Tragedy hit a year before I was born when my eldest brother died at the age of 7 due to an accident and that has left its mark on my family. He was buried in a little graveyard in a convent just outside Jerusalem and every year while we lived there we’d visit his grave on his birthday and the anniversary of his death. My dad would read a psalm and say a prayer. The grave was close to where we lived and sometimes I’d go there on my own to take a look
I always wondered what it would be like having him as an older brother. Other than those commemorations we didn’t speak of him much in the family, it was just too painful a topic to broach with my parents. Over the years occasional anecdotes were told by my mother, who was always more of a talker than my dad, but most things I knew about my brother I learned from my older sister. She had only been 17 months younger than him and had seen the accident happen. What she remembered was from a child’s perspective but I gobbled up every morsel she gave me. My eldest brother was always commemorated but did not really live on in tales, except for the occasional accidental anecdote. Commemorations of my brother always make me cry, but it’s more about the grief I feel for those who have known him, mixed in with some regret that I never knew him myself.
I have never lost any people very close to me. I’ve been to funerals, I’ve cried and regretted people passing, but none of them were really very close. Even my grandparents weren’t very close to me. My mother’s father died before she even got married, my mother’s mom never cared very much for her grandchildren, so the loss was never extremely personal to me, save for the grief it caused my mom and especially my aunt who had been closer to her. My father’s father died when I was 4, I barely remember him. I did grieve for my father’s mother when she died, as she had been a sweet woman, but even she was not close enough to me, due to us having lived abroad so much. I’ve never lost anyone very close to me until my dad died last year. We knew he was frail and that it would happen but we preferred to ban those thoughts. My dad had Parkinson’s disease and was living in a nursing home for the last 3 years of his life. Even though we knew he’d never come home again, his death still hit me hard. It still hits me hard now when I thought that by now I’d surely be feeling better about it. I think that only now do I truly understand the nature of grief and I have this inkling that this gut wrenching feeling will never leave. It may become less frequent but on occasion it will always rear it’s head. Only now am I really beginning to comprehend what my parents and my sister must feel when they think of my eldest brother dying.
People talk of embracing grief and I try to do that but what is it exactly? Allowing yourself to cry? I do that. Allowing yourself to cry with others who knew him? I don’t do that. I find that in my family we don’t talk about it, we just commemorate and sometimes an occasional anecdote will come up. I thought I’d break that cycle the other day when I asked my mom how she was holding up. I mean, if it’s hard for me, it must be even worse for her, losing her soulmate. She won’t talk about it. She does say it’s hard and that she misses him, but she shields herself and doesn’t want to dig deeper. It’s how she has survived and coped all these years after losing my brother, it’s how she continues now after losing my dad. Keep a stiff exterior and only cry at commemorations but please, let’s not hang around his grave too long. She pushes the pain away and I find I don’t want to do that. I’m an easy cryer anyhow… Yet I do find I mostly cry on my own! Just like my mother does, I imagine, and I don’t really share much of my grief with anyone. My husband is the only one who hears some of it but I don’t want to get him down (even though he insists he is there for me should I need to let things out). My kids see little of my grief, I don’t see the point of bringing them down either. I now see that is what my mom is doing as well – hiding it away from everyone to not upset others. I am like my mom in that respect, I find. Maybe a little less rigid about it, but yes, a lot like her in that I don’t want to show anyone how tough this really is on me. Turns out, I don’t think I know how to do it differently from my parents after all…
Today I was reading a piece by Alistair Appleton, who I know from a few BBC shows he used to do (Cash in the Attic and Escape to the Country).
I have always felt drawn to him (he is not only cute but there is a warmth to him), so I follow him on Twitter. He’s a buddhist, gives meditation workshops and apparently recently finished a degree in psychotherapy. He isn’t on Twitter much but today he posted a link to a blog article he wrote about grief called Black Star: death and Bowie. I found myself totally immersed in it, reading it with a lump in the throat. It’s about death and grieving, and confronting that and it hit home. He speaks of his complicated relation with grief, that his mother grieving his grandparents impacted him greatly. In my family, grief was not quite as palpable, except on special days, so I didn’t have much of a relationship with it. Maybe it was good my parents shielded us from most of the grief – maybe it wasn’t.
In any case, David Bowie’s death hit me pretty hard and I have avoided listening to his latest album because of it. I now realize that I have been pushing grief away instead of embracing it, very much like I saw my parents do. This article has made me feel the need to listen to Bowie’s album, watch the two videos he made and deal with it.
Maybe listening to the album and watching the videos can be the doorway to finding a better way to grieving for my dad. I don’t want to lock it up like my parents have done and I don’t want to endlessly wallow either. I need to find my own middle ground, maybe this can help me. So, thank you for the wake up call, Alistair Appleton!