Grief can you hit like a ton of bricks when you least expect it, right? For me, it took years and then BAM one day I decided that I was also mourning my brother. My brother Christopher died 2 months before I was born. I was a child of grief as I told myself over and over. That means, I was being raised by a parent who was grieving.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know know how she even managed to raise me after her 4 1⁄2 year old son died just two months before my birth after many open heart surgeries, and health scares. Nonetheless, I was raised in the shadow of grief. I was always worried and upset that my mom was sad when she would be thinking of my brother, I took on her grief as my own, not because she made me feel like I had to, but I had developed a huge sense of empathy and compassion at a young age. I also have another older brother, Nicholas, who was 2 1⁄2 when Christopher died, so he and my mom had moments of sadness and laughter as they remembered Chris. I often felt misplaced in my grief. Naturally, I would go with my mom to support groups and one day, I had that BAM moment.
My friends had brothers graduating from high school that year. Brothers that were the same age as my brother, only I realized for the very first time, that I too was experiencing grief. I realized all of this especially on that spring day when I drove up to his grave by myself and sat with him. I realized that physically that was the closest that I would get to him. It gave me peace knowing I was physically close, but obviously not in the way I would have liked. Through the years, I have processed more and more of this loss. I have talked to my mom and brother, begging for memories and asking for her to tell me the story over and over about when he told the nurse he was having a baby sister even though my mom didn’t know at that time what the gender was. Those memories gave peace, that just because I didn’t “know” him, doesn’t mean he didn’t know me and celebrate me as his sibling in his lifetime as I have done for him in my lifetime.
All of those memories, thoughts and times I have processed this over and over through the years have become a substantial learning experience for me in my adulthood. I now process very similar thoughts as I do with Chris. As I have been married for over 11 years, I have had the chance and beautiful opportunity to be pregnant with two babies. Unfortunately those babies didn’t make it through my pregnancies, it is a similar feeling to the grief I have experienced over the years with my brother. The feelings of loss don’t go away, the feelings of wonder never leave either. Those holidays, milestones, days of celebrations... those don’t go away either. One thing that does remain is a deep love for humans that I never fully got to meet, touch, know, but just because I didn’t have those moments with any of them, doesn’t mean that my love is any less for them as the others I love that are physically here with me.
One of the things my mom has always said that always sticks out to me, is that we can never let Chris’s death be in vain. All those hard moments that happened and still happen in our hearts, are not wasted, because I have learned that empathy and compassion that I spoke about above from my mom the most. That through our pains and hurts, we can use that. The tools we have learned over the years, the prayers we have prayed, the hugs we have received, we can offer that to others now, for our grief and loss is not in vain, but to offer it to others to give them hope of healing, that they can also process their different types of grief as they need to, because there is no right way and wrong way to grieve, and just because there may be moments where you feel others may have it worse, or their grief may be worse, the most important thing you can do is to process your own hurts and grief, hold tight to those thoughts and create a new memory, even if you didn’t know them.
Written by Shannon Bickford. Shannon lives with her husband in Washington. She is a part of our Daniel's Heart board and wanted to be a part of our non profit to honor other families who, like herself, know long suffering and desires to bring relief to families walking through crisis.
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