I am entitled to my grief.
by Julie Knaak
(this was written 2 months after my younger brother's passing. Shawn was 24 years old and battled Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and T-cell type Lymphoma for a very short 8 months.)
I've been writing and re-writing this entry for quite a while in my head. There have been so many things that I've been thinking about lately, always added to by reading books. I've recently read a few books on losing a sibling. It's brought up something that I really feel is important for people to think about.
"Disenfranchised Grief" or "Ambiguous Loss".
Someone talking to a person who has recently lost their sibling immediately asks how their parents are doing instead of asking them how they are dealing with emotions. That sibling's feelings are invalidated, ignored. It's not a selfish thing here- it's a feeling that the parents must have a much greater amount of grief than the sibling has.
When you think about it, your siblings and you have a most unique relationship- one that you assume will always be a constant in your life. People assume that they will outlive their parents but never their sibling. Siblings are also supposed to be a source of competition or rivalry, right? As two therapists studying sibling loss put it, "We had been taught in school that siblings are, at best, minor actors on the stage of human development, that their influence is supposed to be fleeting, and that it is the parents who principally determine one's identity." None of this was the case with our family. Matt, Shawn, my parents are I were all extremely close. We didn't fight- it's not worth it. It's not like we didn't get annoyed with each other, because we definitely did. We just accepted that this is how our family was and what our family members were like and adjusted to it. Matt was always independent, I was always social, and Shawn was always happy. We were a well oiled machine- a unit that just "worked". A life without Shawn in it just doesn't feel right because my earliest memories all include him.
This then goes into family dynamics. I will always answer that I am the middle child and that I have 2 brothers, but I dread the answering of this question. What do you say? Do you really want to explain to every person what had happened?
By the way, disenfranchised grief is not just about siblings. It's also about best friends, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins. It's the thought that, somehow, you are not entitled to grieve as much as you are. What a load of poo. We are all allowed to grieve, and to grieve differently.
I loved the perfect way our family was set up. I always described, with pride, how we were all special. Matt, being the first child, was treasured. I was the first girl, which was also special. Shawn, was the baby and rightly spoiled. I hate that this has now changed.
I have changed a lot since Shawn's illness was first discovered. It's giving me this strange feeling that I am disappointing people with how different I am. I am so much more quiet now and overwhelmed very easily. I feel like everyone is wondering why I'm still having such a hard time. My heart races pretty frequently still and its very hard to calm it down. I still audibly sob, as if the deep sounds coming from the depth of my belly will help relieve the pain somehow. I'm withdrawing more now because of all of these things combined. I have a very strong need to get away- to go away for a day or two with my thoughts and not have to worry about anything else. I've already taken so much time away from work while Shawn was ill and right afterwards, how can I ask for more time?
I am very unsure of myself today. I've had a long, drawn out dialogue with myself all day long. I can't stop my thoughts. As a sidenote: last week, I did incredibly well. I still thought about Shawn all of the time, but I felt so in control of my feelings. This week has been a different story.
To sum it all up: I miss him terribly. I can't believe that this has happened to my family. I look around at my family members and everyone is hiding grief under smiles.
I don't know how to end this string of thoughts eloquently, I apologize.
Love you Shawn, Always and forever.
Julie, forever Shawn's sister