• Anna May

Two Sides to Grief

In 2007, over fourteen years ago, my brother Benny died. He was twelve and I was ten. He died in an accident – I won’t go into the details here, but in short, he was home alone, playing around, and something went wrong. A bizarre and heart-breaking event that changed my life forever.

At first it was like everything was on fire, every thought and feeling lit up with such a raw pain. And then a numb confusion settled in, like a grey blanket had dropped over the world and told it to hush. Everything changed. I don’t think my ten year old self quite appreciated how big an impact it had in every single part of my life. Looking back I feel an intense pain when I consider how our family was before and after Benny died, and how the little Me trundled through holding so much hurt inside but a smile on her face.

That’s not to say everything was miserable. Generally, things got better with time, especially when I started getting professional support, and life was good again. But it was also quieter, heavier. Even years afterwards when we weren’t thinking about it so much, Benny’s death hung over us like a shadow, and I felt somewhat disconnected from myself and the world around me.

Then, aged twenty-one and in the middle of my degree, my Dad died. He’d had problems with his heart for a couple years with time in and out of hospital. The doctors were hopeful for his recovery, but I spent much of that period anxiously anticipating his death, trying to spend time with him and support my family while also living my life at university. In November 2018, he went in for some major surgery. There were complications and he died a few days later.

The grief that ensued was very different to what I experienced after Benny died. My heart broke over and over in those first weeks, and yet it was also overflowing – with love for my Dad, for Benny, for everyone around me, for the whole bloody world. While grief had previously caused a disconnect, it now became a doorway to connection, to feeling fully myself and fully alive.

Maybe I was more prepared, more self-aware, more willing to feel my feelings instead of repressing them, and I had a good support network around me. Dad had come to terms with his possible death (somehow – I’m in awe of him really) and this acceptance had filtered across to the rest of us. I also had a better understanding of grief, had even been running peer support groups at university, and this softened some of the layers of confusion and helped me realise I was not abnormal and I was not alone.

It was a whole new side of grief: still incredibly painful, but accompanied by a deep gratitude and wonder for all that we have, and a deep knowing that everything was going to be okay.

I don’t doubt that new aspects of my grief will continue to unravel, and that there will always be dips and turns, but generally, life is good.

For me, healing depends on striking a balance between acknowledging the pain of loss while also embracing the good in life. In this way, I’ve both lost a lot and learnt a lot. Life after death is both more challenging and more meaningful, more painful, and more beautiful.