uncontrollably face’, or ‘knock your fecking teeth out’ face!

When my twins died in the neonatal unit, I felt the most extreme level of failure, my body had failed them. I had failed them.

They died because my body rejected them in their prematurity, blaming myself stifled any grief I felt. I was angry and bitter. This surge of anger and bitterness was ‘silently’ directed at any other woman that had children, was carrying children and if the children happened to be twins, my anger and bitterness would be elevated to levels where anxiety would take over and my breathing would be erratic. My stomach would hurt, and I would begin to panic and sweat and start looking for the nearest brown paper bag that I could breathe into to stop me passing out into a heap in the middle of the frozen isle.

I dealt with losing my twin boys by getting pregnant as quickly as possible. There are no hard fast rules about when to have another baby after loss. You just have to trust your body and do what is best for you. Hindsight tells me now that maybe it was a little too soon because upon reflection I can now see that all I did was metaphorically cover my grief with a plaster, and a plaster doesn’t stay stuck forever.

The plaster came unstuck when in 2012 I found out Elliot had grown his wings at 38 weeks gestation. My world crashed into 1000 pieces. Elliot had exposed an old wound and their names were Louis and Corey. Not only was I grieving for my stillborn son but for my premature twins that had passed 7 years before. I had no idea what was ahead of me, but I knew I had to be strong for my other children and for my husband. But by being strong and maintaining a stoic stance I masked my own grief.

It took months of people telling me I needed some help, that I might benefit from counselling. Sadly I am one of those people that find it very hard to listen to other people telling me what to do, this trait has followed me since school to my detriment.

Everything had finally snowballed and I was treading water and slowly drowning in a sea of grief.

I had denied myself grief; I had hidden my emotions and suppressed my feelings because I wanted to be strong for everyone else.

I hated myself and I loathed every part of my person, I did not feel worthy to have my husband or my living children. I thought they would be happier without me. I believed that I was a tainted and if people got close to me bad things would happen. Only now I am accepting of my grief and I understand and respect that grief is part of me now. I also realise how utterly absurd it was to think my children would be better off without me, they are my kids and I am their mum, and as nutty, crazy and broken I am they love me, and I love them, warts and all and that includes my ever so slightly grumpy, kind, sometimes funny husband! There is no replacement for ME to them. (Even if Rachel Weisz came along singing nursery rhymes by day and wearing a ‘sexy nurse maids’ outfit by night ….I HOPE!)

My husband is such an important part of my story and every time we lost and buried a child I felt completely and utterly responsible for his pain and my failure to yet provide him with another son and this manifested itself in blame. I would blame him for loving me, blame him for marrying me and blame him for choosing me to have children with, because if none of that happened, he wouldn’t have a life filled with grief and disappointment because his wife failed to do the most natural thing in the world. If he didn’t choose me maybe I would have been liberated from this feeling of failure and self-loathing too.  His grief displayed itself the polar opposite to mine and his continual effort to tell me he loved me and needed me, and that he doesn’t blame me just suffocated me.

We were like two magnets trying to be together but repelling against each other’s energy.

My grief engulfed me and it affected my marriage, my children, my family and my life. I almost lost everything!

So my message for surviving grief after a loss is to not fight against it. Let it do its job, be led by grief and feel the emotions as they come because resistance is futile and detrimental to the survival of bereavement.

I have accessed a great deal of counselling to get where I am today and one of the most helpful things I ever did as part of my therapy was writing. It’s helped me in so many ways. One day I wrote a letter to my guilt because guilt was draining my soul. This letter encompasses everything I felt.

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