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What I’ve Learned Since Losing My Brother

What I've Learned Since Losing My Brother

       I read a post from Elizabeth Gilbert the other day. She describes the tsunami of emotions that comes with the unpredictable nature of grief. How in some moments you’re filled with joie-de-vivre but 15 minutes later you may be hugging yourself into a ball, occupying the furthest corner of the room, rocking and waiting for it to pass.
        Yesterday marked the 4 year anniversary of Stephen’s death. Truthfully, he left us on October 24th but the formal goodbye and passing didn’t happen for two weeks. This period is extremely tumultuous in my family. We each cycle through a series of emotions, so radical, so raw, that it feels like we’re literally clawing at the seams, waiting to be set free- but we’re not, nor will we ever be, not permanently, at least.
       Yesterday, my Dad and sister called me to check in. I felt good. I felt happy, productive and positive. I also felt some shame for feeling normal on such a historically devastating day. But, I am allowing myself to sift through the emotions as they come rather than dictate the quality of my day based off how I THINK I should feel. Meanwhile, Saturday and Sunday morning I drove to a Crossfit competition and cried the entire way. Racking sobs took over, I punched my fists into the steering wheel and let out the primal yells that have sat in my chest for weeks.
       So much of my identity and decisions have centered around loss the last four years. Initially I made TERRIBLE decisions. I was extremely hurtful and selfish, actions for which I feel immense regret. I still struggle not to judge my present self for poor decisions made by my past self. In that pain, I also experienced incredible joy and love. I met the love of my life and married that magical mountain man.
       Losing my brother will never be EASIER, but I will continue to feel peace and love ruminating around me as I allow his sunshine to envelope. When the onslaught of pain comes, I bow down to it, let it course through and process.
       This week was equally challenging because I wasn’t home in Philadelphia to say goodbye to Aidan, my baby brother, before he left for bootcamp. I remember holding him tight in the hospital before we said our last goodbye to Stephen, before we told our youngest brothers that Stephen was not coming home. Aidan was strong but pliable. He showed his emotion and allowed his brothers to feel comfort in that expression. I’ve never been more proud of the young man he’s become. I shared some of my best pain strategies with him before he left for Parris Island…
        On Friday I had to run a mile on the beach with a 35# vest as part of the Crossfit competition I was participating in. I practiced some mental skills I’ve been honing the last four years. Specifically, I chose incredibly joyful memories to replace the temporary discomfort. Each step on the packed, cold sand reminded me of late August afternoons on the beach with my family.
         You need to stop and rest, you can’t run like this, my mind would briefly tell me. No, you can handle this. You’re at the beach with everyone, lying on the old floral comforter with paint stains. Stephen is telling some silly story about the week before, Aidan is eating a pb&j filled with more sand than PB, Katie is reading and MT is sunbathing. You’re sunkissed and happy.
        I replaced each negative thought or self talk with my favorite Stephen memories for the entire run. I smiled while I ran. I was grateful for the health to move and feel this way. I chose gratitude and joy over pain. I relayed this story to Aidan when I spoke with him Sunday before his departure. You can do this, Aidan. You will do this. When you’re in deep moments of discomfort, think of your most cherished Stephen moments and let them guide you.
My grief isn’t better than yours. You may have lost a sibling or parent or child. You may be finishing a painful divorce. You may have ended a 5 year relationship that you thought would be your future.
        There aren’t parameters for what QUALIFIES as grief. Pain isn’t meant to be compared, but rather shared and empathized. Yesterday I chose to ride out the elation that shimmered around me, today is much harder. Yesterday I chose joy but today I will sit with this pain.

“It’s an honor to be in grief. It’s an honor to feel that much, to have loved that much."
Elizabeth Gilbert