February 9th, 2006 03:05 EST
If Tommorrow Never Comes
It started as a beautiful Tuesday morning. The sun was shining, the skies were blue, the air was warm. It was one of those days when a person wanted to go out and have some fun in the sun, maybe on the beach.My brother, Bryan, would show up in our little tourist town of Mtwapa, Mombasa, every three weeks or so. He was an artist and a businessman. When he was done with business on a day as beautiful as this one, we would go to a nearby beach.
He was going to get enough money to start an art gallery of his own. He wanted to get established and soon start promoting young artists just starting out. He hoped to start an art school of his own, too.I adored him. True, he’d made a lot of bad decisions in his life. But when it was just the two of us, he was my big brother. And his big dreams echoed my own.
I wanted to be a good writer. I wanted to get established in my writing career, maybe get enough money to start a youth magazine and help young Kenyan writers get established. And Bryan believed in me. He would say ‘Nothing is impossible when you work hard for it.’We had such huge plans and we believed we could do it. And so on this beautiful day, I sat at my desk writing another story, determined to get better and better. ‘Practice, practice, practice’ was our motto and I lived up to it every single day.
Then they showed up and shattered my pretty dreams with news that I couldn’t bear. Bryan was dead.
I watched with cold horror as my mother’s heart broke and she wept. Tears stung my eyes but I didn’t weep. I did not believe it. I did not want to believe it. On this day, my younger brother Silvanus had started his primary school finals. It was agreed that he would not be told about our brother’s death until he was through with his exams.
So for the next three days, mother wept in silence and I hung around in numb denial. Later Silvanus told me that he knew something was very wrong, but he refused to dare ask, lest it be something he couldn’t bear.
And it was something he couldn’t bear. When he was finally informed, Silvanus slid into shocked silence. He didn’t talk. He didn’t cry. The pain was too much for him to form into an emotion.
The funeral arrangements were taken care of by relatives and friends. They all surrounded my mom. My brother had the cousins to lean on. I probably had someone by my side, too, I just don’t remember. I floated around like a zombie, not caring for anything.
On the day of the burial, I stood by the coffin. And suddenly I was filled with anger. I was angry with my brother. He had left me with all the plans and dreams that felt empty now. He had just left me. And I cried. Cried with the bitterness of a sorrow too painful for words.
My mother cried, too. Cried with sorrow and guilt. Deep inside her, she was terrified that she had not done the very best for her first-born son. She wondered if somehow she could have saved her son from the agony of a brutal death.
Silvanus did not cry. At all. His life, though, had been shattered. Inside his heart, he was terrified. He was not very sure how he would face the world without a big brother. We had lost our father when we were very young; so, in fact, Bryan, who was more that ten years older than us, was our male figure.
Silvanus was feeling guilty, too. As crazy as it sounds, he was sure that he could have done or said something that would have stopped Bryan from walking into a hail of bullets.
He was angry, too angry at the beast of a man that had pulled the trigger and brutally murdered his only brother. Angry at his brother for not being careful with his life. Angry at the world for making it possible for a man to die too soon, too young.
After the burial, we went back home. For several days, our home was dead silent. Each one of us was lost in our pain.
I was afraid that I would go crazy. I didn’t see how I could deal with the kaleidoscope of emotions that rocked me every waking moment.
My brother was afraid of having to explain his brother’s death to his friends. He later told me he was embarrassed.
My mother was afraid of losing the rest of her kids. She was terribly anxious about our safely.
A week after my brother’s funeral, silent sorrow turned into illness. First mother, then Silvanus, and finally me. Our illness revealed itself in the manner of headaches fever and stomachache.
Since we lived in a coastal town prone to malaria and typhoid, we were all tested for malaria and typhoid. Mother had malaria. Silvanus and I were found to be infected with typhoid. And so began the frequent visits to the doctors.
In spite of the illnesses, we all tried to live life as though no tragedy had occurred. No one talked about Bryan. Yet the pain ate at us.
By the end of six months, I was suffering from frequent migraines. Silvanus had developed severe rhinitis. Mother’s health had deteriorated significantly, too. All of this greatly affected us mentally, emotionally, and even financially.
One day, so many months later, it came out. We talked, we cried and talked and cried. All of us saw an experienced minister who was willing to listen, listen, listen and offer comfort. I faced my anger. Mother faced her guilt. Silvanus faced the array of emotions he had repressed inside.
We still talk about Bryan from time to time. It still hurts a bit. But the burden is so much lighter. And I have learned so much about grief. This I would like to share.
Ø Expressing your emotions by talking or even crying is a very important part of healing. Talking about your feelings, like guilt or anger can help you deal with them.
Ø Rely on friends. If others offer to help, let them. Understand that perhaps they can’t find the right words but helping you is their way of showing they care.
Ø Take care of your health. Get sufficient rest, healthful exercise and proper nourishment. Neglecting your health can cause more strain.
Ø Postpone major decisions. Wait until you are thinking more clearly.
Ø Make allowances for others. Be patient. Not knowing what to say, some may clumsily say the wrong thing.
Ø Don’t be unduly anxious. Live more on a day-to-day basis can help you to avoid excess anxiety.
What if someone you know is grieving the death of a loved one? How can you help?
Ø Listen. Listening patiently and sympathetically will help the other person start the process of healing.
Ø Provide reassurance. Let them know that what they are feeling is normal. Be positive.
Ø Be available. Being available soon after the death and for a long while afterwards will help them cope with the emptiness of loss.
Ø Take initiative. Don’t wait to be asked or just simply ask ‘what can I do?’ find something that will help.
Ø Expect negative emotions. If emotional outbursts are directed at you, it will take insight and compassion on your part not to respond with irritation.
Ø Write a condolence letter. It doesn’t have to be long but it should give of your heart.
Ø Pray with them. Hearing you pray in their behalf might help them resolve negative feelings.What should you never do?
Ø Don’t pressure a grieving person to stop grieving.
Ø Don’t necessarily avoid mentioning the departed one.
Ø Don’t be too quick to say "It was for the best".
Ø It may be better not to say "I know how you feel".It happens to all of us, that someone we love dearly departs from us. And it seems that life has stopped.
Tomorrow hasn’t come.
In spite of the pain and sorrow, life does go on. We just have to find the way again.