A Few months ago, Children’s Grief Awareness Day November 19, 2015 posted this Yoda photo highlighting death as a natural part of life and got my wheels spinning again, particularly with all the hype of the upcoming new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens. As a child, I have fond memories watching the movie with our family and playing with all the movie paraphernalia targeted for kids. The Asteroids game by was a classic example carrying on the movie excitement that I enjoyed playing. In 2007, the Atari system was inducted into the toy hall of fame. The pillow case in the photo of my brother and I to the right is one example. At the time, it brought Greg comfort while he lay in traction following a playground fall from the top of a dome at our local elementary school.
Fantasy and imagination fill the minds of children with possibilities in life. Visions of being a Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia were certainly part of childhood. Who didn’t? Well for me, Leia was definitely not cooperating. For one thing, I could never figure out how to do the hair! The closest I could come to was pigtails that always managed to unwrap on their own no matter how many bobby pins were added. Dreaming of the possibilities the true power of “the force” had within us was also part of childhood adventures, even if it only boosted our self esteem and confidence by a tiny bit. Thinking back now, Greg was much closer in line with Luke, a true Jedi, than I with Leia. He had enough self esteem and confidence for both of us. Hatred was never part of Greg’s presence, and he had a knack to always find goodness in the hearts and minds of others no matter what his age.
Siblings: What are they really all about?
Siblings and their multifaceted relationships throughout a lifetime comprise the longest relationships in our lifespan. The sibling relationship can outlive relationships with our parents, spouse, or even children. Love-hate relationships, competitive aggression, compassionate sharing, envy, guilt, anger, verbal and at times physical battles, modeling, and mentoring are just some of the many components seen through the years as individuality and self esteem are developed. In adult years, these emotions and behaviors can show face as siblings compete to demonstrate their independence and transition into adult milestones such as: establishing a career, advancing education, marriage, and establishment of independent living outside of the parental home environment.
Complexities within sibling relationships increase based on the number of siblings in a family and the added in-laws and children through the years. Families are made up of all sorts of sizes, shapes, expectations, and with varying resources and coping within the family system. Some families bring many valuable tools and resources to the table and some drain energy out of the room and add pathology to the table complicating the dynamics. Roles and relationships often need to be sorted out and if not, can lead to added strain within the system. Respect, trust, and non-judgement are key aspects to foster a healthy relationship in adult years. If well established and healthy relationships are developed, siblings can rally to address the problem and then resettle into their respective lives always knowing that they truly “have your back” if any issue or concern surfaces.
So now what? What happens after a sibling dies?
Well, I am clearly still on a learning curve as I go as evidenced by my prior blog posts and certainly no expert. Self care continues and pleased to be have passed through the darkest pit of grief. I continue reading a plethora of journals and books about families, siblings, grief, mourning, loss and moving forward on my book Champion Strong Hearts. I wish there was a crystal ball but cannot truly share what the future will be like. What I do know is that I miss the engagement with patients and families in a vibrant nursing career and am taking many steps to find a good fit.
With time the energy around me continues to grow and I am feeling stronger, more positive, and optimistic in the healing journey for myself and our family. There is still not a day that goes by where I don’t think about Greg. Foods he loved and hated bring back memories in a way I never imagined. There are countless questions that remain unanswered. Fourty-seven years is too short a time to be us, yet quite a blessing from what was expected following his birth. His death truly has changed me. That being said, I cannot change the outcome. It is time to continue to stay present, move forward, and never forget the path we have traveled.
This last month marked the 8 month anniversary of my brother’s death. Holiday time was different and more somber than usual. Each one of us has our own healing journey. Through it all, we managed to find moments of joy and celebration with folks present and remembering those loved ones lost this year. For this, I am grateful and will continue to forge forward as best I know how respecting each other along the way and the gifts still here today. Two wonderful siblings (and their families), both my parents, a loving husband, daughter in college, and son finishing up his last year in middle school are true blessings close to my heart. These are true gifts not to be taken for granted.
Next week I am looking forward to sharing my journey with congenital heart disease (CHD) as a sister and nurse practitioner with the representatives in Washington DC at the Pediatric Congenital Heart Association Advocacy conference PCHA. Accompanied by my mother and hero, we will advocate for more awareness, research, and search for a cure to CHD. We will be present for patients, parents, siblings, and other family members not present at the table and share our family’s journey. With leaders hearing our stories, the potential support of the CHD bill increases. CHD is the number 1 birth defect and battle impacting the entire family. The battle has a long road to travel that is unpaved. I am hopeful the current landscape of team leaders and medical advances will succeed in identifying more practical outcomes to enable families to create happy, healthy, and wholesome family moments for a lifetime. Together, we can pave the way to a better future.