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November 10, 2020

You can’t Hide from Grief (but you can Learn from It).

Grief is visiting today. 

It didn’t knock. It just arrived like it always does, from nowhere and everywhere.

I don’t enjoy the festive season anymore. The anniversary of my brother’s death is in touching distance on the 8th of January.

I (subconsciously) choose not to acknowledge this date’s existence until the grief reminds me it’s about to arrive, and there is no use hiding in the shadows.

Fifteen years have passed, and thoughts of that day still pull me inward by an invisible thread, away from the world, to a quiet place—a darker place. Grief holds me in its arms for a while, tightly.

Some years, I’ve struggled against those arms—fighting everything inside me—refusing to feel the shards of pain against my vulnerable heart.

This year, I don’t have the energy to struggle. I will fall slowly into the arms of grief, accepting what it brings, and feel it all.

My brother, Chris, died of a sudden cardiac death whilst snowboarding down Whistler Blackcomb Mountain in Canada 15 years ago. He was 30.

The call came just after midnight. Confused by sleep, I thought he had just had an accident, but it soon became apparent he was dead. I can’t put into words how I felt or how my body shook with shock or how I screamed.

In the morning, I was in a cab with my parents driving the 100 plus miles to Heathrow Airport London from my hometown of Bath. We flew to Calgary, then to Vancouver, where we were picked up by an amazing woman from the Whistler Blackcomb crisis team.

She drove us for what felt like hours, and finally, in a tiny chapel of rest in the mountains, there he was. Resuscitation tube still in his mouth, cold and unreal.

We were put up in a house in Whistler, where we stayed with my brother’s wife. Her parents flew over to join us, and I was asked to move out of the room I was staying in and sleep in a hallway on a sofa bed.

It was so hard to hear the constant sobbing of everyone in the house through the walls. I was alone with no private space to try and cope and grieve. I felt like my mind was going to break.

The woman (whose name I wish I could remember) who had picked us up from the airport looked after us for the week, and she noticed how much I was struggling. She saw me. I will never forget that.

She asked if I wanted some space away from the house we were staying in and took me to her own home, where her daughter gave up her room for me to spend the night.

That act of kindness has stayed with me. My memories from that time can be dark and hazy, but I remember this moment with clarity. Within this act of kindness was a tiny glint of light amongst my new world of shadows.

However, little did I know that living with these shadows would be the start of my awakening—an opening created through the experience of loss and pain. 

Grief has taught me much. 

Grief has been my teacher.

Fifteen years on, and I am honored, in some way, to look back with an incredible sense of compassion and love for myself—at how far I have come.

I have struggled so much, with so many aspects of my life, since the shattering experience of my only sibling’s death. And yet, I am able to sit here and reflect on the growth it has encouraged in me.

It started me on a path to self-awareness; I explored therapy, the complexity of grief, and started listening to others’ stories.

It brought me to a place of supporting others—siblings who also lost their siblings suddenly—through training as a voluntary bereavement support worker for a charity. 

Grief has allowed me to foster empathy within my heart and hold space for others. 

Grief taught me to zoom out, to sit and observe, to see a bigger picture. 

Grief taught me to go inward and get curious about my own humanity and our collective human experience.

Grief taught me to write; it taught me to write poems and to gain understanding through the words of others.

Grief literally cracked me open in a way I could never have anticipated.

Don’t get me wrong, this process has been (and continues to be) exquisitely painful, but I can now appreciate the lessons it offers.

I am learning not to be smothered by the pain. To reach in and pull the light out from within it. To feel it without fear.

My love, my brother. My heart, my soul. You are a part of me.

You are a piece of my history and always with me.

We are one—for all time and space and silence and stars.

Your energy didn’t die, you are just changed, and the Universe holds us both. 

We are forever in its arms 

until our souls collide again.

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