September 16, 2019
It’s been more than 1,800 days since I last saw my brother.
Five Years On, This Is How My Grief For My Brother Is Still Changing
Last month marked the fifth anniversary of the accident which took his life. The driver responsible was jailed for causing my brother’s death by dangerous driving, but his death broke our family and a community. So what is grief like, five years on? What has changed? In some ways everything, and in others nothing at all.
Speaking to Oprah Winfrey about losing his younger brother, the actor Billy Bob Thornton said “it changed everything. He died and I’ve never trusted happiness since.”
I can understand that. Since losing my brother I’ve endured a five-year battle with infertility and five cycles of IVF. Our daughter finally arrived in January 2019 and yet I find it hard to trust that things will be okay. I live in a world where the most awful thing not only can happen, but has. Without warning, without preempt, without explanation.Since our daughter arrived, some people think things must be ‘all better’ nowBut since our daughter arrived, some people think things must be ‘all better’ now. Of course I am blissfully happy to have our little girl – especially after everything we went through to get her, after the battle I fought – but she didn’t bring my brother back with her. She is a joy individual to herself, she makes my life happier and we feel so lucky, but I don’t miss him any less.
Before the tragedy of five years ago, I thought emotions were mutually exclusive: if you’re happy, then you’re happy, if you’re sad, then you’re sad. I have learned this is not the case, and now know what it’s like to be equally happy and sad at the same time. I can be elated at the new thing my daughter has done and in the same moment feel heavy-hearted that her uncle Gareth will never see, never come over to play, or take her for a day out.
Thornton says the same in his Oprah interview: “I’ve never been the same since my brother died. There’s a melancholy that never goes away. I’m 50% happy and 50% sad at any given moment.”
After my brother’s death, well-meaning people would tell me that it will get better in time. I used to wonder how that would be possible – he won’t be coming back, so how can this ever ‘get better’. I now know that they were using the wrong word: it doesn’t get better, but it does change.When I was told my brother had been killed, the shock and pain was devastating – obviously, five years on the visceral shock has subsided. I still find myself disbelieving everything that has happened, but it isn’t I don’t feel the horrifying, traumatising, numbing bombshell of that moment in the early hours of 13 July 2014 when I was told my brother had been killed. The rawness of that moment has dissipated – my brain has become accustomed to this memory, it’s no longer side-swiped by it.
That doesn’t mean that I’m not still devastated that he’s gone, that I wouldn’t give anything to have him back, that it doesn’t still hurt my heart that I can’t talk to him. All it means is that jolt is no longer there.
Grief is a very individual thing. The way we deal with it is unique to us all, and we must find our own ways of coping. For me, I try to keep him as present as I can. I talk about him often, I write about him and post pictures and stories relating to him on social media. I know some people think this means that I’ve not ‘got over it’ – but that’s exactly it, I will never get over it.
I find those who have suffered tragedy know you never fully ‘recover’. Whether you choose to speak about the person regularly or not at all, is no indication of your progress. Am I meant to reach a point where I stop talking about him? I have no intention of pretending that he didn’t exist.Am I meant to reach a point where I stop talking about him? I have no intention of pretending that he didn’t exist.In the end, the best thing I did was stop trying to ‘get better’. Acceptance was an unexpected place to be, but it feels like the right place to be; I don’t like the hand my brother was dealt, but I cannot reach a point where I stop talking about him? I have no intention of pretending that he didn’t exist. I could spend the rest of my life fighting with myself that I must somehow feel ‘better’ about it, or I can be sad about what happened and miss him. I choose to miss him. 
People often tell me that they don’t know what to say, or how to make it better. The reality is you can’t make it better. You’re unlikely to be able to make it worse either – I mean the worst has already happened. Acknowledging the person, the grief, the loss, usually goes a long way with the bereaved, no one wants their loved one to be ignored.Anniversaries are the worst. Birthdays, death days, those are the hardest days to get through. They could be easier if friends and relatives helped to pass the time, while remembering the person. Why not send flowers, send a card, send a text or call. Ask to see photos, or share photos you may have. Light a candle or just visit and talk about silly stories and happy memories. 
Some days will always be worse than others, there’s no changing that. But perhaps if we were a little more comfortable talking about the dead as a society, we could make those days slightly easier for the bereaved.  If we stopped believing that a person only talks about their lost loved one if they’re ‘not over it yet’, and instead embraced a few moments of reminiscence with them, we might find grief is easier to bare – and to bear. 
Five years on I’m still grieving in my way. And that’s okay.
Jessica Jones is a freelancer writer. You can follow her on Twitter at @Jess_Jones79
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