Finding Hope and Healing After Loss
I was 15 years old the first time I experienced a deep personal loss. It was early February and I was finishing an English test when my high school counselor called me to the office. I stood up and screamed at her when she told me the news, overcome by disbelief. It wasn’t until I saw my mother’s face that I broke down and sobbed, trying to accept the truth. My older brother had died in a car accident alongside his classmate and friend earlier that morning. Both were meant to graduate high school that spring.
Early on, my grief was so intense that every breath seemed to take more effort than I could muster. Losing him devastated our family and left my parents in lasting anguish. I cried for him, I cried for my sister and myself, but most of all, I cried for my parents. Their suffering covered their faces like a veil and left them empty and distant. For a time, my sister and I lived in the shadow of their grief, void of hope and desperate for distraction.
My pain and anger pushed against the corners of my eyes and coated my tongue and throat, making it hard to speak or eat. Each night, my tears dried against my skin as I stared at the ceiling, asking questions that could not be answered. My grief exposed my deepest fears and biggest questions and left me in despair.
Our friends and family moved on, but despite our best efforts, we were stuck in the pain.
I was tired of the unending questions and thoughts—the should-haves and what-ifs. I was trying to process my grief and comfort my parents and younger sister at the same time. I tried to stay strong for them. I thought it would only make their pain worse if they saw mine, and I wanted nothing more than to take their pain away. Sometimes I was angry at my brother for leaving us—and then, more guilt and pain followed.
I wanted peace, but eventually settled for distraction instead. I did what I could to avoid the pain of being alone with my thoughts. I did what I could to avoid the pain I saw in my parents’ eyes.
I eventually became numb. I stopped crying, stopped feeling. People thought I had moved on—that I was okay. They thought I had accepted my brother’s death and the resulting trauma to my family. I even fooled myself for a little while.
But I wasn’t okay.
I was fragile. I was overwhelmed and anxious. In my naive teenage mind, I thought it was my job to piece our lives back together. I worked hard to help my parents and to be positive when they couldn’t be. But I couldn’t sustain it, and every failed attempt left me feeling defeated and worthless. Each time the pain came back stronger, knocking me down and reminding me of our brokenness.
It took nearly ten years to process the grief that I had buried in my heart. Not just grief from my brother’s death, but also from the pain and dysfunction my family endured. Even now, 19 years later, certain memories remind me of the darkness we lived through, and I find myself pushing back feelings of guilt for how I dealt with his death or how I wrestled with his memory.
I still find myself trying to understand what I am meant to learn from losing him. I am still healing old wounds. Each time I am faced with another loss, I remember what it felt like to stand next to my brother’s grave on that cold February morning. I can still feel the weight of his loss and am often tempted to run—escaping the familiar flood of feelings that surface. But with each new loss, despite the pain and heartache, I have allowed the sadness to come, as well as the comfort. I have learned to surrender to the grief without drowning in it. And though I still have questions, I also have hope.
Each year, I am better able to appreciate my brother’s life instead of dwelling in the pain of his death. Each year I find new ways to bring healing and comfort to the 15-year-old girl who thought she needed to shoulder the burden of grief alone.