How to survive the death of a sibling

It is almost July 24.  My younger brother's birthday.  He would have been 45 this year.  4 years younger than me.  However, when his birthday comes this year I will do what I have been doing for the past 5 years.  I will bake a chocolate cake  and I will light a yahrzeit candle to honor his memory. Because on April 14, 2009, my younger brother Brian died from a heart attack. Technically he had "coronary artery disease", but it was his heart that stopped working, so I call it a heart attack.

I had a tricky relationship with my mother for years before that due to my own stupidity and immature decisions so when she called me that day I knew something was wrong.  We had not spoken to each other in 4 years.  I immediately thought the bad news was going to be about my father.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be about my 39 year old brother.

Brian and I.  I was 22 and he was 18
Brian and I. I was 22 and he was 18

Brian and I hadn't spoken in a couple of years. We had somewhat of a falling out over my decision to love a woman.  He had difficulty with that choice, and we had an uncomfortable conversation about it. 

But we didn't shout at each other.  The conversation wasn't ugly, it was just a disagreement about my life.  In fact the last thing I ever said to my brother was, "I am sorry you feel that way. I love you and when you are ready I will be here. I love you." No matter what I had done in my life, I am so grateful that I had the clarity in that moment to say kind and loving things to my "little" brother, and not end the conversation in a negative or bad way.

I cannot imagine the guilt I would still be feeling if I had yelled, or said something ugly or mean to him and then never had the chance to apologize. After all, who expects a 39 year old man to die??? Who expects to never talk to a family member again after an argument???

To be honest I never really thought about the afterlife, or "spirits" before Brian died. The day he died and for a few days after, it felt as though he were here in my house with me. It was a peaceful and calming feeling. I felt love and acceptance from him. It was as if he was saying he was sorry that we had an argument and he loved me. It is hard to explain unless you have felt it yourself.

Unfortunately, my brother left two teenage sons behind.  They adored each other, and those boys feel his loss very strongly to this day.  They don't talk about their dad much.  The pain is just too much for them to handle yet.

I have learned to make sure those we love KNOW we love them. Don't assume your loved ones "just know" you love them, tell them, and do it often. My nephews know their dad loved them tremendously.  He told them with his words and showed them with his actions.

One of the things I found difficult was the lack of information and support  groups for surviving siblings.  Surviving siblings are often called the "silent mourners".  People don't think about siblings when a person dies.  They think "Oh my gosh, his poor spouse." or "his poor parents", or "his poor children".  People don't realize how devastating it is to lose a sibling. 

Brian age 19
Brian age 19

A sibling relationship is conceivably the longest relationship you will ever have with anyone during your life.  It is alternately loving someone and hating someone.  Whether you love them or hate them can be a changing emotion from day to day.  In my experience with an older and younger brother, sometimes from hour to hour my feelings for them changed. 

I knew Brian his ENTIRE life, and whether we were very close or not when we were adults we have shared experiences that I don't share with anyone else.....ever.  I "helped" my mother change his diapers, fed him his bottles.  I remember the day my parents brought him home from the hospital.  We grew up in the same house with the same parents, the same older brother and we formed bonds that could never be broken.  Losing a sibling is devastating because you feel as though an entire part of your past is suddenly missing, like a black hole appears where there used to be a person.


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