I was 38 years old when my brother died suddenly. At the time of his death, I was living in another state more than eight hours away from my family. I will never forget receiving the phone call from my mother — my life forever changed in one brief moment. The feelings of shock and disbelief were overwhelming. I just kept thinking, “If it was just yesterday, he would still be alive.”
Dealing with the loss of a sibling has been a learning experience. I have learned that our society tends to minimize sibling grief. It is the parents, spouse and children of the person who died who suffer the greater loss, not the siblings. But we have strong attachments to our siblings. We share private family jokes, family secrets, family joys and memories that only our siblings understand.
I have also learned that grief is a natural and necessary response to loss and a personal and individual experience. How we grieve can be dependent on many factors including our relationship with our loved one, our ability to cope and life experiences. We all need to grieve and mourn. According to Griefandmourning.com, experiencing grief is what we think and feel on the inside. Everyone grieves on the inside, but not everyone mourns. Mourning is essential in order for healing to take place. Mourning is the outward expression of grief. It is letting it out somehow by crying or talking or writing or journaling.
I have learned that it is important to remember that healing takes time and there is no “normal” time frame for grieving. I have learned to be patient and kind with myself and others. To seek out caring people who will allow me to express my grief and talk about my loved one. I have learned that it is all right to seek out help from a celebrant, clergy, grief counselor, psychologist, social worker or mental health professional and attend a support group.
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Since my brother’s death, I have experienced other losses in my life including the death of both my parents. Each loss has affected me differently. How I have mourned each loss has been unique. I now realize that I owe it to myself and my loved ones to move forward in life and learn to cope with my losses. Life will never be the same, but I can learn to live with a new reality. I can honor and remember my loved ones, share their photographs and stories with other family members and friends. I can light a candle on their birthday, plant a tree, donate to a charity, celebrate and remember them with their favorite meal and volunteer my time.
Finally, I have learned that I can help others by sharing my story. I have been able to participate with Grief Connection, a group of individuals working in grief organizations in the Centre Region. The mission of this group is to collaborate with individuals and local grief organizations to provide both personal and professional resources for grief support. We came together to develop a website with information about local grief resources and support groups, organized by type of loss. When you or someone you know experiences the loss of a loved one, please visit www.griefconnection.org.
Brenda Oyler Kim is a licensed clinical social worker living in the Centre Region. This column is coordinated by www.ltlwys.org whose mission is to create educational and conversational opportunities for meaningful intergeneratiLearningonal exchanges on loss, grief, growth and transformation.