Childhood memories: sibling bonds run deep and the trauma of losing a loved one can last a lifetime.
I lost my brother last year, aged 61. He had been diagnosed with terminal myeloma - a devastating cancer of the bone marrow - but by the time I discovered his illness, he was already in a coma. I was therefore denied the spiritual healing of a final conversation with him. Many bizarre symptoms have followed this event. Even though I now live in another country, far away from where my brother spent his whole life, I have recently ‘seen' my brother walking past the car as I drove along. The build was the same, the clothes similar - he was even carrying the unusual multi-striped golfing umbrella he always used - and his ‘eyes' red-rimmed. It is truly chilling when such an experience happens. The brain is an amazing organ.
Losing a close member of the family, particularly when they are still relatively young, is very difficult to deal with. In my case, there was a long-running family saga which meant that my brother and I had lost touch for many years.
I know that many people have left things unsaid when a loved one dies. I personally would give so much for just a few minutes to tell my brother that I'm sorry I wasn't there for him and that I wish he was still with us.
With mental health issues like this, even such a simple thing as writing down your inner feelings, as I have done above, goes some way to alleviating a sense of guilt and grief. However, there are more things we can do to bring ourselves peace of mind.
The death of a loved one is always a blow. Untimely death, which comes when a person is in the midst of life, hope and activity, is even harder.
So many of us today are taught to hide our emotions to such an extent that we are unable to shed a tear at even personal tragedies such as this. We choose to cope with the trauma by simply shutting down. It's clearly not a conscious decision but so often it's simply too much to deal with.
Has this happened to you too?
If you are fortunate enough to have a loving husband and children, you have the equivalent of emotional foundations, walls and a roof around you. But, month by month, another wave of feeling may rise to the surface and be expressed. This is completely healthy and normal and not something to be resisted, though it can be managed and understood.
Guilt is a terrible thing. We all seem to suffer from it at times of family bereavement. We think: could we somehow have prevented the death? Could we have said or done something different that would have deflected his path?
Funerals and the days following a death seem to pass in a blur. The religious say the bereaved should seek some resolution in ritual or via a spiritual adviser. Christians, for example, could arrange a service of commemoration and blessing for their departed relative.
The internet could also help. I, for instance, could ‘write' to my brother recalling all those happy moments from our childhood, perhaps apologising for any behaviour I regret, asking for his forgiveness; but above all letting him go. I could also talk to him. Maybe those of you reading this could too. Find a quiet place and time, and say out loud the things you want to say. Then be quiet and listen. You will find that some kind of answer comes to you. You could take it further. You could put together an offering of flowers or symbols that mean something to you both. You could take the letter and offering to his grave or you could burn or scatter them to the winds, knowing that he will receive them and that the past is resolving itself. Rituals can be very powerful.
If none of this helps, then the bereaved can receive much help from a professional mental health therapist.
Each of us in this situation need to forgive ourselves. Forgiveness is fundamental for emotional recovery. Forgiving ourselves is always last on the list when we are consumed with guilt and blame but it is crucial. If you could imagine a dialogue with your departed, I am sure he would be telling you not to waste your life in self-recrimination. The best gift we can give the dead is to live our life as fully as possible.