A surprising secret about grief is it can become like a good friend, comfortable and routine. My only sibling, a younger brother, took his life years ago and for many years, I suffered like many people do. Grief was my life, and living well enough to appear okay to others was a great effort.
But eventually I wanted a peaceful settling with sadness and freedom of spirit to be more lighthearted.
Spontaneously I began more openly laughing with friends or humming while preparing a a picnic with my husband and son. On a dark winter’s morning, warm from a shower, I found myself looking at my clothes and happily deciding what to wear. It startled me to realize how long it had been since I’d enjoyed this simple act of everyday life.
Then, without notice I was hit by a boulder of fear and guilt and immediately fell into the gloom of the day’s weather. Back and forth my internal emotional compass would swing between genuine, unencumbered pleasure with life and living in the grief of missing my brother and all that it meant.
Periodically I would have a good talk with myself about the need to recover and move on with a good life. Intellectually, I knew that was true, but emotionally I had trouble believing it. It was only slowly I realized what was keeping me from genuinely continuing well with life. Planted somewhere in my subconscious were the ideas that:
* If I left grief, it would mean forgetting my brother.
* If I recovered, it would diminish the importance of his life and death. Perhaps I would forget.
My thinking could have stopped there, leaving me to always live in grief’s shadow. Luckily, perhaps through a grace I don’t understand, I thought about more.
* Not recovering was a disservice and failure to the people I loved very much who were still in my life.
* Perhaps not recovering from grief was also not what my brother would have wanted or expected. After all, I had wanted a good happy life for him.
One by one, I considered these stumbling blocks. I quietly thought about the importance of his life in mine. His presence as a little brother helped shape me socially and as a mother. His joy and cheer in our childhood home added immeasurably. I’d lived in grief long enough to know it would forever be my history and memory, just like high school and getting married. There wasn’t any way I was going to forget him or his importance to me.
It was illuminating to realize his importance in shaping me both before and after his death, but his life and its direct influence was going to diminish in this world. Especially when our mother and I die, who are the keepers of his memory? That is the story of all people and I could expect no more for him.
The thought of not recovering as being a disservice and failure to those still around me really got my attention. I dearly love my husband, son and friends. They deserved better care from a more aware person. I’d learned it was impossible to be in deep grief and at the same time be available in a positive manner to others.
Lastly, I thought about many grievers, including me, who not only miss the presence of the person who died, but we also regret acts done and not done. That regret kept me in a heavy grief that sometimes was very painful.
But another thought finally emerged that helped me and might help others: Regardless of all and any circumstances in his life or my life, I knew he was a good person who ultimately would want me to be happy. If I truly believed that, and I did, it was my responsibility to recover.
When these stumbling blocks of my thinking were exposed, a true recovery became more natural, quicker and easier. Working and re-learning how to enjoy life was a slow, painful process. It’s not just the death that is difficult to overcome. It is all the little hidden beliefs, loyalties, and loves to be faced, dealt with, and settled that can slow, but should not stop, recovery.
Rebecca Guevera 2011Tags: memory, recovery, regret, sibling