They say "time heals all" but what they don’t tell you is that it takes time to heal. Most psychologists reveal that in average cases, it usually takes a year after a loved one has passed to climb up the rocky mountain of grief. After the first reaction which is shock, we transition into an intense phase of grieving where emotions are always on eggshells and a depressive state is common. By the first year anniversary marking the passing of our family member or friend, feelings of renewal and inspiration are known to show face. It has been 7 years since my younger brother has passed away and I have only begun to heal and work through swallowed emotions within the past couple of years. That initial response of shock never seemed to transition into that stage of intensity. Shock can result in the mind and body feeling numb. Life becomes foggy and our emotions become dull. This is our protective state guarding us from reality. I felt like I was in this stage for years. I thought there was something twisted inside of me that it took me so long to accept healing. I thought by now that if anything, I should have a grip on things and be on my merry way. It doesn’t work that way and the more I change and mature into a level headed grown woman, the more I unravel and the more I unravel, the more I heal. I am writing this for several reasons. One being I want to reach out to anyone who feels behind and/or alone in their grieving stages. Healing is not a cookie cutter action. Grief is not a one size fits all experience. We are all different and we will all get through our personal agonies in our own ways, at our own paces. I am also writing this to contribute to my personal wellbeing. I feel like if I release my journey into the world weather or not people read it, I will have freed myself of all of the emotions that have been dulled for so long inside me.
My brother was diagnosed with a rare type of bone cancer called Ewing's Sarcoma at 19 years of age and within 6 months, he was deceased. I remember the exact moment I realized he had cancer. I was in Massage Therapy College and we were learning the red flags of cancer. My brother had been experiencing every red flag for a few months already. I knew right away that this was a serious matter. This was all before he had even gone through testing. I remember accusing him of experimenting with hard drugs because he was losing so much weight, and so fast. I remember that he was always in great amounts of pain. I remember it taking months for a Doctor to take his complaints seriously and finally push for further testing. I remember going to the Doctor's office as a family to be delivered the news. I remember his miserable, frustrated, and depressed attitude while he underwent treatments. I remember distracting myself by spending time with my boyfriend I currently had who treated me horribly. I remember reminding myself that I was not the type to put up with behaviour like this said boyfriend's but I needed something, anything to keep me busy, to keep me away...I remember getting the phone call at work when my mother told me he was gone. I remember going through the surreal emotional and physical changes that come with shock. I remember going to my father's home to see my brother's body for the last time as that is where he had passed in his sleep. I remember hugging his cold and frigid, lifeless body because I didn't know what else to do…I felt like my mother was waiting for me to show any type of vulnerability to the situation. I was still in shock where I remained for years to come. I remember not being to produce tears, or any sounds of sadness for that matter. I remember writing my little brother's obituary. I remember my mother drinking her way out of reality during his fight, and even more so after his fight. I remember waking up to her passed out on the kitchen floor with cleaning gloves on, a dirty cloth within her grip and a pail of cloudy water not too far from her side. She often cleaned while drinking. She also frequently passed out while doing so. I remember every story she sobbed to me about my brother because she would repeat them over and over and over again. I remember working overtime to have an excuse not to be home and have to deal with her. I remember trying to live my life as normally as I possibly could including work, graduating college, and my social life. For that, I remember constantly being accused of not caring or grieving the loss of my brother. I remember a lot of things from this dark period but what I don't remember is healing.
I intentionally swallowed any emotion that tried to surface because I was scared, hurt, confused, distracted, and I always felt unprepared to deal with the reality of the situation. I was also very young, when he passed. I was 21 years old trying to understand this tragedy I had witnessed and I couldn’t-so I didn’t. People started to label my lack of reaction as “strong”. “Strong” felt good and it seemed like a way better label than denial did. I played that strong card for years. I even took on the role of the "strong daughter" so that my mother could be however weak she needed to be. People often say to me that they admire how strong I am but I am really not. For the longest time I was quite the opposite. I was the weakest of them all because I continuously put off feeling weak. I was so scared to face my emotions and what they meant. I was scared to allow myself to be weak. So I kept swallowing those raw, piercing feelings deep into my gut (hence all of my digestion issues-our guts are our second brains so if I wasn’t allowing my emotions into my mind...they harboured in my gut). I kept tilting my head so far back so my eye sockets could pull my tears back inside me. And I just kept going.
I used to write a lot. It was my therapy. I remember writing about when my parents got their divorce, I remember writing about their not so fabulous choices in significant others and remarriages. I remember writing about breakups. I did write a little on the subject of my brother's death, but nowhere near as much as I wished I had. Once my mother’s grief had thankfully transitioned from the “rock bottom alcoholic” phase into the “AA, I need to stop before I kill myself” phase, I felt it was time to face reality. Her transition meant I could finally focus on myself-without guilt. Without distraction. Without excuses. However, once I did reach the point where I did want to focus on myself, it was almost as if my healing window had expired. I felt as if I was trying to reach emotions that were tucked away so deeply that they were irretrievable. I would always rely on my writing first and foremost. I knew if anything would bring me success-it would be journaling. Time and time again I would pick up the pen, willing to pour my heart out. And I tried to...and I wanted to...but the words never found the blank pages. I was not sure if I had swallowed all those emotions so deep into my soul I didn't even know what they were or if they were just all hiding from me at this point. I felt truly defeated and as if I was a prisoner to numbness.
A few years after my brother died, a friend of mine passed away tragically and suddenly. He had a terrible fall and was in a coma for 7 days but pronounced brain dead halfway through the week. He also happened to be dating one of my best friend's at the time and she was 3 months pregnant with his child. I remember getting the call that his heart had given out on its own and to come to the hospital to say goodbye. Once I made it to his room, my good friend was sitting there in a chair beside his body, leaning over him and grasping his hand. I don't think she moved a muscle for a very long time. She looked just as numb and lifeless as I had felt when I saw my brother's body. I again, had the same reaction with stone cold eyes but they happened to eventually produce a weak stream of tears that made their way down my face, stimulating my lips with every salty bead. To his left side was his mother, gently caressing his face, crying out loud and sobbing for her baby boy. My husband had to leave the room as soon as we entered it. I guess he and I are quite opposite. This heart wrenching yet vivid memory will always live on and sometimes flashes back to my mind when my eyes are closed, along with other rough times from my past. This tragedy soon helped me transition into an anger phase. Finally! I was furious that such young, fun loving, selfless men were taken away from us. I was livid for my friend and heartbroken for her daughter to be. It was exhausting actually feeling emotions. This unfortunate event triggered progress for me. I even felt guilty of this.
Time goes by. Within the first few years, I had gone through every picture, letter, and video I could rummage up. I've looked at those items so many times that I physically do not need to look at them to see them in my mind. I have shared the same favourite stories, laughed at the same tales that people have recited. I have cried, and bawled hysterically (although not as much as I probably need to). The memories all happen less and less, and sometimes that makes me feel guilty almost. But I know it's not my fault. I know it is normal and understandable. You can only watch the same favourite movie over and over so many times. It'll always be your favourite but if you've watched it to the point where you can recite the whole thing without pressing play, you've got that on lock down in your heart. That's love and there should be no shame in that.
Since I've started successfully writing again, I am finally able to slowly sort through all these emotions that have never surfaced within the past 7 years. I find I am able to understand them and more importantly, accept them. I address my emotions as they surface and when they surface. I take them on as they come but I don't force anything. I was always scared to address how I feel about my brother's death because I was terrified I would open up a huge can of worms that would tangle me up and suffocate me. Thankfully, that's not the case. I finally feel mature enough to try and understand myself, understand why I did things I did or didn't do the things I didn't and I'm able to forgive myself for those things. I have learned so much about myself and about my health by opening up in my own way. I am embracing this journey and I love living life. That makes me happy because the one thing I do know for sure is that our loved ones who have passed wouldn't want it any other way for us. We are alive and well, and we should live life to its full potential. They are looking down on us and watching us. I believe they smile when we smile, love when we love, and they are all rooting for us.
*Death can be a very tough subject to bring up, understand, and to talk about with others. I tend to keep to myself on this subject for several reasons, subjectively inviting myself to feel alone but I'm realizing that it doesn't have to be that way. I invite anyone to an open discussion if you have a similar story (or not), to open up. What helped you all come to terms with the loss of a loved one? Is there any advice anyone would like to share for those who may be struggling? It's easy to avoid the painful subjects in life, but it also feels SO liberating addressing them. I'm here to chat if anyone else would like to! Remember that grief is different for everyone and that it’s important to heal at your own pace. Love you all and thanks for taking to time to read my thoughts allowing me to feel freer than I ever have before on this subject. Xoxo