Grieving the Death of a Sibling – Memories in a Box

Grieving the death of a sibling can be a heartbreak experience especially when the sibling dies at a young age.

Guest Post Allison Black

I remember September 5, 2010 as if it was yesterday. I peeled open my eyes, the celebrations of the night before still fogging my brain. I could hear quiet talking. I rubbed my eyes and saw my roommate on the phone. She hung up. “Get dressed my parents are taking us to lunch.” I rolled out of bed and threw on some clothes. We laughed about the fun we had the night before and thought how satisfying a big lunch sounded. We walked outside. The sky was clear, the air crisp, the sun shining. “It’s gorgeous out!” we exclaimed as we made plans to go for a hike after lunch. 

Life can change in a minute

And then we went to lunch and before we even got our meals my life forever changed in the parking lot of an Olive Garden. All our plans, and all the fun we had the night before, it all just seemed so insignificant. This gorgeous, perfect day would forever be remembered as the worst.

My brother was gone

My role model, my protector, my confidant, my silly singing-living room wrestler- music-loving- bear hugging big brother was gone. I couldn’t understand it and to say I have learned to understand would be a lie. It still makes no sense how a healthy 27-year-old could lose their life. 

There is a clear line in my life

Before Sean died and after he died. The memories from before, they seem so close but also so far out of reach. That innocent girl unaware of such tragedy, that intact family from before- they’re familiar but also vastly different.

My brother has been dead for almost 9 years. How is that even possible? I must ask myself this question a thousand times a week. They say time heals all wounds. It’s true. I don’t cry myself to sleep anymore. I hardly ever wake up in the middle of the night haunted by the idea that his death was all a dream. And yet, my wound is still there. Sean was a limb I lost, and I am always aware that he used to be here but isn’t anymore. But I’ve learned to live without that limb. I’ve adapted.

There is life after Sean’s death

Someone once told me grief is like having a box of memories on a shelf. You’re always aware the box is there. But sometimes you may choose to take the box down and sort through all those memories. Other times, the shelf breaks out of nowhere and the box comes spilling out. I’ve always found solace in that. Sometimes you feel crazy when that shelf breaks. It’s been 9 years and there are days when I feel like I’m right back in that parking lot getting the news. 

Connection between siblings

But I always believed that no one will ever know you as well as your siblings. They are the only people who truly know your life, know your story. They are the only people who can relate to growing up in your home, the only people who can hold your childhood memories. Sean knew me. And I knew Sean. I hold his secrets. I share his memories. So it’s no wonder that the shelf has to break sometimes. I lost a piece of my life, my history, one of the two closest persons who will ever truly know me. 

Death leaves us with questions

I remember when he first died, I couldn’t imagine a life without him. I couldn’t imagine going on with my life without him. How could I go back to school and focus when “Sean’s Gone” kept echoing in my mind?

How could I start a career without his wisdom and advice? How could I fall in love with someone who never knew Sean? How could I have children who would never meet him?

But life kept moving and I found I was able to move with it. I moved home and found strength in the love of my family. I finished school. I fell in love with a man who never knew Sean and yet does his best to get to know him through stories. I started a career and on the toughest days, I hear Sean’s advice and wisdom when I replay old conversations in my mind. And when I have children, they’ll know they have an uncle in heaven who loves them.

Keeping memories alive

Every day I know the box is there. And there are days I am mad as hell to know that’s what I have left of him. But for the most part, time is healing my wounds. Life after Sean’s death is different. I am different. And yet, life is good. I am happy. Sean died doing something he loved. He died on a beautiful day. The sun was shining, the air crisp, the sky clear. What a gorgeous day, I had exclaimed. I made plans. Life went on. But, I knew Sean and he knew me. And for that, I will always be grateful. 

Allison Black - Sean McCarthy
Allison Black & her brother Sean McCarthy

Allison lives in New Jersey with her husband, Joe, and their dog, Odin. She is a first-grade teacher and a board member of The Sean McCarthy Live Passionately Foundation.

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5 Responses to Grieving the Death of a Sibling – Memories in a Box

  • @Kathy I don’t believe we ever become numb to death – it is something we all share, but the degree of pain often depends on the relationship we have with the person who died. – JoAnne

  • I know exactly how you feel and it’s been one year I lost my husband he was my better half my best friend I miss him like there’s no tomorrow sometimes I find myself not able to breathe how do I continue without him It doesn’t get easier you just learn how to live with the pain.

  • There are days when it seems as if the hurt will not stop nor ever go away, but the truth is eventually I will move through the grief of my loss. I loss my neice who was more like a younger sibling than a neice in Aug. While it’s early, the process of grief is the same. We loss her brother more than 10 years prior at only 27. I hurt for myself as well as my sister who had only throw children and their both gone, tragically. I too believe your earlier comment that time heals all wounds. I just have remembered that the scars don’t necessarily go away.

  • Thanks for sharing. I lost my husband 6 years ago due to cancer and for a long time I was angry with everyone who never got time to check on us before he passed but miraculously found time to attend his burial. I am now getting through it and have learnt to forgive.

  • Hi JoAnne, thank you for this. It’s sad to loose anyone. I’ve lost lots of cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, parents, but not a sibling. 🙏🏼
    You would think a person would get kind of numb to death, not the case though.

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