"The Unexpected Sides of Loss" –  31/03/23

"The Unexpected Sides of Loss" – 31/03/23

In 2022 I suffered two losses, starting with Lucy Rabbit, on the 27th January. Lucy was an incredible & naughty companion for 12 years, but due to arthritis, I was forced to have her put to sleep, on a dark January evening. This was extremely painful & left me searching for the right way to commemorate her life.

Seven months later, on 24th August, we lost my older brother, Andrew. Andrew fought a 10-year battle with alcohol & a lifelong battle with mental health issues. I believe that nowadays he would also be diagnosed as living with Autism, but this was just on no-one’s radar in the 1980s. Andrew was incredibly intelligent, had a huge range of interests, as well as having an impressive sense of taste & being kind, as well as being extremely witty. He also owned three versions of Gray’s Anatomy, as no single version of the publication had all the detail that his incredibly inquisitive mind, needed!

On the day we lost Andrew, my mum felt that something was not right, after he did not answer her call. She travelled from Worthing to Hoxton, London, that morning, where she discovered he had passed away in his sleep. I was working in London that day & was able to be there within minutes of hearing the news, although in her grief or shock, my mum did not recognise me & thought I was a Police Officer.

Despite the quick succession of the losses, I count myself lucky that I reached the ages of 37 & 38, before suffering true, life-changing, grief. Following the losses, this new world that I entered was full of surprises & I learnt and saw so many things which I had not expected. I have a shared a few of these, below.

Firstly, the feeling of extreme guilt that I did not cry at my brother’s funeral, or after the loss of Lucy Rabbit. Everyone grieves differently, but it just felt wrong that I did not show my feelings in this way.

The (seemingly endless) feeling that my world was no-longer complete & wouldn’t ever be again.

The feeling of needing to find a purpose after the losses, to either help other people, or to do something which meant that the losses were not a complete waste.

The extremely conflicting feelings of wanting my family to know that I was suffering, but also not wanting to burden them, when I knew that were similarly affected. Similarly, feeling that I did not know how to support my parents, whose suffering I could not imagine.

After losing Lucy, the feeling of embarrassment about the grief suffered, knowing that not everyone has the same love for animals & may not be able to appreciate the feelings.

Re-evaluation of friendships – meeting people I had been friends with for decades & them not even mentioning the loss of my brother. This was presumably out of awkwardness or not wanting to remind me, but failing to understand that I would be thinking of it anyway. On the reverse, experiencing examples of true friendship & kindness, from other friends.

Inanimate objects suddenly taking-on the most incredible meaning. For example, the coaster that was always by Andrew’s sofa, which had had thousands of cans of cider placed on it during his lifetime, which he both needed (to avoid seizures) & which were also killing him.

Before the loss, having to go to the corner shop to buy vodka & cider for Andrew; knowing that I was assisting an alcoholic in obtaining alcohol, but knowing that if he did not have it, then he would have a seizure & could die.

Guilt about not having done more & becoming blasé about the constant crises Andrew/we faced in the final 12 months of his life. I have since learnt that this is what people call “crises burnout” & is a common phenomenon.

Trying to work, run a business & trying to visit & help Andrew, whilst constantly feeling that I was failing at all three.

Constantly battling addiction treatment & social care providers to try & obtain even the most basic level of care or support for Andrew, failing at every single turn, and feeling that nobody actually had an interest in helping him or us. I feel that this was a result of lack of resources, and possibly crises burnout by those in the various organisations; it is simply impossible to remain on “high alert” for an extended period.

After the loss, came waiting, and then more waiting. Waiting with Andrew’s body for hours, for the coroner to arrive, but knowing that it would be the last time we would really be with him. Having to wait three weeks for the autopsy. Waiting five months for the inquest. The seemingly endless wait for probate. Knowing that we couldn’t really even start to think of coming to terms with what had happened, until we had got through all of the above.

Preparing for the funeral & feeling that if we did not choose the most expensive options, then we were doing Andrew a dis-service. Worrying that if we did not make every aspect of the funeral unique to Andrew, then we were not giving him a proper send-off. Luckily my mum is a complete force, & discovered the beautiful Hoxton Hall, where we had an incredible ceremony for Andrew. After the funeral, the family walked along behind the hearse, up Hoxton High Street, & the whole street came to a standstill. Feeling that this was the first time in Andrew’s life that he was ever really acknowledged by the outside world. Booking Andrew’s favourite eatery, Mandalay Café, for lunch after the funeral, where we could all enjoy a curry that my brother would have loved (with lots of chillis on the side!).

Work, following a loss. Discovering that my workplace has a rigid policy that five days’ compassionate leave is the maximum you can take, regardless of how you have been affected & in what circumstances. Having to also fit the funeral, funeral preparation & dealing with the estate, into those five days. Work not telling any of my colleagues about what had happened, so having to explain to them, over & over, about why I had been away. Being told that attending my brother’s inquest did not meet the requirements for compassionate leave. My employer forgetting to send the usual commiseration bunch of flowers.

Handling the digital legacy. Trying to unsubscribe from endless different online accounts. Unsubscribing from TFL emails & realising that Andrew didn’t need a TFL account anymore; he would never be going to a train station again or doing something as simple as taking a tube to work or a restaurant. Going through laptops & iPads to make sure that I didn’t lose any document or something that could give my family & I, an insight into Andrew.

The miscellaneous & ongoing effects of loss. Guilt that money Andrew left me & has helped me, should have been able to do the same for him. Making space for Andrew in my life, to care for him & try to help him, becoming closer him, then him disappearing, leaving a painful space. The conflicting feelings of being glad that Andrew would no-longer be feeling this pain, but at the same time feeling that we, and the world, had been deprived of an incredible & unique being. Keeping Andrew’s clothes stacked together, packed at the back of my wardrobe, to help them keep the smell of him & his flat, for as long as possible. Never knowing whether to say I have, or I had a brother, or whether there are three or four of us siblings.

I recently attended a conference for work and was talking to a colleague who unexpectedly lost his wife. When asking him about it, he simply said “It’s not great at the moment, but I have to keep going, believing it will get better”. I think that’s what we all have to know & focus on, as time is a great healer, even if it will never be the same life that we had before.

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