Today I woke up grateful. That hasn't been the case on many mornings over the past couple of months.
I haven't written lately because I wasn't ready to write about this until now. If you read my usual posts they are motivating, upbeat, with that Happy WifeStyle vibe.....and then my brother Justin died.
It was my first. My first real loss. My first time experiencing that level of grief and sadness at my core. It was foreign to me. No matter what the circumstance, the loss of a sibling...especially your only sibling...is a loss of a part of you. I've never lived a day on this earth without him. Even when he wasn't there in person, he was there in the background of my life ...my rock ...my protector ...my big brother who taught me so much.
I'd wonder... how do I write inspiring words for you when I'm crying and grieving? I've never forced my writing or my posts. If I'm not feeling authentic, I know that comes across, so I just decided to take a beat and heal. I decided to let it happen and unfold instead of hiding the fact that I was really really sad. I knew I'd come out the other side of this and tell you about it when I was ready, but also knew that I had to follow my heart and go through this thing called grief...
I'm writing this now for the same reason I write many of my posts. I wanted to be honest with you about where I've been. I feel like my truth about this could help someone. Throughout this process, it's helped so much to feel a sense of understanding from others who have gone through it before so maybe this can do that for someone else. Everyone experiences grief differently, there's no right or wrong. I knew that I needed to be true to myself and let it happen in its own time. It can't be forced or rushed. Time truly is the only thing that heals. I'm finally feeling a bit normal again, like I can take a deep breath.
Some honest things I experienced throughout the process....
-- For the first two weeks I found it difficult to do "normal things". I had this overwhelming feeling that the moment I did something routine or normal...that he'd be forgotten. I knew it wasn't logical, but it was real and felt paralyzing.
-- I usually feel pretty "in control" of my emotions so this felt scary to me...to not feel able to contain my sadness. I kept waiting for it to pass. I found myself counting the days...waiting. I recall crying every day for the first 13 days, then I didn't cry for 3 days in a row and thinking it was "over". Boy was I wrong. Emotion would come at any time, randomly. ...In the grocery store, in the middle of the night... I finally just gave myself a break and let it come and go.
-- I screamed at the top of my lungs in the car a time or two where no one could hear me just to get a sense of release because the emotions inside me were just too much. It helped.
-- I kept forgetting he was really gone. It would hit me all over again. I'd think, I'll have to show that photo to Justin.....oh yeah, he's gone. He's really gone.
-- I'd never experienced the level of sadness where it literally felt like someone was squeezing my throat. I guess it's the true sensation of being "choked up". I always thought it was just an expression...now I get it. When it would come over me, my throat would feel like it was closing to the point I could literally hear it squeak. It's the strangest sensation and it still happens from time to time.
-- The stages of grief were not linear for me. They skipped around randomly.
-- I got frustrated at times because I wanted to move on faster. I had things to do. The minute I thought I was on the other side of it, it would hit me again...and again. I listened to books like Option B. It helped some, but I finally had to come to terms with the fact I couldn't white knuckle my way through this one. Grief takes time.
-- I felt him with me at times and didn't fight that. I had to make all of the end of life decisions and plans, which was really tough on me. I know at times he was guiding me and helping me know what to do.....through music, a way in which he'd know I'd know it was him. I found so much comfort in that.
-- I accepted help. I'm one who usually doesn't feel comfortable accepting help from others. I knew better because I knew I needed it. This is something I couldn't do alone. I've never felt more supported and the generosity that surrounded me during this time has been astonishing. I may have lost a big brother, but I gained a big sister. One of Justin's first friends has helped me more than she'll ever know. Thank you Susan for literally holding my hand through this. (Susan wrote a beautiful tribute to Justin here if you'd like to read it.)
-- I learned that unless you've truly experienced grief, you cannot truly understand it....and that's okay. I'm grateful I went 45 years without ever knowing it. I felt guilty for times in the past for thinking others who'd lost someone weren't getting over it fast enough. I'll never think that again. I'll be supportive instead.
-- I had no idea just how draining emotional fatigue could be.
-- I understand now that grief isn't something you get over. It becomes a part of you, you absorb it and the pain fades over time. I don't feel like I'll ever be the same as I was before the news. Not good, not bad, just changed.
-- I feel like I can support others so much better now that experience loss. I couldn't do that before. I thought I could, but now I know I couldn't. ....and that's okay.
So what now?
I keep going. I keep working. I keep moving forward. I stay true to my heart. I keep trying to be an inspiration to you. I appreciate that intense feeling of loss...because that means I felt love. I keep loving.
Loss and grief are a normal part of life. We are wired for it, but it doesn't make it easy. I let it take its course but I won't let it define me. Even throughout the grief, I knew I'd come out the other side just fine ...a little bit stronger than before. I knew acceptance would arrive in its own time. I have a life I'm so grateful for and I plan to live it to the fullest.
This process made me more honest. Some really good things happened because of it. It brought people together that would have never been brought together otherwise. It opened old connections. I had a conversation with my mom that took 45 years to have...it took all my courage and Justin would be so happy we finally had it. That conversation was one he never got to have, so I had to do it for the both of us. I did it for me....but I also did it for him. I used to be really good at hiding the pain of growing up with an alcoholic father and pretending I was just fine. I'm ready to be more honest about it because it's made me who I am today. I know it's given me a silent strength that I wouldn't have otherwise. It's absolutely exhausting to carry a heavy secret like that as a child and to have to experience grown up problems when you're still just a child. I'm so grateful Justin and I got to talk about some of those times and truly understand one another before he was gone....that bonded us like never before and I'm so thankful for that.
I feel grateful I got to have had Justin as my big brother. He was protective of me. He was my safe place when I was young. He taught me about good music at a young age. He saw the good in everyone. He was a feeler. He was a leader. People were drawn to him. His smile was contagious. He was an innate talent. He was a great writer. He was a mentor to many in the art world. He was a giver. He told those he loved that he loved them. He had a way about him that made each person in his life feel like they were the most special person to him. He loved teaching troubled kids about art. He traveled. He lived his life. He left a legacy that will be remembered. He was loved by a lot of people, far and wide.
Below is the video I made for his Memorial in Malibu...it was a beautiful day. This is for you Justin. I love you. You are missed.
Everyone who attended Justin's memorial got to choose one of his paintbrushes to take home. These are the ones that are displayed in vases in my home now...I'll cherish them always.
Thanks for reading. xo