Processing The Loss of My Brother
Sibling loss is so often overlooked. We all can try to feel sympathy for the loss of a grandparent, the loss of a child, the loss of a parent, the loss of a pet, or the loss of a friend. But, when you’re the surviving sibling of one who was lost, more often than not, nobody really knows what to say to you. When somebody loses a sibling, what you don’t see is the years of happiness, friendship, and love. You may have known one of the two, the lost or the surviving, but chances are, you didn’t know both.
Not that you have to know somebody to feel the effects of their absence, but it may change how you process it and if you carry it as your loss, or just a loss you’re sympathetic over.
When I lost my brother, Colby, I felt like I didn’t have anybody to talk to. I didn’t want to talk to my family about it, because they were going through enough. I didn’t want to talk to my friends about it, because I didn’t want to be a burden. I didn’t want to talk to the people in my IG dm’s about it, because I didn’t know them, or they were performative friends. I did talk to my boyfriend, Alex, about it a lot, but he didn’t know my brother super well. So he could listen, and listen he did, but I don’t want to force him to carry everything for me.
I know this is usually where therapy is suggested and trust me, I’m doing that too. But this is going to be the story of my initial thoughts and feelings, my processing, my self-work, therapy, and where I’m at now.
The night my brother passed was October 23rd, 2021. It was between 11pm the 22nd and midnight-1am the 23rd. It was 2 minutes from my parents house where he was living. He was 17. I had been at a party the night of the 22nd. I had been drinking, and I fell asleep quickly after getting home, while my boyfriend fell asleep on the couch by accident. At about 3am on the 23rd, my boyfriend walked upstairs and woke me up. He told me by parents had been calling and texting him asking him to get me to answer my phone.
I got up, head spinning, and called my mom. I expected to hear something upsetting, like a grandparent had passed or one of my parents pets had passed, or that somebody had gotten hurt. She immediately answered and said, “facetime me.” I asked why and she told me to just do it, so I did. I could tell something was very, very wrong when she picked up and both her and my dad were in front of the camera looking at me. It was dark in our apartment, so they couldn’t see me.
I remember the exact words I heard soon after they picked up, my dad said, “something really really bad happened.” He then said, “Colby was in an accident.” What I expected after hearing this was something like, you need to come home because he’s in the hospital and could use your support, or something like that. However, what I was told was, “He didn’t make it. He’s gone, baby.”
I don’t think the memory of hearing my dad’s voice saying these words will ever leave my mind. I still get emotional thinking about how they both started crying after he told me, and how his voice cracked as he said it.
All I had to say was, “What?”
They asked me to figure out how to get home the next morning. I don’t remember a lot from this point on that night, but I just remember saying okay quite a few times, and my boyfriend stopping in his tracks while going to go into his bathroom.
When I got off the phone, I just sat there and stared at the wall. My boyfriend came and hugged me. I remember tossing and turning, not getting much sleep. The next morning, I woke up and told my best friend, Kayci. I had been at Kayci’s party the night before, and she ran right over to our apartment. I met her outside and hugged her, that’s the first time I shed any tears. Kayci, Alex, and I took a walk and sat on some chairs on a large area of the sidewalk near our place. I felt bad, because after getting out a few tears, I was being made to smile and laugh by two of my favorite people. I felt like I wasn’t allowed to smile or laugh at that time, even though I know they were just trying to make me feel better.
Alex was able to get ahold of his mom, who was camping and was completely shocked to learn the news. She was then able to get Alex’s dad to come pick us up within a few hours. We took the 3 hour drive to my parents house, I barely spoke during the ride there.
Pulling into my parents driveway, I started to go numb. I saw my parents come out of the front door. I got out of the car, which had felt like my safe zone, and hugged my mom. Both of my parents were extremely emotional, while I was completely stoic. My mom said, “when you got your tattoo (a tattoo of my 3 brothers birth flowers), it felt like he wouldn’t be here either.”
I’m not going to lie, her saying that felt like a huge slap in the face. It felt like she blamed me for his death, because I got a tattoo for my two brothers who passed at birth and included Colby in it too.
I’ll save you some of my story, as it’s a very very long one, but that night I went inside to 30+ people inside my childhood home. People I didn’t know, people I knew, family, Colby’s friends, neighbors, etc. I was so uncomfortable. I am not a hugger, in fact, I’m not a fan of being touched unless asked or having previous knowledge of me being okay with you doing so. That night, I got hugs from people who I didn’t even know, and I was tense the entire time. To get away and begin to process, I took my dog on a walk with Alex, and Colby’s best friend TJ. We talked about Colby’s girlfriend, Kiera, who I had yet to meet. We talked about what actually happened, because to be honest, I hadn’t been provided much information up until that point.
I learned few things that night, but I did learn that my brother had hit a tree, minutes from home. That a man came out of his nearby house and, while on the phone with 911, and tried to put out the fire with a fire extinguisher. I learned that his car had caught fire, and that a neighbor girl had come up behind him and called 911. I learned that my parents had seen a Facebook post regarding a similar car, but not the right type, having been in an accident. I learned that they then were taken aback by the Facebook page changing their story and announcing it as the exact type of car my brother had. I learned that my parents drove over to the road and first responders wouldn’t let them in. I learned that they went home, and a police officer was in their yard upon arriving. He gave them the news, and helped them get a local priest to the house to console them. I learned that night that my brother was unrecognizable, and would legally have to be identified via dental records.
The next few weeks are a blur. I did as much as I could around the house, I gave as much attention to my parents feelings as I could. I was called out for not being emotional multiple times, to which I did not know how to reply. Of course I was sad, but I was very much in shock.
When we finally had a memorial, it was at the church I grew up going to. Not only was this day very hard, but being in that place was hard too. My family, including extended family, stayed up front. They accepted hugs, cards, gifts and words from the long line of people who came to support us. I ran around, trying to find things I could fix or make sure were working or going the right way. I did not want to be spoken to, hugged, or even really seen.
The only time I paused was when Colby’s schools support dog showed up in line. I spent probably half an hour with this lab or retriever type dog. This is the only moment in which I felt safe.
I didn’t cry during the memorial. I felt like a bad sister, or just a bad person.
In fact, I didn’t cry again for weeks. I had cried a small bit the morning after, and a little one evening in my childhood room with my boyfriend. But, besides those first few teary moments, I was really hit by a wave of pure shock, I couldn’t feel anything but shock.
I haven’t processed emotions the same since, actually. I was a very unapologetic child, not showing much emotion for fear of looking weak. In college, I realized I was allowed to be emotional, and I was VERY emotional. I became a poet and a certified lover girl, allowing myself to learn a new side of me, allowing tears to flow anytime and anywhere. I learned so, so much about myself during this period of my life. I allowed myself to feel like never before, and I loved my ability to feel and understand and cry. And then I got shoved back into my unemotional box, and I still haven’t found my way out. I want to be that creative, fun, emotional person again. Really, really badly.
Alex, Indy and I stayed with my family for a few weeks. I was off work the whole time, Alex for the first week. We decided it was time to go home and it was hard, but it was best for me.
Once we arrived back in New York, I started therapy. I looked for help inward and outward, I spoke fondly of my memories with my brother, and I have yet to stop. It feels good to remember the positive, happy times, he wouldn’t want me to be sulking for the rest of my time on earth, but he would want to be remembered for who he was, and he was good.
I think sibling loss is extremely overlooked. People showered my parents with love and help, friends and adults alike opened their homes to his friends, his school held memorials and opened therapy sessions for those effected. Me, I had to find my own space for healing. And I definitely didn’t start healing for months because of this. Luckily, I did find some sibling loss spaces, but making the time for them has been hard. I think just keeping him in my mind and heart, and speaking about the good times with him has helped me the most.
It’s been a year and a half at this point. I miss you, Colby. I’m far from being okay again, but I’m doing so much better than I was. I just hope my family knows that I miss him, and that I do feel very very hard, I’m just not currently capable of showing it, but I’m getting my emotion-filled side back, slowly.