On 13 October 2017, my 30-year-old brother David died peacefully in his sleep. He went to bed the night before and just never woke up. It was a complete shock and so very painful.
As soon as I arrived at my parents’ house and my dad blurted out what had happened, I saw him in a way that I had never seen him before – so broken and vulnerable. At that point, I instinctively told myself that my parents had to come first, my emotions came second; I needed to do whatever was needed for them.
As you can imagine, the following days, weeks and months were very difficult. I was at my parents’ house every single day for the first month, doing whatever was needed. For the most part, I kept strong – on the outside at least. I made teas and coffees, I tidied up, I went shopping. Keeping busy meant I didn’t have to stop and absorb what had happened.
At home, I tried to remain composed in front of my children but would crumble every night in my husband’s arms. He was really good. He would always ask me if I wanted to talk about it, but I never did, so he just held me while I sobbed.
I’ve always found it difficult to verbally express how I feel, but after my brother died this only intensified. I didn’t feel that anyone could understand my pain. Yes, we had all lost David, but no one else had lost their brother. No one else had to watch their mum and dad broken and in pain and know that there was nothing they could do. So, like so many of us, I buried it deep.
As you can imagine, the pressure was building. I know this is a metaphor, but there were times that I swear it felt physical. My dad had been seeing a bereavement counsellor and kept suggesting that I do too. After months of declaring ‘I’ll be OK, I can deal with it myself’, I gave in. I put myself on the waiting list to speak to someone out loud, truthfully, about how I felt.
When my first session was booked, I vowed to be completely honest. There was no point doing this if I wasn’t going to do it properly. I knew that speaking to someone external and impartial would be better. I just wanted to be heard. I didn’t want to be interrupted or given the ‘It’ll get better with time’ dismissal that essentially invalidated my emotions.
I went into that first session not knowing fully what I was going to speak about or where to start. I had an idea, of course, but the lady I saw was amazing. She let me lead the conversations but gave me prompts when I struggled. She also told me that I didn’t have to fill the silence – that I could just sit with how I felt until I was ready to speak. She gave me permission to be honest without having to worry that I would be judged. She listened to how far I had come and the coping mechanisms that I was currently using and suggested ways to build on what was already working for me, as well as some new ideas. She helped me realise it was OK for me to speak to my loved ones about how I was feeling, and about my brother – the silly things he said, how he made us laugh, and how much I missed him. Because I was no longer struggling to push my emotions down, I felt lighter and liberated and had space in my mind for new and exciting things.
I didn’t walk out that day feeling ‘fixed’ or free from my pain, but I did walk out with more wisdom and perspective. That was my first and only counselling session, not because it wasn’t helpful but because the counsellor made me realise that no one can ‘fix’ me. I realised that I didn’t need a specific day and time to speak about how I felt. I realised I have the power and the tools to help myself.
Rhiannon Jones is a writer and trainee life coach. Her book, The Web of Grief, is available on Amazon. After her brother’s sudden and unexpected death, she made the decision to not take life’s blessings for granted but to help other people live to their fullest potential and to support those who know the pain of grief. She enjoys spending time with her three boys and husband and learning Spanish, and usually has her head stuck in a book. She is currently working on a new book and has also blogged about her experiences on the Mind website.