Remembering Dan: Sibling grief hurts too.
I am writing this on Friday, April 20. In a few hours, I will be headed to a church event. On the way, I am stopping by Alpine Bakery to celebrate the memory of my dear brother, Dan. It’s his birthday today. He would have turned 55.
I will be consuming a coconut cream cupcake in his memory.
Dan died in a motorcycle accident when he was 23 and I was 25. Life had dealt me some severe blows in rapid succession in my early twenties and my brother’s death was the final blow to my weak foundation of faith.
Blow #1: Not good enough to marry. Someone I loved broke up with me.
Blow #2: Not good enough for ministry. I was officially removed from the fast-track for women’s ministry with a world-wide Christian organization.
Blow #3: My brother Dan died without warning. After all I had done for God? He did this? That is how my weak faith interpreted what happened. The Christian life as I knew it was just too hard if this is all it got me.
Without God as my firm anchor any longer, I spun out of control into pain and reckless living for seven years. Doing things my own way made things even worse, of course. (Video synopsis HERE) I hit rock bottom, returned to the Lord and asked Him to help me start all over and show me what had gone wrong. I had toppled so easily. I put a Bible in my lap, and God helped me write my way out of the grief. My writing turned into a BOOK. Turns out, I had been raised in the faith more from the outside in, than the inside out. I am so grateful to have been walking with God closely for 25 more years now with roots that sink more deeply into the Truth this time around.
Grief can destroy any of us.
I keep a careful eye out for people who are grieving, hanging close by in case they need someone. This week I met a twenty-something who just lost her brother without warning. I was so grateful to be of some support to her and answer some of her grief-stricken questions. It’s amazing how quickly I can still rattle off the items of a grieving sibling’s emotional emergency kit.
Grieve well. Make sure you cry, I said, or else it will sit in your gut somewhere and part of you will die too. Grieving people need to talk about the person they miss. I listened to her tell me about her brother.
Stay in community. I left my brother’s funeral and drove back to graduate school where I did not have a strong community of people who knew me well, or of people who knew the Lord well. Take your time, I cautioned, and don’t get back to normal, busy life too quickly.
Allow yourself to create ways to keep him alive in conversation and memory. I told her she would come up with her own ways, but each of my children have “Dan” somewhere in their name. In addition, I have coconut cake every year on his birthday (April 20) because whenever my mom had coconut cake in the house, he and I would sneak into the refrigerator to swipe the icing off near the base where we didn’t think anyone would notice.
Be prepared for people to under-estimate your grief. In sharing what she could expect in the short and long-term, I told her to be ready to hear a chorus of people saying to her parents at the funeral, “No parent should ever have to bury their child. There’s nothing worse than that.” And there she would be standing, I told her, hearing it over and over again. Yet no one would say to her, “No sister should ever have to attend the funeral of her brother.”
Brother-sister relationships can be seen as less critical than parent-child relationships. Whether or not that is true in every family, is not the point.
The point is, losing a sibling hurts! It hurts for a long time.
There were three of us siblings and Dan was in the middle, the epicenter of our brother-sister dynamics. My younger brother and I still hurt. And today each of us will be remembering Dan in our own way. We haven’t forgotten. Not at all. We wish our brother was around with a wife and kids, adding more cousins to our family lines. We wish our Christmas gift list was longer. We wish our gregarious brother would come barging into the room with the life-of-the-party personality that he had. Dan made us laugh. Our family has not laughed as much since he went away.
Losing him changed our family. Losing my brother changed me.
I usually remember my brother in blog post form every October when the accident and funeral occurred. But this year when I heard the grief-filled voice of a sister missing her brother during the week of Dan’s birthday, I chose to write during the month when he was born instead.
Happy Birthday, Dan. I still love you so much.
I am off now to eat some coconut cake and I will be certain to swipe some of the icing with my finger. I will thank God for the privilege of being your sister and I will thank Him for using this tragedy to teach me more about Himself and to anchor me more deeply. (Colossians 1:28, 29)
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