It’s been 11 weeks since I received the phone call. The one that shattered my world & everything I knew up until that point. In my 28, almost 29 years on this Earth, I’ve never known pain like this. The last 3 months have presented more challenges than I’ve ever faced and I never ever anticipated 2020 to end in this way.
My brother was young. It's his 37th birthday next week, actually. He was the eldest of us 3, me being the youngest. As siblings we've always been so close, and my brothers have always taken care of me. I've always felt untouchable with them by my side and proud to have such a lovely dynamic and a beautiful family. There’s a reason everyone’s always said that our family is so special, and only now do I fully see us how they do.
Losing a sibling hits so hard. It’s not like when I lost my grandparents, which was devastating but I could make sense of it. But this, it’s impossible to comprehend. It goes against the natural order of life and it calls everything into question. How can the person who’s been my protector, my best friend, and who's supposed to live my past, present and future with me, suddenly no longer be here for that future?
Grief rocks you in more ways than you’d imagine. It’s not like the chronological, linear stages you read about when you Google “how to deal with grief”. It’s messy. It’s emotion, anger, denial, memories, pain, frustration, guilt, exhaustion & acceptance, all at the same time. A whole cocktail of emotion and a whole world of pain to deal with when you least expect it. And even when you're not actively thinking about it, you're still thinking about it. Grief takes its toll physically as well as mentally and I don't think my body's ever felt so shattered and drained as it has these last 3 months.
The hard truth is, nothing prepares you for this pain. Nothing prepares you for having to choose the coffin to bury your brother in. Or having to choose an outfit for him to wear. Or writing the Eulogy, or picking the photos to frame at his funeral, or choosing what music he’d like or whether he’d want a cremation or burial because it’s not something he'd ever thought about. Or trying to guess what his will would say if he had one, because he didn’t expect the world to take him so soon. It’s like, there’s the grief of losing your person, and then there’s the logistics that come with it too. That’s the part you don’t see in the films and nothing prepares you for that either.
And then right now, there's the pandemic. The two quarantines in both countries, the limited funeral, the risk of spreading the virus, not being able to have a proper send-off or mourn with our family and friends. 2020 was hard enough, without this being added into the mix.
What I’ve discovered through all this, is that no two grief journeys are the same. It’s as unique as your relationship and there’s no way of predicting how you’re gonna deal with it. Each day is different and what you need will change over time. It’s a delicate balance of supporting your core people through their grief while understanding they have to walk this journey alone. You can’t be their fix and they can’t be yours. You have to hold space for them and give them room to grieve but also pull them up when they need it and vice versa. While also, being gentle and kind to yourself. You're not only navigating life without your person in it, you're becoming a new version of yourself as well. The old you is still in there, but you have something extra to carry now. And there's an adjustment period while you figure out how this grief co-exists with the rest of your life and how that shapes you too.
On top of that, it’s about managing everyone - and everything - else. Your job, your business, your house, your kids, your health, your friendships, your relationship, and life in general. As well as the judgment that comes from others about how you’re choosing to grieve. Whether you're doing it the "right" way, or the way they think they'd grieve if they were you. And the flippant comments about how your parents' grief is worse than yours because losing a child is more painful than losing a sibling. Or how you'll "get over it" or "move on" in time, or that you just need to be grateful for what you still have or look on the bright side. All of that is well-intended, but it's not helpful. All you really want is for your pain to be acknowledged and heard, not downplayed or minimised or compared to anything else.
And then there’s the emotion. The sudden floods of tears in the middle of the shopping mall. The frustration & anger at the lack of control & finality of it all. Waking up in an absolute state when you realise your nightmare is actually your reality. And no longer being excited about things that used to bring you so much joy, like planning your wedding. Because you simply cannot handle the thought of them not being part of that picture anymore.
God, it’s exhausting. Grief is fucking exhausting. And we're only 3 months in.
Canada sibling trip, 2016
I think you look at situations like this from the outside, and you think to yourself, "If that happened to me, I wouldn't be able to cope". I've had a lot of people say that to me, and a few even suggest that it must not have affected me too much because I'm functioning and working and posting on social media and able to hop on a plane, so I must be doing fine.
But, what you don't quite realise until you're in this situation is that you have no choice. It really is sink or swim. Fight or flight. You can't crawl into a corner and stay there for months because you've got a family to support, a job that needs doing, rent that needs paying, a funeral to plan, his bank to notify, his animals to look after. You're running on adrenaline and you're just in survival mode doing whatever you can to make it to the next day.
The thing is, life keeps moving whether you like it or not. It's jarring and weird seeing how the world keeps spinning when yours is literally imploding. All you want to do is scream "do you not know what I'm going through!!". But then, life is going to continue, regardless of your pain and regardless of how much you want the world to stop. It never stops.
From the day it happened, one thing I've been firm on is that losing my brother isn't going to stop our life. It's not going to stop us from moving forward, from finding joy, from smiling, from doing things we love, and from living. For no reason other than, we can. We have the opportunity to continue living this life, and he doesn't. As devastating and impossible as it feels for my family, we are still here living this life. And the absolute last thing my brother would ever want is to be the reason that everything falls apart and everything stops. He’d want us to keep on living and honour him because that’s the kind of guy that he was.
Paul was selfless, loving, genuine, and pure. He did anything and everything to help us, and never asked for anything in return. He was the undercurrent and the grounding of our family and you could rely on him for anything. He was the person I'd video call 5 times a week, the first one to comment on my YouTube videos, my cheerleader with everything & the one who believed in me from the very beginning. He was SO involved in our life, and such a big part of everything we do, despite being an ocean away and despite the 8 year age gap.
As every Pinterest quote will tell you, grief comes in waves and I agree with that. There are moments when you manage to stay calm and afloat, others where you get absolutely battered by the waves. Moments where you find the strength to swim and fight the current, others where you're plain sinking and drowning, weighted down by your heavy grief. It’s a case of one step forward, two steps back. That’s why you need to be forgiving with yourself because it’s draining and frustrating in every way.
Adventuring in Colombia, 2017
One thing I've learned is how important it is to follow your gut. Everything you know gets thrown out the window, so your gut and intuition become your new compass. You have to honour your feelings, your emotion, what you feel like doing that day, what you don't feel like doing that day, and honour the person you've lost. Sometimes, you'll make decisions that only the closest people to you will understand, like going on a solo trip to a remote part of the country 4 days after he passed away (I'll tell you more about that story another day...) You don't need permission from others to grieve in a certain way, because only you know this grief you feel.
I'm in no way an expert and I know that I have so much more to learn about loss. However, I also quickly learned how grief is misunderstood and it can be a lonely place, which is why it's something I want to talk more about. Through sharing the little that I have over the last 4 weeks, I've come to realise; A) how many people have lost siblings and I had no idea, B) how many people are experiencing heavy grief or have experienced it, C) how grief is a taboo topic and D) how people really don't know how to act around grief. It's not talked about, and it's not understood, and it's an awkward and uncomfortable subject for many. Grief is delicate and difficult I know, and it can be hard to know how to approach it. But, it makes little sense that it's not talked about, because every single person goes through or is touched by grief in their life. Yet as a society, we do whatever we can to dance around it and skip past grief and loss, rather than actually honouring and acknowledging it.
I debated a lot about whether to share my story on here and on social media. At first, I felt like it was a very personal thing that wasn't for others to know. But after a while, it dawned on me...this is part of my life now. This grief is here to stay & it's not going anywhere. As much as I don't want to welcome this pain, it's a part of me now and it got to a point where it felt too strange not to acknowledge it, given the gravity of it all. And I want to be able to talk about Paul, and talk about our trips and our memories, and I can't do that without sharing this piece of the puzzle.
My hope too is that some of you out there might find a little help, comfort, or understanding through what I share. Grief can be isolating, so perhaps by me sharing my journey, it might help you to feel a little less alone in yours. Or, if you are fortunate to have never experienced grief, hopefully it'll help you to understand it all a bit more so you can better support yourself or loved ones in your life in future.
And if you've made it this far, you deserve a medal because this is perhaps the longest blog post I've ever written and I've rambled on a lot. But thank you to everyone in this community who has expressed love and support, sent good vibes and kept us in your thoughts over the last 3 months. It truly means the world and I'm eternally grateful for this little space on the Internet I've created over the last 6 years.
I will be starting to resume my blogs on here and videos over on YouTube, and I'm hoping that this year is a more positive and joyful one than the last. Here's to a better 2021, let's hope.
Our beautiful family, 1992