At just ten years old, Anna’s world was turned upside down by the sudden death of her older brother, Benny. She shares how she coped after experiencing a close bereavement at such a young age and how losing her brother has impacted her life.
When Anna was ten years old, her family were out one day, and Benny stayed at home alone for a few hours. During this time, Benny had a tragic accident and was found dead by a family friend. He was just twelve years old.
Anna has many happy early childhood memories of playing with Benny, who was two years older than her, and her other three brothers. She remembers, “Benny and I spent a lot of time playing together. We’d imagine we were pirates in our den in the living room or play football together in our local park. We argued too, of course, usually over silly things like who had been given the biggest portion of pudding.”
Like most ten-year-olds, Anna had never thought about grief before, but found her view of the world changed at that moment. “It was a complete shock. I’ll never forget the sickening, numb confusion that I felt when I first found out. It honestly felt like my whole reality had been pulled from underneath me. It was a tragic, seemingly random event that changed everything.” she remembers.
In the early days after Benny’s death, relatives and friends rallied around: visiting, helping with the shopping and cooking, or simply sitting with Anna and her family. Anna feels lucky that she felt so surrounded by love at that time but recognises that grief can be very isolating for many people. She also credits her friends with providing some much-needed normality and fun. “There are a few friends, in particular, whom I spent a lot of time with, not necessarily talking about the loss, but doing ‘normal’ fun things that offered some light relief and reminded me that things could be good again”.
In the year after Benny died, Anna and her family visited a family therapist who helped them open up and communicate with each other. However, it was when Anna saw a counsellor almost ten years later that she feels she started to process Benny’s death. She says, “This support was invaluable and really helped me understand how the death has impacted my life, and how to move forward in a healthier, happier way. Things have been better since I learnt to let myself feel, rather than blocking out difficult thoughts and feelings. I’ve become much kinder to myself.”
Anna has also found that writing can be therapeutic, whether scribbling incoherent sentences in a journal, writing poems and stories, or writing letters to the dead. “It often makes me cry, but in a good way. It really helps unjumble my thoughts and let go of painful emotions. It can make me feel more connected to my brother, too, like he is still alive in some way.” she explains.
Sibling loss can often affect the relationship between the surviving child and their parents. At such a young age, Anna had only ever seen her parents as a source of safety and love. She found it painful to realise how much they were hurting and scary that this was a situation that even they couldn’t fix. Her parents were able to continue showing love to Anna and her other brothers, despite their grief, but she remembers feeling that there was no space for her to be a child any more, with a normal child’s wants and needs. From her 10-year old’s perspective, Anna didn’t want to be a burden when her parents were already dealing with so much, and she felt a responsibility to grow up quickly to make things easier for them.
Anna remembers feeling like she had to be a ‘good’ child, which has had repercussions throughout her life. “I pushed my struggles to one side, which in the long run has been exhausting and lonely.” she reflects. “It’s no ones’ fault; we were just doing what we could to get through. Despite these challenges, I’m grateful that our relationship has always been grounded in love and that we found a new sort of closeness as we fumbled our way through our loss – a closeness that becomes more and more precious as time goes on.”
It’s normal for grief to change as time passes, and we find new ways of coping with feelings and remembering our lost loved ones. Anna feels a sense of peace and acceptance about the loss of her brother but admits that she still does have bad days, where she goes right back to that raw grief, missing her brother and mourning the loss of a care-free life. She has found ways to manage these waves of grief and says, “I always come out the other side. I wish my brother hadn’t have died, but it taught me a lot about who I am, and has shown me how precious life is.”
Anna credits her friends, family and professionals for supporting her through her grief journey. She recognises that having an outlet to express her grief, and accepting love and support from the people around her have been crucial to her healing.
“It’s been tough, and it’s not a journey I would have ever chosen, but I’m making the most of it and re-discovering just how beautiful life can be, regardless of the challenges it throws at us.”
Anna is a writer who has set up an organisation to support bereaved university students, the Student Grief Network, where she provides online resources and staff training. To see more of her work, you can find her blog here.
Image – Anna with her brother Benny and family. © Private