October 12, 2021
Following my mom’s death in 2012, my already tiny family was one person smaller. Left to manage her affairs, my brother and I were my mom’s sole surviving children. Years prior to her death, my parents had divorced, resulting in our family becoming two teams of three versus four. So the loss felt more crushing and overwhelming.
My brother and I’d always enjoyed a wonderful relationship and frankly, I couldn’t have hoped for a better person to sort through my mom’s affairs than him. For all intents and purposes, we appeared to be on the same page about all aspects surrounding our loss.
However, shortly after our mom’s death, I realized that my brother and I expressed our grief in incredibly distinct ways. Mine manifested in the form of tears, and I was quickly deemed ‘the emotionally expressive one’ who readily invited conversations about my mom in any given moment. My brother’s grief, on the other hand, presented itself in a much more reserved way. Further, he preferred to limit conversations about our mom. And it was this distinction that created quite a bit of tension in our relationship for many months that followed.
At the time of our mom’s death, I was already a licensed psychologist, definitely aware of differential responses to the grief process. Nevertheless, my book knowledge didn’t make any difference as I navigated grief within my own family. Bottom line … what I wanted and needed after my mom‘s death was for my brother to grieve like I grieved, crocodile tears and all.
I needed to speak her name. I needed to talk about what had transpired in the months leading up to her death. In the most visceral way, I desperately wanted to share memories and talk about our family’s unrealized dreams. My brother, however, needed to keep those same things locked safe within him.
Shortly after her death, my brother and I worked to separate my mom’s belongings and make decisions about what we would keep or donate to her church. It wasn’t simple by any means; however, I viewed it as an opportunity to not only sift through her belongings, but also discuss the impact of the belongings on her life, my brother’s life, and mine. I remember sifting through my mom’s pantry, encountering her beloved CorningWare vintage dish sets. Instantly, they sparked memories of our childhood, namely wonderful meals shared over the years. So with the dishes in hand, I began to tell a story about one experience during the holidays.
With a sharp look and even sharper tongue, my brother shushed me, silencing me in mid-sentence and leaving me feeling puzzled. Because I’m not one to easily resign myself in the midst of conflict, I pressed him.
Unfortunately, this was the worst thing I could’ve done in that moment. My brother, typically reserved and calm, instantly raised his voice. I began to cry and subsequently yell about his lack of emotion associated with our mom’s death. While I can’t recall exactly what was said, I know that I shared some harsh words and questioned his affection towards our mom. It’s a statement I immediately regretted, resulting in multiple apologies over the course of the next two years. Thankfully, he forgave me.
What I’ve learned throughout the grief journey is that we may grieve differently than those around us, and that’s OK. What’s important for me as I grieve may be equally important to another person grieving the same death. At the same time, the manifestation of that grief may be completely different, as was the case with me and my brother.
Perhaps you’ve experienced the death of a loved one and are desperately needing to connect with others in your family. And perhaps they, like my brother, may not be as open or ready to outwardly express their heartfelt emotions. What do you do?
Remember, grief is an individual and therefore, unique experience. Your grief matters … and so does the other person’s. I’m hopeful that you’ll work to discover how best to support and acknowledge your grief needs, while simultaneously respecting those different from your own.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please share below.
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