A Brother’s Sudden Death
As I walk into the beach hut, all is quiet. Still. Everything, as Carl left it. His table with a view of the ocean he loved so much. On it, an ash tray and tobacco. Carl’s beloved magpie statue, a symbol of his passion for the Collingwood Football Club. All around me, Carl’s belongings. The last time Carl closed the door, he did so with the belief he would return. He didn’t.
“A luminous light remains where a beautiful soul has passed,” wrote Antoine Bovena.
On March 22, 2011, my brother Carl passed over after a car accident. It was just months from his 40th birthday, a milestone he couldn’t wait to celebrate.
From the moment I heard the devastating news, my world was turned upside down. I was thrown into the exhausting and relentless world of grief. Grief was my new companion. Constantly by my side like a dark shadow.
Brother’s Loss Took So Much
Grief is a powerful emotion. It took from me my hopes, dreams and happiness. The light in my life was replaced with anger, despair and unbelievable heartache.
There are times when my mind can’t process the fact that Carl is gone. I’m not in denial, but when the reality of loss sinks in, it just takes my breath away.
Carl had an amazing passion for living. He fit many lifetimes into his short stay here on earth. Sometimes I think Carl’s soul knew that his journey was to be brief. Carl lived life in the present, each day as though it was his last. Carl was a strong man, physically, mentally and emotionally. He would stand up for his beliefs and was loyal beyond words. Carl touched so many people’s lives.
Finding Peace Has Been a Struggle
Carl’s passing has been the most difficult journey of my life. Although I have gained strength and continue to, I know that grief will always claim a piece of my heart.
Losing Carl provided me with an insight into the human spirit. Incredible kindness from many beautiful people. The love and support from within our community was overwhelming. I will forever be grateful to people who shared their stories of friendship with Carl, gave us photos, shared funny stories and let us know how he touched their lives.
In amongst all the kindness though, I soon discovered that death and grief makes many people uncomfortable. People I had known for many years did not acknowledge my loss. It was easier for them to pretend nothing had happened. Some comments made to my family and me only added to the pain.
What NOT to Say
“Oh, you know the young ones today. They think they’re bulletproof.”
“If you had more faith in God, it would be easier for you to accept.”
“When I lost my wife, it was much worse for me than you losing your son.”
“Oh, you’re up and about. Obviously you are coping well with everything.”
“Keep your chin up.”
“At least you know what happened to him. You’re not left wondering.”
“You must be over it by now.”
I try not be disappointed or resentful towards people who don’t understand the impact of their thoughtless words. Being angry only affects one person. Me. I am learning to let it go.
After the Funeral
The struggle for me began after Carl’s funeral. The shock begins to wear off. Grief becomes all consuming.
There was pressure to return to work. Carl’s death was like an elephant in the room. Apart from family and some of Carl’s close friends it was rare for someone to ask how I was coping. A great deal of the time I felt alone and misunderstood. At times I still do. Just because I smile and say hello, turn up to work, buy the groceries and pay my bills, it doesn’t mean I’m ok. Grief is all about survival. There is no other option.
For a while anxiety became a huge part of my life. All I wanted to do was avoid people. Avoid life.
Guilt and Regret
“Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion to death,” wrote Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.
Regret and guilt also weighed heavy on my mind.
I felt guilt about not being there for Carl in his final moments. Was there something I could have done to save him? As a sister did I let him down? As adults we didn’t spend a great deal of time together. Why didn’t I make more effort? Why didn’t I act on my gut instinct to call Carl in the month before his passing? I didn’t get to say good-bye, to tell Carl that I loved him. If only. What if? Over and over in my head.
It has taken time and considerable soul searching to get to the point where I realise these thoughts serve no purpose. They will just hold me in the past. Carl wouldn’t want that.
Grief creates conflicted emotions. Beautiful, inspiring moments trigger reflection, aching loss and frustration. All it takes is a song, a sunny day or a trip to the beach. What would Carl be doing if he was still here? Why did this have to happen?
Trying to Make Peace with the Death
Carl’s death has highlighted to me how fragile we are. We never know how many days we are destined to have on this earth. Life cannot be taken for granted. Death doesn’t discriminate. Fate has a mind of its own.
Have I made peace with the loss of a brother. I have to be honest and say no. There is too much pain and heartache for peace to ever take their place. But I have made peace with the fact that I can’t change the past. Nothing will ever bring Carl back. All the “what if’s” in the world will not change a thing.
I have made a conscious decision to embrace my new life. Carl is a bigger part of my world than ever before. He is constantly in my thoughts and I carry him in my heart each and every day. His spirit, eternal love and precious memories I bring with me as I continue on my journey. I want to make Carl proud, honour him and continue to speak his name. I am determined to make my life count, to follow my dreams and make a difference in this world.
A New Relationship with my Brother
My relationship with Carl continues. It is just different. Carl’s presence, guidance and love sent through butterflies, synchronicities and double rainbows each anniversary of his passing strengthen our bond and keep our love connected.
If life could only bring again, the days I took for granted when
To hear your voice was just a call away
Oh what I’d give for just some time, to say the things that slipped my mind
There’s so much now I’d really like to say
But I can never go back when we did the things we did back then
I’ll store those precious memories in my mind
I’ll take what you’ve instilled in me, I’ll try to be all I can be
And walk the path that you have left behind