Grief untouched can be a hidden identity
I am lost in this world, with this hole deep inside of me.
Eighteen years alive, and eighteen years dead
Where would I be now, all these thoughts in my head.
I came out to you, on that trip up to Maine
At 16 years old, I had felt some shame.
How would you take it, I did not know
But just as you asked it, you accepted it so.
You died three days later, Taylor just turned two
She is 20 now and she reminds me of you.
You cared for others, you defended them with pride
When someone was hurt, you stood by their side.
We miss you, we love you, in our memories you will be
We wish you were here, big sister, together we make three.
I hope where you are, you are with Kristen
A sister, a granddaughter, a niece, and a cousin
She died as an infant, a cousin we did not get to greet
But tell her that her mom loves her dearly, and one day we all will meet.
Grief untouched can be a hidden identity
And is one that I acknowledge, just like you acknowledged me.
My name Is Stephen and I am Stacy’s brother. At the end of 2019 I was asked if I would be interested in being the Chair of the Inclusion & Diversity Commission and I accepted! Before I get into the Inclusion and Diversity Commission, let me tell you a little bit about my story.
Stacy died in 2002 in a car accident that I was also in. With death, dying, and bereavement, we can often experience a sense of identity loss. Who am I without this person in my life? With their death, am I still me? For me, this was not a question I thought of because I had already been going through a loss of identity years before Stacy died. And by years, at that time, it was half of my life. Let us take a brief pause and I want you to think about what it would be like to not know who you are for half of your life and how that would feel.
Pretty isolating and lonely, right?
And depending on your grief story or maybe within another identity within yourself, you might be able to connect with and understand this and maybe not. Just because we experience similar things does not also mean we have the same thoughts and feelings; however, when we connect to those who do have a similarity, it makes us feel less alone and less isolated. You cannot take my pain away but knowing that I am not the only one makes the pain bearable to live with.
Fast forward to 3 days before she died; Stacy had asked me two questions. She first asked if I had liked girls and I said no. She then asked if I liked boys and I said yes. That was then end of the conversation and we did not speak about it the entire weekend. We just hung out when she wasn’t teaching a private cheerleading camp. Stacy and I had more of a non-verbal connection. We did not really talk to each other much but we shared in the sports that we did (cheerleading, gymnastics, and dance) and had that special bond between her just being my, slightly older, bigger sister.
Being a part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer+ community is often and identity I include in my story because I know what it feels like for that part of my identity to be dismissed as something that is not important. Just as I have experienced what it is like to be dismissed as a bereaved sibling. And if you do not know who Jordon Ferber is, you should ask him; how’s your mother?
How many of you have experienced being told to get over it or even asked “why are you not over it already… It has been “two months, 10 years, or maybe you were estranged.” Are you someone who had a miscarriage and been told “at least” – you weren’t further along or it wasn’t a real baby or that it wasn’t meant to be. Or maybe the opposite in that the person lived a long life and you are being told “at least” they made it to 90 or they tell you to look on the bright side. Maybe you are a younger person and people say – you are too young to understand. Well, let me tell you something, grief does not care how old you are. Pain is pain whether you are 2 or 100 and that goes for both physical and emotional pain.
TCF exists so we can connect with those who get it. TCF exists so we can connect with those who have been in our shoes, at least emotionally. Right? Someone else’s grief is not my grief but we all experience the vast range of emotions that range on a spectrum from all of the emotions to feeling numb or maybe even confused and you are not sure how to feel. TCF exists to be inclusive and diverse not only because of the color of our skin but because of the diversity within deaths – suicide, homicide, miscarriage, SIDS, illness related, sudden, child, older adult, young adult, substance related, murder-suicide, missing related, grieving someone who is estranged, step-foster-adopted-raising them as your own, and so on.
The Inclusion and Diversity within TCF exists so that we can try to include and think of those who we might miss or they are unable to come to TCF maybe because of physical ability, language (whether they do not speak English or maybe they are non-verbal or maybe they are deaf), socio-economics, homelessness, mental illness, access, location, LGBTQ+, gender identity, religion, spirituality, education, and anything else related to diversity. And yes, I want to remind you that we are humans to and sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we might miss something and we want you to hold us accountable by telling us if we missed something. Let us all work together to truly make TCF inclusive and diverse.
If you are a bereaved parent, sibling, and/or grandparent and have questions about TCF or about the Inclusion and Diversity Commission, please reach out!
Do you have or have you had thoughts of suicide? Have you struggled with asking someone if they are thinking about suicide or maybe you just had that gut feeling that something was not sitting well?
I know I have.
As a social worker, there is a societal expectation that people in the mental health field are trained to support people when they have thoughts of suicide. And, yes, I did take a 2-hour online course in graduate school; however, it was ONLY a 2-hour course.
I had two internships and I never once had to ask a person I was working with if they were thinking about killing themselves. Thinking about it now, I do not think I would have felt trained enough to do so; especially if I had to ask the students I worked with at a charter school in the Bronx. Two hours of training is a great start; however, like everything else there is to learn, it is all about practice.
If you want to learn a new language, you need to practice. If you want to play an instrument, you need to practice. If you want cook, you need to practice. If you want to learn how to walk, you need to learn how to crawl. The more you practice and use something, the more prepared you will be. Practice does not make you perfect. Practice makes you better.
Crisis and suicide intervention is a niche of its own and unless you are working in this field, there is a good chance that you were not as well trained as you are expected to be. Again, even as a social worker, I have had that gut feeling that someone I was talking with had suicide on their mind and I was scared shitless to ask and so I did not ask. I had 2 hours of training and 3 years later was the first time I had the gut feeling that the person I was talking to was hinting toward suicide without directly saying it.
This actually makes me think back to high school when I was learning Spanish. It was relatively easy for me to learn. I found it easy to read, I could understand when my teachers spoke in Spanish, and I did well in my classes. Yet, I never learned to speak Spanish. Why? You might ask. I did not practice. When my teachers spoke Spanish to me, I spoke English to them. I had ZERO practice using the skills. When it came to talking about suicide, I never had that conversation with someone and I did not feel confident on what I needed to do.
Talking with someone about suicide is scary for both the person with the thoughts as well as the person asking. I now work in crisis and suicide intervention and I can tell you that the first few times you ask someone if they are thinking about suicide will make you feel uncomfortable; however, I have had a lot more training, I know what questions to ask and how to be supportive to someone who is having thoughts of suicide, and I have had multiple conversations and feel better prepared to have this conversation.
If you are interested in life-saving suicide first-aid intervention skills, I would highly recommend LivingWorks Start. I have also completed this training because I wanted to make sure I could speak to the experience if people had questions. And yes, I still take suicide intervention training because I want to make sure I keep my skills honed and it helps me continue to be prepared. I am prepared to talk about suicide with the people I work with, the people I train, and my family and friends.
LivingWorks Start is a highly interactive training with a mix of reading on your own, listening to audio clips, watching text conversations, and there is also video clips to watch. Anyone 15+ can take this suicide intervention online training. You can access this training from the "Training" link on the website and it will redirect you to the LivingWorks website.
If you are an organization, business, non-profit, etc and you want to train over 100+ individuals, please let me know so I can direct you to the appropriate person.
To be honest, this was a day that I never new existed. Which, sounds a little ironic because I grew up with an older sister for 14 years of my life until my younger sister was born. Then, I had two sisters.
Devastatingly enough, my older sister, Stacy, died in a car accident in 2002 that I was also in. I was 16 and my younger sister, Taylor, was 2. This August will be 18 years since she had died. She will have been dead the same amount of years she was alive.
Stacy was going to attend Regis College in Weston, MA on a full cheerleading scholarship. She was a straight-A student, she was a role-model, and although she had her moments of getting in trouble with mom, she also had moments of never getting caught.
Fast forward from her death in 2002 to July of 2007, I attended my first National Conference held by The Compassionate Friends (TCF). This was a group that my mother attended; however, because I was 16, there was not any grief support for youth under the age of 18. My mother was possibly afraid to ask me to come to the conference because she did not ask me to go until I was 22 and said that if I did not like it that I could go to the bars with my aunts.
I remember going to the conference and being completely overwhelmed. There were sooooooo many people there that were bereaved. Bereaved siblings, bereaved parents, and bereaved grandparents. I remember going into a couple of workshops and ultimately left them almost as soon as I walked in. Why, you might ask? Well, a lot of the bereaved siblings at the time were older than I was and their grief process and support they needed had to due with how do they support their children. As a bereaved sibling who was 22 and single, I did not connect to older bereaved siblings who had children and wanted to know how to support their children. Luckily, I met both Cindy and Tracy.
Although they are bereaved siblings who are older than I was, I can think back and remember how open, caring, and empathetic they were. If it were not for them and the then Sounds of The Siblings, I do not think I would have continued to attend the TCF National Conferences. When a child dies, you lose your future. When a parent dies, you lose past. When a sibling dies, we lose both our past and our future.
Let me follow that up by saying that I do not think one death/loss is greater or even equal to another death/loss. You might experience multiple deaths and there might be one death that has had the most impact on you than the others and that is okay. However, when we compare deaths to someone else's and exclaim that your's is the worst, then you are minimizing their grief. Stop. Take a minute. Now, think of a time when someone said something to minimize your grief. Maybe someone said "why are you not over it," "it has been "X" amount of time, just move on," "how is your mother," "at least you have another sibling," "you have other children alive," "at least you can have more children," and many, many more. When someone said one or more of these things to you, how did it make you feel? Pretty horrible and it might have even angered you. Maybe even pissed you off. In my opinion, when you compare your grief to someone else's, you are doing the same thing.
Now, I tend to go on tangents and I feel that I may have done so here BUT this is my blog. Haha. I wanted to give you some context about me and a small part of my experience being a bereaved sibling and not knowing about National Sibling's Day until years after I was a bereaved sibling. And this is not a day I mark on my calendar and is kind of the reason why I am typing this blog because today is April 10, 2020. Today is National Sibling's Day and I did not know that until I saw a tweet and is a day that I do not remember usually until it is the day and I see someone or some org post about it.
If you are a sibling, a bereaved sibling with surviving siblings, a bereaved sibling with no surviving siblings, a bereaved sibling who was born after your sibling died or maybe even when you were young and did not get the chance to develop a relationship with your sibling, to all my LGBTQ+ bereaved siblings whether you are LGBTQ+ or your sibling who died was LGBTQ+, and to any other siblings who I have not mentioned, Ohana.
Ohana means family and family means that nobody gets left behind OR forgotten.