This Is What Happens When You Don’t Let Yourself Grieve
My brother was loved. For his uncanny charm and effortless ability to be funny. For his achievements in sports and the medals that still adorn one of the walls in our house. For his obsession with pop culture. For his mischievous, dimpled smile with gleaming white teeth against his dusky complexion. His smile was contagious.
Some said he was proud and cocky; some said he was strange and immature. But to my mother, he was the world. The apple of her eye. So the night he unexpectedly and unnaturally passed away, she let out a loud scream at the hospital and grieved. He was 14 then, and I was 16.
“That night, my experience of grief was sudden and complete,” Mom would often tell me years later. Because the kind of grief she felt that night, she never felt after.
The suffering, the helplessness, and the frustration came and left—but it never consumed her. She believed something helped her feel her grief entirely that night. The experience was complete. And then she felt peace. So every time she felt that feeling stir again, it did not kill her on the inside. She felt it but was not consumed by it.
But the opposite of that happened to me.
I had not felt my grief completely that night. Sibling losses change a person in many ways, and I found it hard to find meaning in the loss and its acceptance. Even after years, the feeling kept returning to me, but I tried to brush it off like shoving dirt under a carpet.
What happens when you keep shoving dirt under the carpet instead of removing the carpet and cleaning it? The dirt accumulates, and years later, you have a pile of mess. You’ve ruined both the carpet and the flooring. And you have no choice but to clean the mess you’ve made. Perhaps even spend a little extra energy to do so.
This is what happens when you don’t address or confront an issue and keep ignoring it. And that applies to anything in life.
Almost seven years after my brother’s passing, my mother and I were having a conversation about him one night. It was deep. And sometime during it, she said something along the lines of, “Forgive him and grieve fully. If you don’t do that, he can’t be happy and at peace where he is.”
This stuck with me. I wanted him to be happy and at peace, and I did not want to be the one who thwarted that. That’s when I decided it was time to stop shoving the dirt under the carpet and start cleaning the mess. And boy, it was hard. Much harder because I had been avoiding it for a long time.
I cried like a kid. I covered my face with my hand. And I sobbed. All the while, I felt a wave of love and compassion for my brother. I felt sorry for him. I wished he were alive. And I cried some more. I realized I had never grieved his loss before. I had cried, felt bad, but never really grieved or forgiven him. And when I finally did, it was a liberating experience.
After that day, I grieved my brother’s loss often. I felt the love and compassion. I felt sorry for him. I wished he were alive. And I also realized how I did not feel those vivid emotions for years.
It took me seven years to grieve my brother’s loss.
It was also a reminder that some people have ideas and ambitions but don’t live long enough to realize them. At least I’ve been given the gift of life—it could work itself out. Being alive is a miracle in itself.
Death is certain, and maybe it’s more efficient than life itself. But we wouldn’t be given this life if we weren’t meant to live it. And even then, maybe we don’t understand how unpredictable and precious this life is and must never be taken for granted.