Sibling Loss: A Different Path
Losing my brother was completely life changing.
I was studying for my last final exam in college before graduation when I heard a knock at the door from the resident assistant in my dorms. She handed me a piece of paper and said, “There’s an emergency with your brother and you need to call this number.” My brother had been in a fall off the popular Phoenix hiking spot, Camelback Mountain. My heart sunk. I was worried he was paralyzed because the hospital would not provide details of his condition. It wasn’t until my mom went to the hospital and confirmed what I wasn’t even thinking. She said, “Clint died at 4:30pm today.” Looking back now, it’s obvious but in that moment, we cling to hope that we choose to ignore our worst fear, to lose someone we love. He was only 25 years old.
After I lost him, I was in shock for months. I tried to hide my grief from others and save the crying for the drive home from work and in the shower. I’m not sure why I chose to “hide” it. Perhaps because people thought I should be “over it’ since afterall, I only lost a sibling. I’ve read that sibling loss is considered a disenfranchised loss; It’s not recognized by society as a major loss. The grief is compared to the loss of a celebrity or a pet. I had people say the weirdest things to me. I knew they were trying to help but it felt like they were trying to minimize my grief. They wanted to lessen my pain but they couldn’t. Honestly, all I wanted was someone who’d listen and validate my feelings. Not for someone to say the cliché things said when someone passes like “they’re in a better place.” I once responded to someone with, “How do you know they’re in a better place? Have you been there?” I knew as soon as the words left my mouth that it wasn’t very kind.
But when I finally realized my brother would not be coming back and that I was experiencing denial and wishful thinking, I knew I had to figure out what I was going to do. Something inside me just snapped. I felt the world lost a good person that was giving and often paid it forward. I felt I had to live for myself and my brother. I reached out to the Make a Wish Foundation and became a wish granter. I felt a little better. I started a sibling loss support group in my home state under the nonprofit organization The Compassionate Friends. I joined online support groups for grief. I surrounded myself with bereaved siblings. When I finally got to a point where I wasn’t in constant devastation, I was able to help those fresh in their grief. I paid it forward every chance I got and was often broke from excessively paying for people behind me in any line at the grocery store, fast food and more. I contacted the City of Phoenix in Parks and Recreation and approached them in putting a safety sign with my brother’s picture and story on Camelback Mountain. It bothered me how preventable his death was, and I wanted to do everything I could to prevent another family from going through this gut wrenching pain. I did countless news interviews and met with city officials many times. I fought to get a safety sign on the mountain until they finally did it. And if they didn’t, I never would have stopped fighting.
People started recognizing what I was doing and often gave me compliments. I appreciated it but always felt a little guilty. I was doing all of this but I was terribly sad and often didn’t feel the intrinsic rewards. It all became robotic and I felt like I had to do it. I felt guilty because I wanted to fill a void, an empty, painful void. I lost a piece of myself when my brother left and a part of my identity. I just wanted to be me again but I had no idea who I was anymore. I was down this path of positivity but was a beat behind to realize it. I was never boastful about my volunteer work. I’d share it with others in hopes that it would inspire them to help others, and it worked for some people. But I never took credit for their choice to give back. Planting the seed in someone’s mind is one thing, but when they take action, that’s all them.
Things started to change. The anger I held deep inside lessened. The heavy cloud began to fade. I suddenly realized, I was beginning to heal. Don’t confuse healing with forgetting or letting go when it comes to grievers. We never let go and we never get over it. We hold our loved one dear in our heart forever and always. But using my grief to help others and giving myself selflessly to those in need have caused me to turn a tragedy into something positive. But maybe I am a bit selfish since the motivation behind my volunteering is because I was trying to fill the emptiness I felt with losing a sibling.
I’m not cured of my grief. I’m better but I’ll always have a sadness to me and will never again feel fully complete. Do I still think of him? Yes, single every day. Do I miss him? More than you can ever imagine. Would I give up this newfound understanding of kindness and the realization of how precious life is if it meant he could come back? In a heartbeat. I’d give anything to have him back. That will never change.
A sibling bond is indestructible. I made the mistake of thinking that the loss of my brother caused our sibling relationship to be severed but that is not true. We have a bond that cannot be broken, not even in death.
People have asked me, how could you so quickly do multiple projects and volunteer for multiple organizations so soon after your loss. I answer with, “I don’t know. All I know is that I was grief stricken and I was heading down a path of depression and loneliness and I didn’t want that.” I didn’t want Clint to die in vain. But it wasn’t a smooth path. It was full of struggles. I still cry for my brother and when I experience those milestones, my heart aches that he’s gone. But each day that passes I get closer to seeing him.
He’ll always be a part of me. He’s in every sunset, every song that brings tears to my eyes, and every beautiful moment that takes my breath away. He’s my brother and I’m his sister and death will not change that.
Clint’s sister Chelsey
This essay first appeared on March 20, 2016 at https://siblinggriefblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/20/sibling-loss-a-different-path.