Let's talk some truth, some difficult truth. Let's talk about something real, about life.
This past year has been a challenging one for me. I lost my grandmother and my dog, Milou, last year, my dad this January and then my brother in August. What shocked me the most was losing my brother, he was only almost 41 and left behind two little children. The news kicked me in the gut and I couldn't breathe. I still remember when I got the phone call from my oldest brother and I knew immediately something was wrong because he was stammering, and he never stammers. When he said those words, everything in my body reacted, I felt like throwing up my insides and I kept screaming "no" to my brother. I wanted more details right away but I couldn't get any until hours later. My head reeled for hours and then the details came. My brother had died in a horrible car accident.
I hunkered down at home and for hours, stayed on the couch unable to think of anything else. I had trouble sleeping and was waiting for more details each night from Indonesia, where the time difference made it so it was daytime there when it was night time here. And yet something in my brain then took over and said: "it's OK, you've done this before, mourn, grieve, you can do it again..." For a couple days my reactions was: "NO! No, I didn't want to do it again. I can't. I really can't."
I can't do it again. Not this time, not for my brother who was in great health and my first best friend.
We grew up together, the last time I remembered arguing with him was when I was 6 and he smashed my Lego airplane into the ground because he said my plane had a crash landing. I tackled him and made him rebuild my plane. We shared a room for years.
He was my hero and I wanted so much to be like him. He taught me how to ride a bike and we had the grandest adventures together, crossing fields of grass taller than we were just to get his favorite bubblegum. He was all I had and the only person I played with. He told me he was so happy when I was born, he finally had a playmate. We had four other siblings, but our love connected us so tightly to each other. There are so many photos of him hugging me as a baby or kissing my feet. He loved to kiss my feet he said, I can still hear his voice saying that to me with a smile.
Our mother dressed us as twins because we were so close. In high school, he told his guy friends that I was off limits, and we swam and played badminton together every day. When he left for America for college, he said: "Remember Fievel and his sister? When you miss me, just look up at the moon, because I'll be looking up too and we will be looking up at the same moon." American Tale was one of our favorite movies. I cried for days when he left.
We called each other, sent each other letters and faxed each other. When he met his first girlfriend in America, he called me and excitedly said: "I can't wait for you to meet her, you're going to like her sis, she's so like you." I remember nights while we were both in college, both finally in America, I was too tired to stay up to study like he did, so I would fall asleep in his bed in his bedroom and the next morning, I would wake up to him asleep next to me. We read Calvin and Hobbes together, he said I was as delinquent as Calvin and he would be like my Hobbes and pounce on me every time I walked in the front door. And together we would toboggan and go on adventures.
"I met the one sis, I can't wait for you to meet her, you are going to love her," he says again excitedly, when he met the woman that was to be his wife. As adults, we would send messages to each other all the time, him sending me photos of his kids, me sending him photos of my dogs. When our father passed away this year, he said "it's just you and me now, sis." He was the only one who called me sis, or Carol. I would hate to be called Carol by anyone else. Every time I went home this year, I brought him home and made banana bread. He loved my banana bread, ever since I was old enough to bake them. No one else could have them, just him.
This brother of mine, he was my rock and my amazing guy.
The days following his death were intense. I went to his favorite beach, his favorite banana cream pie in hand and a stuffed Tigger doll (his self chosen spirit animal). I buried the stuffed Tigger in the sand as I said goodbye to my Tigger, hot tears fiercely streaming down my face. His co-workers and friends, old and new, messaged me. They asked me how I was doing, they were concerned because they knew of our bond. They wanted to know when they could see me. People I never met came out of the woodwork. "You are Olin, he always talked about you. He would never share his banana bread and he always showed it off in the office," his boss told me. "Please come by the office when you are next in town, we want to meet Budi's Olin." This brother of mine, this love.
So what do I do when I lose the second most important man in my life after my father, who is the most important man and just left? I mourned, and I mourned deeply.
"But I knew I had to release him, with all my love, and my heart, because my brother was nothing else to me but love. I knew that any sense of sadness and regret would mar the sunshine he was for my life."
For 100 days I didn't attend personal social events. For 100 days I did not wear bright colors. For 100 days I did not cut my hair. For 100 days I closed my apartment down to friends and observed my traditional mourning. We do this to remember, to have time to grieve, to focus on our loss and our departed loved ones, to respect them and to grow. I sent messages to his phone and wrote on his Facebook wall. And through this mourning I learned so much, about love, about life, about priorities, about loss, about relationships, about strength, about my brother and about myself.
"There is no magical anecdote for me to share, no wise message. I learned to lean into the discomfort of grief and to let my body and soul accept it."
I learned the anger that I had when I initially found out about his death seeped away quickly. I learned that sometimes, it still feels surreal and that it just can't be true that he is gone. And then reality sinks in when I can't pick up my phone to call or text him. I learned that my heart was capable of hurting even much more than I thought it could after all the previous losses of the year. I learned to grief. And ultimately, I learned to live with and embrace grief. I learned grief was okay and a natural process. I learned that people were afraid of grief. I learned it was okay to not be okay. And I learned it was okay on some days to be filled with such happiness and gratitude for what life and the universe has given me. You see, there is something beautifully peculiar about this whole thing they called mourning, it's a process, it's a living breathing thing, and while it sits in your deepest bones and it's in every breath you take, it's not constantly dark. It grows, it changes, it evolves, and sometimes it even strikes back with a vengeance. There are days that I was absolutely happy. There are days that I swing back and forth from laughter to tears. There are days that memories of my brother fill me with so much happiness and laughter. Yes, there are times when almost instantly, the intense feeling of missing him makes me break down and cry, but the tears stop when I remember how happy we were, how happy he made me and how much he would want me to be happy instead. If there is one thing I would want my friends to know about this process is this: I am okay, it's okay to hurt, it's okay to talk to me about my brother and there are days it's okay. You see, mourning is okay. Pain is okay. Grief is okay. Loss is okay. Death is okay. I am okay.
The truth is, I am so lucky to have had such an amazing brother and relationship. I am lucky to still be alive. To be able to live, to breathe, to sigh and laugh. I am lucky to have a job that I am passionate about and can help me through my mourning. I am lucky for a job that reminds me to feel lucky and forces me to find the beauty in life. I am lucky to have friends that love me and care about me. I am lucky to have people in my life that surrounded me in love. I am lucky to have had such an amazing brother that would make me mourn so hard. I am so lucky to have known so much love because he and I loved each other so much, our bond spanned years, countries, and oceans. And this much I know is true, our love will always continue.
"My love for my brother has not stopped, instead it's grown to something deeper and stronger, something that motivates and compels me to be a better person, sister, and daughter. It's a love that has forced me to look at my life in its current state and reexamine my relationships; repair the broken ones. It's a love that has taught me gratitude and compassion."
It's a love that has infused so seamlessly with my ever growing love for my departed father to create a force so strong inside of me that it has forged this burning desire to live my life right, to do the things they would want me to do, to do things for them they couldn't do for themselves and to be the person they would want me to be. My love for my brother and his love for me, has made me into a stronger person, and in truth I have to admit, his death, losing him, has made me into this person. I no longer had any excuse to not be the best person I could try to be. I had to push and fight back as hard as I can to live the life my brother and father would be proud of. I was wrong when I said I didn't have the strength to go through the loss, I didn't realize what great strength the loss would give me.
Sunday marked the 100th day after his passing. On this day, traditionally, we go out of official intense mourning and start our social life again, start wearing colors, and I can finally get a haircut! I woke up on Sunday knowing it's the big day. While I know I would never stop mourning for him, this was the day I start to positively heal and believe it or not, I woke up lighter. My family back home had a memorial for him that I was unable to attend. I wanted to do something for my most special brother and a special and wise friend, Kristi, had told me of a special Native American ritual or burning sage and something special or a letter and setting it out to float. She says the smoke would carry the message to the heavens and it sounded perfect to me, Indonesians believe in the same power of smoke. She says to walk away as it burns and floats away as a sign of respect. This sounded like the perfect way to end my 100 days of mourning, say goodbye to my mourning and say hello to the new version of my brother I had in my heart. The one filled with love and not sadness, the one I will always miss because he makes me laugh with that twinkle in his eye and the one that will stand by my father and hold my hand through my hardest moments.
So a best friend and I head to the river. I had a lump in my throat and my heart was beating wildly, afraid of the emotions I was going to feel but determined that this was what I had to do. So I marched on, with a handful of sage and a card I had written while big fat tears rolled down my cheeks. We pick up branches, we tie them together with dried grass. I told all the gods in the heavens how much I love and miss my brother. I whispered to my brother how much I missed him. I know he knows. We put the card on the branches, a family photo from so long ago, the sage on top and we lit it, a slow but sure fire. We set it down on the water and pushed it off. I cried and hung my head as my friend squeezed my hand. I said I wanted my brother back and my friend hugged me. I watched for a minute and then turned around, my back to the little floating raft of love we had built. And then just like Kristi had said, we walk away and I said goodbye. Goodbye mourning.
Hello dear brother, I will always love you, and on this day we live anew together, with you inside of me. Tonight, I will look up at the moon and know you're looking at it too.
Mourning is hard but beautiful and I learned so much. Yes it is sad, but I am not sad, and that's the biggest distinction I've learned. Thank you for letting me pour my heart out and reading this. Thank you for allowing me to talk about grieving and for being real for a minute. And most of all, thank you for supporting me through my journey of mourning.
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at email@example.com.