I grew up in a close-knit family, and my big brother was the centerpiece of it. He was funny, loving, and a bit of a grouch. He was a force to be reckoned with; I say that out of love. I was a sophomore in college when he died, and I was devastated. My world had just changed drastically from one minute to the next. Although he was ill, his death was unexpected. I knew that things were never going to be the same again and from that moment on, I began a new relationship: a relationship with grief.

It has been 12 years since I started my grief journey and I have accepted the fact that this is a life-long journey.  Since I jumped on the grief train, I have learned some valuable truths and lessons that I would like to share. These lessons are based on my own experience with my companion, grief. 

Grief is Love  

The reason I grieve is because I love my brother.  Grief is a part of love; it’s a part that is painful because it’s the absence of the individual that you long for.  When I changed the way I saw my grief, it helped me change my relationship with it. It took me some time to view my grief as love. I didn’t want to embrace it at first, but rather, I wanted to run from and avoid it. But in choosing to embrace it, my grief became a reminder of how much I love my brother. Grief reminds me of the good times and the bad times, it reminds me of who he was and how I can still stay connected with him as I move forward in life.

Grief Makes People Uncomfortable 

After my brother died, some people avoided me like the plague. Most of them didn’t know what to say or how to comfort me.  I was aware that I made people uncomfortable and I soon realized that this was not my problem. I wanted to talk about my brother because he was a part of me.  He existed and was real, his life mattered, and he deserved to be remembered. I decided that I wasn’t going to let other people’s discomfort stop me from talking about him. 

Grief Requires Support

Finding people who understood my pain and who could relate was my saving grace.  Although most of the people I met had different stories, we all had one thing in common, we longed for our special person.  These connections got me through some dark days and helped me process my loss. I also learned that my emotions and feelings were valid and that I was not going crazy.  We cried together, laughed together, grieved together, but most importantly we understood each other.  

Grief Changes Everything 

Grieving through the holiday season is difficult.  Getting through the “firsts” is always challenging. Their first birthday, anniversary, and many other holidays can bring up so many memories. It’s okay to be upset, and it’s okay to do something different or break tradition.  My first Holiday season without my brother was difficult, and it took a lot of work to get through the season. Reaching out to close friends and celebrating in my own way helped. My family and I found different ways to celebrate the season while keeping a connection with my brother.  As time has passed, we have created new traditions and have always found a way to incorporate his memory in these traditions. 

Grief is Messy

Grief is messy and everyone grieves differently.  My own siblings had a very different grief experience than my own.  Children will have different grief experiences. I want you to know that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Talking openly to your loved ones who are also grieving the same loss, can help with processing the loss.  

 

These are some lessons I’ve learned since my journey started 12 years ago.  I still miss my brother very much and not a day goes by where he doesn’t cross my mind.  I still experience periods of sadness and tearfulness. I continue to find ways to stay connected to him.  If you are on a grief journey, whether you just started it or have been on it for years, remember that your grief emotions are valid and that your story matters. 

If you don’t have support, reach out and connect with others. That may, and often should, include a counselor. Share your story and that of your special person, because their story matters and they are loved by you.  Your grief journey may look completely different from mine and that’s okay; grief is a reflection of our love.

Elizabeth Villarreal-Cosgrove MA, LPC

To read more on processing grief, read our blog "What is Grief Supposed to Look Like?" by Mind Works counselor, Rachel Saenz.