Grieving the Loss of a Brother

Dear Dr. Neimeyer,

Is it normal that five months after my brother died I’m still crying every day and everything reminds me of him?

Meika

Dear Meika–

Across the course of a normal lifespan, our siblings will be the longest intimate participants in life stories, sharing our childhood and much of our adult years, typically into old age. Premature loss of a brother or sister denies us this form of special companionship, and its impact on us is too little recognized by the social world. Your question, about whether significantly grieving the loss of a brother is “normal” just 5 months after his death, suggests just how little validation and understanding we often receive for so substantial a loss, to the point that we begin to question our own responses.

Beyond mere reassurance, however, I would hope to offer you some possible pointers in moving forward in your bereavement. One idea is suggested by the very phrasing of your brief question, as you note that “everything reminds me of him.” Can you actively open to, rather than avoid, such reminders, drawing on them to invite in special memories of him for which you feel gratitude, or using them as portals for accessing some of his signature strengths, qualities as a person, or values, in a way that might provide inspiration for you? Can you allow the reminders to connect you to the joy, warmth, or mutuality that you shared with him, rather than only the great sadness of his absence? This is not to propose a simple answer to a disorienting grief, but only to suggest that daily reminders ultimately can be used to connect you to his spirit in ways that are appreciative and sweet, as well as sad. The tears that come with that subtle shift might then become cleansing rather than bitter, and open onto vistas of positive emotion as well as negative.

–Dr. Neimeyer

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