Today is my brother’s birthday.
He should be 44 today. We should all be getting together to celebrate with his family and have dinner. We should all be calling him or sending cards and exchanging texts. But we aren’t.
My brother, Michael, died in 1990 at the age of 17 of Viral Cardiomyopathy. It was sudden. No one knew he was sick. Back then, I don’t even know if there was anything we could have done about it if we had known he was sick. We just all woke up one Saturday morning and our world was changed forever.
In the very simplest of terms, Viral Cardiomyopathy is when a virus settles in one’s heart. The heart enlarges and uses up all its beats. That is what they told me at the age of 18 and my sister at the age of 13. Simple was all we needed. They also told us that it was the number one natural killer of youth at the time and that he had apparently had a virus, probably two or so years prior that had not left his body and settled in his heart.
As you can image, dealing with a sudden loss of a sibling is not easy at any age. Everyone deals with loss differently, and there are no wrong answers. But “dealing with” is the operative phrase here. We all have to “deal with” it, but the WHEN can be just as different as the HOW.
For me, “dealing with” grief looked a lot like running away from it. I was a freshman in college and was at home at the time. Our family had bought a house and much of our belongings were packed to move. So within 30 days I was able to run away from the home we had lived in and that he had died in.
It was spring time, so I got myself accepted to Texas Tech and ran across the state to another city. There were only a handful of people from my town in Lubbock, so it was safe, but not filled with people asking how I was doing all the time. I also had an Aunt and Uncle and some really great family friends there, so I wasn’t worried about being ok.
I was able to put off “dealing with” the heartbreak for a while longer. I didn’t see my family very often while I was at Tech so I missed them all equally. The coping mechanism of denial was working best for me. That is what not living in reality really is, right? Denial.
But denial is not a healthy place. And denial is not a place you can stay forever. So how do you move forward and accept something so shocking and so painful? I will tell you the truth, it takes a lot of time. But cling to Psalms 34:18 “The Lord is near the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”
You can’t run. In the moment, it sounds like a good solution. Leaving all your worries and heartbreak behind, but it does not work. It is difficult to stay in your same surroundings. You think you see that person at the mall, or in the hall at school. Then there is that, “Oh wait. That’s not him. He is gone,” moment of reality. In a way those moments help because you are forcing yourself to recognize the new reality of life without them. In reality people have been running away for thousands of years. Proverbs 28:1 says, “Sinners run away even when no one is chasing them. But those who do what is right are as bold as lions.” Be bold like a lion and face the new reality.
You can’t avoid it. It is real easy to get caught up in the tasks of everyday life. Especially when it is a struggle to focus, or even breath for that matter! But, if you are not careful, you can jump into busyness and go through the motions. By keeping yourself busy, you can stay too busy to heal. Psalms 39:6 says, “Each person who walks around is like a shadow. They are busy for no reason…” It’s hard to be whole when you are broken. It’s hard to be whole when you’re busy.
You have to decide where you stand spiritually. Do you believe in heaven? Do you believe in Jesus? Do you believe something totally different? For me, this was the one place I was ok. I believe in Jesus. I believe there is a heaven. I believe that I will see my brother again someday in heaven. However, if I had not had the reassurance in all of this, I would have needed to figure it out. Luke 23:43 says, “And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.'” Believing my baby brother is in Paradise is comforting, and so much better than believing he is just gone.
You have to talk about it. Don’t’ keep your feelings inside. Find a friend, teacher, advisor, even a parent that you can talk to. People want to help. Everyone you know has said, “call me if you need me.” You need to talk. You need to share your memories. You need to share what they did to make you laugh and to make you crazy. You need to reach out to any of those people. They need you to need them because they don’t know what else to do but to be there for you. Our friends are put in our lives from God for times just like these. Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
You don’t have to be strong for everyone else. We often put off dealing with our grief because we have to be strong for our parents, our siblings, other people. But we cannot be strong for other people if we are not ok. And they are waiting on you to be ok so they can be ok. Lean on God until you are capable of taking care of yourself. Isaiah 41:10 “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” And you all have to understand, it is ok to not be ok. Being ok is going to take time. Lean into God’s strength.
You have to recognize negative behaviors. This type of loss can be an open door to let a lot of really negative behaviors into your life. As a young adult, the world is yours for the taking. You have access to anything, or nothing. You can choose to isolate yourself and melt into your own depression. You can choose to self-medicate the pain with drugs, alcohol or even sex. Remember, hurt people hurt people. Psalms 34:17 says, “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” If you are hurting yourself or hurting others it is time to seek Christian counsel and/or professional help.
You WILL find a New Normal. I’ll go ahead and tell you right now, the “Normal” you once knew will never be the same again. But the good news is, you will find a New Normal. You will eventually go through all the stages of grief. You will experience Denial. You will be Angry. You will Bargain with God to change the situation. You will be depressed. And you will Accept that your loved one is gone. You will be ok again and you will find a New Normal. Look for your hope and restoration in Christ. Hebrews 10:23 “Let us hold unswerving to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”
As I said earlier, grief looks different for everyone. It takes longer for some. Men grieve different than women. Children grieve different than adults. But we all go through the same grief cycle. What is important is that you go through it. You can’t run from grief.
Happy Birthday Michael! I look forward to the day when we reunite in heaven. Love you Boo!