I had not planned on getting involved in the following discussion, however, a conversation was started online a few days ago which I felt inclined to participate in, and since my initial reply was well received, I thought it would be worthwhile floating the information here as well. Some of what I have posted were extremely hard-learned lessons and I hope the information finds its way to those who seek such advice.
The following question was posted on AskReddit:
“My parents just lost their son of 27 years. I am now an only child. Will it ever get easier for them, or will this bear on their soul until the eventual day where I must say goodbye?
“I guess I'm not exactly sure what I'm asking for. Stories, anecdotes, puns, and assholes maybe. I want to be there for my mom and dad but I'm unsure of what may even help. What in this world can help someone overcome the grief of having to lose a child? My life has changed from this moment on. Everything I hope to do from now on is to try and bring my parents the happiness of two sons.”
My reply, which is by no means complete or absolute, follows:
Here is my 2 cents and please forgive me for not sugar coating my reply. When I opened up Reddit today I didn’t plan on writing this.
- Just so that you know where my reply is coming from. I have buried two brothers. One was 26 years old and the other 28. First one we lost when I was in my early 20’s and the second when I was in my mid 30’s. Both of them were completely different experiences. Both of them were devastating.
- The following is the biggest mistake you can make, “Everything I hope to do from now on is to try and bring my parents the happiness of two sons.” If you try and do this you will make everyone miserable.
- Your feelings/emotions will change with time, so embrace each stage completely. Do not try to run away from your responsibilities to your family but make sure that you also show your loved ones that you also share their pain. The worst thing you can do is to allow people to think that they are the only ones that hurt. That being said, no one will feel more pain than your parents, not even you.
- One thing I use to say to people when they asked me what it was like to lose a family member was that, “it’s an experience that you would want your closest friends to know, but you would not wish it upon your worst enemies.” And I really meant this. I have learned to appreciate every moment of life, which is something that I rarely see in others. It took me a long time to get to this state but it is there when you are ready for it.
- Life will always taste a little bitter from now on, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s just another flavour, a flavour which can make you appreciate all the beauty of life.
- No one will understand how you feel. Your relationship with your brother and with your family is unique so don’t expect people to have answers for you.
- Deal with what has happened to the best of your abilities and learn from your mistakes. Don’t expect to be good, right, perfect, etc. all the time … just do the best you can with what you know. Later you may wish you did something differently but always remember that you did the best with what you knew at the time.
- Let loose when you need to, with friends or with strangers, but don’t wallow in your misery for too long. Just long enough to be exhausted. Then begin to build up your life again.
- The best way to remember and live your life as if you have not lost a loved one is to take what they loved and incorporate it into your life. This is super important. If they loved to read, begin to read. If they loved sports, start playing sports. If they loved a certain type of music, start listening to it. Basically begin to incorporate the best of who they were into who you are. Forget about what you disliked about them.
- Don’t forget to cry with joy. There will come a time when you will yearn for the times that you would shed tears for them for hours. Hold on to that feeling and figure out how to tap into it. It will bring you joy in the future.
- Let your parents be as miserable as they want to be, or pretend that everything is okay.
- Your parents, and you, will most likely begin to become partially self-destructive. It’s okay to do this, just make sure you do not let it destroy you or your parents.
- Many families split up after there is a death in the family. If your parents want to divorce, support them. Help them to transition into their new life. Remember, divorce does not mean the end of family.
- As you should be aware by now, nothing material matters, except for those little trinkets that remind you of your brother. Make sure they become part of you.
- You will build amazing friendships over the next few years and lose some close friends. This is a good thing.
- Do not live your life for anyone else other than yourself. This will make your parents happy and will hopefully provide them a good example to follow. Of course they may be doing the same thing for you. This being said, there is nothing more important than family so make sure you are there for them when you are needed.
- It will take a while, years, until you fully digest what has happened. Savour those years.
- As far as I see things, there is no such thing as death.
- I read some of the comments and I think you are doing the right thing. Keep your shit together and make sure everything is taken care of for the next few weeks. It’s important that your parents do not have to worry about technicalities so make sure all phone calls are made and all the paper work is done. You’ll have plenty of time to mourn and reflect… years.
- Try to refrain from making too many permanent decisions for a while.
"The only thing I can add to your advice is to get help. therapy, grief group, some sort of support that is not your immediate family... So the advice I would add is to talk with someone who knows or can understand your pain without personally knowing your loved one. It gives you a freedom to let your pain out so you can heal. Even a group grief session once or twice can help."