A Sibling’s Story – CLAIRE

My brother Benoit died on September 26th, 1985. Tragically, he died by suicide, aged only 17. My brother Francois was 16 and I was 12. His death was totally unexpected, and shattered our family: we had no idea how to deal with the pain of losing him, so we didn’t talk about him or his death.  I wish we had, as grieving together as a family would have made our journey a lot easier… It made for a very lonely experience.

Siblings often suffer differently in that their grief is not always recognised as being as significant as their parent’s grief or if an adult sibling, as significant as the grief the sibling’s immediate family is feeling. Roles changes when your sibling dies. Mine changed in that I felt responsible for my family’s happiness, so I never allowed myself to be comforted by my parents. To this day I find this difficult.  I was instead going to be the one who brings them comfort by smiling, by showing that I was coping, by being “the strong one”, a tough gig as a 12 year old.  That delayed my grief work, and it’s not until I moved to Australia as a young adult that I was able to start dealing with this loss. I attended my first meeting at The Compassionate Friends (TCF) about 8 years after my brother died. This first meeting and the support I found in those who had gone through such a life changing experience helped me tremendously.

I became a volunteer for The Compassionate Friends a couple of years after I first attended the Survivors of Suicide Support Group in Glen Waverley, and then later began running the Siblings Group in Canterbury with the precious help of Andrew McNess. I also completed a bachelor of counselling, hoping to become a grief counsellor: helping others has given some kind of meaning to my loss, and I don’t think I would have chosen this path if I had not known this incredible pain of losing someone so close and so tragically.

My grief journey has not been easy. I have dealt with layers of grief, moments in time over the years where I had to painfully attend to my grief for some reason or another,as I realised I couldn’t avoid grief for ever. I call these layers of grief as it feels that each time I have to address my grief, a different aspect is examined, prodded, ripped into… and peeled off and I think, oh, that’s it, I’ve dealt with it… and then I find I’m confronted with another thing to have to examine and work on peeling off a further layer….

Events usually make you look at grief again. For me these included my move from France to Australia, and realising my brother was even less mentioned here. Being confronted with triggers such as suicide being mentioned, or by other deaths. The birth of my children. Anniversaries.  Other deaths by suicide in my community. Going back to France for visits. My studies in counselling. My work in mental health. My own mental health.

So many triggers to realise I not only had to deal with the grief and the longing for my brother, but also the trauma of his death and his suicide. The grief part I attend to  with tears, alone and also with friend and family’s support;  with the help of the Compassionate Friends, meetings, gatherings, involving myself as a volunteer; by reading and learning about grief and mental health; and also in going to various counsellors at different times. The trauma part, once realising it was contributing to that feeling of not being able to “heal”, had to be explored with longer term counselling, Attending to my trauma with patience and kindness and with tactful professional help has helped me heal, a lot.  It’s not to say the grief is not there, but I am so much more able to deal with it when it surfaces.

I read something about grief recently, that when grief happens it goes to our core, and doesn’t really diminish, but with time, other events, feelings and coping mechanisms grow around it, that makes us grow around it, and so the grief inside seems diminished. But whenever something touches on that vulnerable grief that is at the core, it can make us very quicky dip into it.. That rings true for me.

One of the things I have been “working on” is renewing the continuing bond with my brother Benoit. I connect with him when I miss him, or long for him, so feeling grief has a different meaning to me now. I connect with him in the little things, things I do he would have appreciated, in visits from Praying Mantises, in lighting candles at special times, in speaking about him with my children, in my work in mental health, in acknowledging he is still very much present in my thoughts. In trying to find connections with my brother, I understand a little better the saying that a relationship does not necessarily end with death, but that it is “simply” changed. This is a work in progress…

I hope that you find that whichever manner you manage your grief, the loss of your sibling, that you can find support along the way:  whether it is with people close to you; or by attending support groups face to face or online; or by reaching out to TCF’s grief line; or by seeking professional help; by learning or reading about grief; by exploring spirituality or what gives you meaning; or by helping others even… sometimes some or all of it is required…

We need not walk alone…

14 MAY 2018