let me say that I am sorry.
I am incredibly sorry that life has contorted itself in such an unthinkable, unbelievable and unfair direction, leaving you feeling like you have stepped outside of reality into some sort of macabre dream world of disbelief and despair, a rabbit hole of sepia memories and faded laughter. I am sorry you have had to feel your legs collapse beneath you, and that you now have to face an unrecognisable world.
I write you this letter, because I know how lonely it feels.
Loss on any level is one of the hardest things to come to terms with.
I can not for a moment imagine the pain a parent must feel when they lose a child. The sickening in-justice, the perversion of chronology. Losing someone you have poured your love, soul and wisdom into. Protecting them, guiding them, dreaming for, and with them. Only to have them seized from you. It can only be an agony like no other.
I also can not for a second comprehend the depth of the pain that must be felt by someone that loses their partner. Their partner is their future. It must feel like the very fabric of time has been torn open, leaving a black hole that sucks in your energy, motivation and drive, leaving behind it only anger, sorrow and unanswerable questions. Memories of lost love, and tormenting visions of a lost future. An indeterminate and vivid pain that’s carried within, like a lead paperweight inside your heart.
But what of a sibling?
I have seen very little in the way of support for you, I am sure you have seen the same. Lot’s of groups for widows, bereaved parents. But the brother? The sister?
This is not such an easy relationship to quantify, to see from afar, or to even understand from up close.
So I would like to share with you some of my thoughts, emotions and experiences, in the hope that you may feel less isolated in your isolation, less distressed in your distress.
The bond shared between a sibling is so distinct, unique and irreplaceable, that it may not even be until you lost it, that you truly recognised its beauty and value. I am sure no two relationships are the same, but I know there are commonalities. Perhaps you hid together when you were scared, laughed together when you were free. You screamed and shouted at each other, knowing that within the hour it could be water under the bridge. You shared in the saddest moments, you shared in the happiest. You looked over at times with pride, jealousy, frustration, confusion, but always with love. They are your link to the past, your friend in the present and sounding board for your future.
They may drive you up the wall, but they are the first person in your corner, the first hand that reaches out when you are knocked down. Chances are, they were your first friend, possibly best.
With a sibling, not only do you share the same genes, you share many of the same experiences growing up. If you were close as children you will have had an extraordinary amount of similar feedback from the world. As you grew together, you will have grown almost in symbiosis with each other. For instance, if you have a very exuberant, expressive and vocal sibling, you may be inclined to be more introverted, analytical and reflective. You polish your personalities around each other, drawing out both individual traits and talents, as well as common characteristics you both hold.
The time you have learning together, the genes you share and the bond you form between you, has the ability to give you an incredible understanding of each other. You may feel “nobody knew me like they did” and on many levels you may be correct. You have seen the world through a similar lens.
For me, it is humour. My sister and I shared a sense of humour that could never be explained, because it had been formed over two and a half decades. Intricate layers of gathered subtleties, an accumulation of memorised mischief. Like an orchestra that now played in perfect symphony, each instrument reflecting a shared moment of laughter, perfectly conducted to the point where we could both hear the music with just a fleeting glance or raised eyebrow. From the outside, we would probably have looked like mad lunatics, but from the inside we saw the madness of the world around us. The satirical in every situation.
This is just an example of that shared understanding, an empathy that has been crystallised into our very souls by the proximity of our intertwined journeys. It may have presented itself to you in many other ways, a simple text that says “are you watching this”. Rolled eyes when your mum has had one too many glasses of red. An embrace when Arsenal score a 90th minute equaliser.
A nod of the head when you had lost something or someone you loved, that says, “I know.”
It’s this empathy, it’s this understanding, it’s this shared perspective. That once served as a comfort, in a daunting and rapidly encroaching world, that is now the biggest burden you have ever carried.
You imagined how your lives would unfold, how your kids would play together. Being an aunt or uncle. The love of a brother or sister is a type of unconditional love, a love not based on judgement, requirement or validation.
When you lost your brother or sister not only did you have to see them go, but in many ways, you had to die with them. You had to feel every fear, recognise every look and then lose something you may have never lived without. You may have known no other life but the one with them in it. And if you have, it is likely just for a few of your early years.
Now you stand back, you find yourself at the epicentre of the nuclear fallout, the eye of the storm. Your experiences I am sure will be differing but it can feel like you have now begun to see life almost as a surreal movie, a third party experience. So much noise, but none of it you really hear, you feel a sense of being alone that you did not even know existed. The more crowded a place, the more alone you feel. The word inconsolable was just a term, now it’s a feeling. That feeling that there is simply nothing that can be done. Nothing that can be done to make this better. Words fall deaf as you are greeted with seemingly, such a forlorn future, that your only natural response is to withdraw within yourself and put something else at the helm, an autopilot. The numbness only broken by the burgeoning of uncontrollable swinging emotions. For me – it was guilt;
“I should have been smarter, I could have saved her”
“Why was it her and not me?”
The rare moments of freedom from grief met with instant feelings of guilt for experiencing a moments happiness. I would often find myself in solemn-soliloquy, just apologising aloud.
Fear, all of a sudden you have had to face your own mortality so closely. The person that you may have seen so much of yourself in has passed, if the world can be cruel enough to take them, then it can just as easily be me. Fear for them;
Where are they now?
Are they at rest?
Have they moved on?
Your beliefs, values and understanding I am sure have been called into question in every single direction.
The feeling of an irreplaceable loss leaves a space, a space that is commonly filled with panic. When something is so widely out of your own control, something that is causing you pain and there is no visible solution, panic is the natural reaction. When panic is not taking hold, you may have experienced the background noise of its ever present adrenal precursor, anxiety. A completely natural responses to a completely un-natural situation. Try to see them as your body and mind reacting to shock and not as a mental weakness or fragility that will hold you back in the future.
You might be scrabbling for memories, frantically trying to search your mind for precious motion pictures to protect and keep. Only to come up short, finding nothing but painful flashbacks. Don’t let this frighten you, your brain is in self defence mode. It is on damage control, vivid and free flowing memories can act to push you further into your grief, so our mind sometimes blocks them out. I can assure you as time passes, as you adjust, they start to come back.
Then the very people you might have turned to in times of trouble, are struggling for air. Your parents may have fallen into disarray. The people that have guided you, comforted you and told you it will be ok, are now lost at sea. There is no textbook for this situation, no guidelines, only cliched quotes.
It might be hard to understand why other people are dealing with the loss so differently, perhaps they seem to be dealing with it too well. It is possible they have become closed and you want to talk, or vice-versa. Most will be in shock, and that shock will stay with people for varying lengths of time. Everyone will react differently. It can be very hard for some to express and others to contain what is going on inside them.
Well meaning friends, heartfelt family, compassionate counsellors, all so important yet…
Nobody could understand, nobody apart from the very person you have lost.
The fact you and your sister/brother were “so alike” can make you feel like a walking tribute of sadness.
If you have only recently suffered your loss. Then there are no words I can share with you to prepare you or ease the pain, there’s no practices or books. There is no corner of the earth that you will be able to hide from this pain (I looked). You just have to allow it, allow it to knock you off your feet when it does. But don’t feel guilty or selfish when it doesn’t. Someone told me, quite soon after I lost my sister – “the pain will never go away” At the time I thought, “thanks, what a thoroughly helpful thing to say”
But now I understand it, it may well be true. However you will adjust to living with the pain. Like having a permanently dodgy knee, doesn’t mean you will never dance again, you may just have a bit of a limp.
Our bodies and minds are incredible tools of survival. Physically and emotionally, you probably feel like the line between those two things has blurred considerably. I know that the pain became very physical for me, often immobilising and relentless. But when you look after your body and your mind it has an incredible ability to heal.
Embrace your sadness, the attempts to medicate us out of sadness and melancholy are not only futile, but mis-guided. Melancholy is a form of sadness that comes from acceptance that life isn’t always wonderful and cheerful. A good life is not one that is free of sadness, but a life that let’s our sadness develop us, increase our compassion. Allowing an appreciation of melancholy can help you find peace with your sadness and move past feelings of anger. Never forget, depression is an unexplained and irrational misery. There is nothing unexplainable about feeling sorrow for the loss of someone you love. There is a big difference.
The chances are, a lot of people miss your brother or sister, a lot. You are lucky, you get to carry them with you at all times, you know their voice, their inner voice. They are with you in your actions, your interactions. They are with you in your sadness and joy. There is a reason you may remind people of them, because in many ways you are them. I like to try and focus on how enriched my life was for having them, rather then how depleted it is without them.
Although it might not seem like it now, but those sheet-ice memories that take the air from your lungs and close your throat, will one day return to colour and bathe your stitched-together-soul in comforting warmth.
It’s going to be rough, really rough. But they have left you behind precious gifts. When the dust has settled, perhaps it already has and you will understand this. Your experiences will have left you with a deep empathy. That level of empathy will guide you towards a life of authenticity if you allow it. A journey lived knowing how precious and fragile life is, how fleeting it can be. You now see all those things we get caught up in; worrying what people think about us, stressing about work, money etc… you have seen they hold no significance. When we truly appreciate the reality of death, we can truly appreciate the beauty of life. You have been granted an insight that few will ever have. An insight that can free you to live your life however you choose. That pain you feel, that is love. In your pain you have felt love on a level that is so deep, that is so tangible that it courses through every cell of your being. Right now it may be manifesting itself as sadness and despair, without love you would have none of that pain. You feel that love so strongly that you will now recognise it everywhere. Even if you don’t know it yet. It’s visceral and powerful. Once you have begun to heal you will be able to love more freely and deeply, which really is this very essence of our being.
There is a gargantuan amount of things we don’t know or understand about this life, on what level all life is connected, where that connections starts, where, or if it finishes. No matter your belief, you can still share in moments with your brother or sister, whether it’s through the ethereal unknown, the celestial, or simply through an inherent understanding of each others minds, knowing what they would say, how they would laugh or what they would think. Your separation is only on the surface. It is my humble belief, you will never truly be without them, and them without you.
One of the hardest things about losing somebody before their time is that you can not make sense of it, losing a parent is heartbreaking, but with time you can make peace with it, even if it is early, it still can be placed within the natural order of the world. Losing your brother or sister can feel very different. Like a mistake, an un-rectifiable mistake in the unfolding of reality. But if you can try and stop measuring their life in the time that they have had, and measure it instead by the life they fit into those years, you may see that they were a light meant to burn as a bright burst, like an electric flash of colour. A life that would not have been so intoxicating and vibrant had its radiance been eked out across a longer timeline.
These words are not aimed to soothe the un-soothable, to mend the un-mendable. Just merely to serve as a reminder, That others out there know, they know your struggle. They feel your anguish. And they come with a message of hope for your future.
wishing you all the strength you need to find a way,