The broken pieces of my heart came out with my tears at the thought of you… Bonnie Hutchins
This article was inspired by my daughter Bonnie, whose idea was for me to write about sibling complaints. Instead, I decided to interview her and here I share her candid and inspiring answers about what it means for her to lose a sibling. She describes herself as one of the forgotten bereaved.
Bonnie, can you briefly tell me about the circumstances surrounding the loss of your brother?
I received a phone call early one Saturday morning telling me that Stuart had been in a car accident. My first reaction was to worry, but I remember thinking, “Worst case scenario, he’ll have broken his leg.”
I met my family at the hospital and saw Stuart, I knew at that moment that he was going to die. Since then I have focused all my energy on taking care of Stuart and doing what is best for him. 5 days later we turned off his life support.
How did that loss impact your life?
It changed a lot in my way of seeing things. I found it much more difficult to be empathetic or understanding about what felt like trivial concerns. Compared to the loss of Stuart, everyone else’s problems seemed trivial. Over time, I have become more understanding of grievance, people’s own grief at loss, and how I deal with certain issues. Before Stuart died, I didn’t have confidence in my abilities to be a strong and confident person. Losing him made me realize that if I can deal with it, I can deal with anything.
What was most helpful or comforting to you during that initial time of grievance?
For me, I focused on other things. I had a young daughter who really struggled to deal with my complaint. Instead, I found that life moved on without really allowing me to grieve. I found that practical things helped the most. I saved and posted many photos of him talking to friends and even ordered his medical records to be reviewed. This wouldn’t help everyone, but it helped me know that my decision to fight to get Stuart’s life support turned off was the right one. Was. Even now, 4 years later, I know deep down that my grief was not the most productive and I often feel the need to cry. The time will come, because now I feel happy to have grieved as I could, and the best I could at that time.
What did you find the least helpful or caused you the most concern or distress?
After a while, certain things increased my sadness. Milestones, watching other little siblings grow up, and even simple TV shows I didn’t get to watch. They are all things that I have learned to adapt to. A lot of my grieving is in private, so at times I felt bombarded with everything. People asking how I was? Or actually completely forgetting about it and just asking how mom and dad were doing. As a brother, sometimes you forget about everything.
Was there any aspect of the duel that you found particularly difficult?
I was very guilty. As a brother, very often love is not expressed. I felt tremendously guilty for how I had treated my little brother. I made fun of him growing up and felt very guilty about it. Also guilty that I didn’t call him enough, see him enough, or support him enough. All of which I now see as completely normal. When a brother dies, you automatically feel that he didn’t see him enough, that you didn’t talk to him enough, or maybe you treated him badly. You didn’t. You just had a normal sibling relationship, only now, you’ve been cursed in retrospect. That’s another reason why I tell my loved ones that I love them almost every time I think about it. I don’t want to get that “should have” feeling again.
Mourning is acceptance. A lot of it is accepting the sibling relationship you had for what it was and knowing that you loved them and, even if it wasn’t said, they loved you back. Once I really accepted that our relationship was what it was and we did the best we could at the time, and once I accepted that Stuart knew I loved him (something I feel like all brothers know), I was on my way to being content again.
Do you feel that the loss of your brother has changed you or how you see life, if so in what way?
Yes a lot like that. I view the loss of my brother and the grief that accompanies it as a kind of disease, like diabetes. It can be treated, but it is not curable. Grief and loss are always with you, but you find ways to “deal” with it. Losing my brother is a big part of who I am and how I got to where I am. I love the people I love more, and I make sure to tell them more. I appreciate the simple joys in life, whereas before he died, I know he took them for granted. Now I have a deep understanding of my own strength and the strength of our family. Going through the loss of someone so special changes you, and for a family to overcome and survive the loss, makes them closer. He did it for us anyway.
What do you think has helped you the most in your overall complaint?
Support and understanding: I remember feeling sorry for my friends and family because they just had no idea how to help or what to say. Then there were the people who didn’t say anything. If I cried, they just hugged me. If I needed to talk, they just listened. A grieving person doesn’t need much, just to know that they are not alone. I got a lot out of it and it helped me the most.
I also found my own way to honor him. I got his name tattooed on my wrist, I have a special Christmas ornament to wear every year, so he’s with us. And I make sure my daughters get to know him and recognize his continued importance in my life and theirs.
What would you say to another person dealing with the loss of a brother or sister?
Hurt as you can. If you don’t feel ready to cry but want to scream, that’s okay.
Talk to your other brother if you have one. They understand.
Don’t be forgotten. If you need help or need a hug, you still have your parents and you are still their child. Tell them.
Do special things. Write down your favorite memories. Post photos. Plant a tree. Get a memorial tattoo. Anything that makes you feel like they’re close to you…they are.