The Forgotten Child

The forgotten child – it sounds like a book or a movie.  It’s not.  The forgotten child is a surviving sibling.  When a sibling dies, no matter the age, they are considered secondary mourners to the parents.  Their roles are altered.

This is all too familiar to me.  This is not the first time I have had a sibling die.  My sister died when I was 12 in a preventable car accident.  I have been down this road.  The parents become so engrossed in their own grief they forget about the living child.  They forget that they need love as well.  It becomes a cycle.  The first time I experienced this I was much younger.  I was constantly reminded that I was not my sister and I was left to feel as though I would never compare to her.  And for my biological father I never did.  Had he had a choice he would have chosen for me to die.  Those are his words – although no verbatim.  The surviving child is not seen as someone who grieves deeply.  They “only” lost their sibling not a child or spouse.  They have no idea – that’s the gist of it.

I am watching this happen all over again.  The difference now is that I am an adult and I can stand up for myself and speak without fear of hurting someone’s feelings or “getting in trouble.”  I have already been reminded that I only lost a brother – not a child – and it’s far different.  That my mother and father are struggling.  This I know.  I am fully aware they are struggling; however, I refuse to have my feelings invalidated.  I refuse to be treated less than I deserve simply because my brother chose to take his own life.  I did not choose that.  I did not commit suicide.  I refuse to allow “verbal abuse” – if that’s what you want to call it – in my life.  I value myself far more than that.  My parents don’t seem to understand that.  I understand there is pain and grief, etc, but under no circumstances is it okay to berate or belittle someone.  Under no circumstance is it okay to treat someone as though they are unworthy.  Under no circumstance is it okay to take out your anger on someone else – especially if they’ve done nothing to deserve it.

As I’ve gotten older and grown and changed I have learned to stand up for myself – even if that means pissing people off.  I refuse to become the forgotten child yet again.  I refuse to be denied my grief because it was not my child or spouse.  I am watching a split occur in my family – not by my hands but by the hands of my parents.  While this is happening, I refuse to allow myself to be sucked into the drama and the bullshit.  If this means that I become more of an outsider than I already am then so be it.  I know that sounds tacky, but I’ve done too much work and worked too hard to allow myself to be in a place that is unhealthy.  I love my parents, but I will not be their proverbial punching bag.  I will not allow myself to be treated as though I am less important than Matt is.  Yes, he is very important and yes my parents are struggling significantly, but when they refuse to acknowledge that other children exist and they are just as important they are creating a divide that may not be able to pieced back together.

The difficulties the surviving sibling goes through is hell.  Depending on their age, the circumstances surrounding the death, the relationship to the sibling all play part in their grief.  Matt was my kid brother – I was his protector.  I should have protected him, but I couldn’t – at least not from himself.  The fact is, he did not die accidentally.  He intentionally shot himself.  He meticulously planned his suicide and followed through on it.  For me it’s been a different experience.  My sister died in an accident – it was not intentional or deliberate.  Matt’s was.  There’s definitely different aspects.  Either way, none of it make sense.

I think parents and families need to recognize that surviving siblings not only deal with the loss of their sibling, but in a way with the loss of their parents, the loss of a relationship, and sometimes the loss of their best friend.  It is not just a quick fleeting ball of emotions.  It is true and valid grief.  Until people begin to recognize this we continue to allow surviving siblings to be invalidated and to be left feeling as though they are not as important as the one who died.  Think about living that way.  Think about not being able to live up to the dead – no matter how hard you try.  No matter your accomplishments.

However, surviving siblings need to work on learning and believing that they are just as important.  That they matter.  That they are valuable and worthy.  That they deserve the best this life has to offer and they should settle for nothing left.  If people fail to recognize their abilities and how amazing they are then that is on them.  I don’t believe surviving siblings should feel lost and defeated.  We should be empowered.  We are still alive and even if our parents or families or friends fail to recognize and validate us – we can do that for ourselves.  We don’t need validation from someone to feel as though our grief is real and it sucks and it’s difficult.  We know it is.  We must deal with it in the healthiest way possible.  Grow from it and move forward.  This is not always easy but it is doable.

No one deserves to feel as though they are unimportant or insignificant – and that, many times, is exactly how the forgotten child feels.  Perhaps we should recognize that the forgotten child does exist and because of this it further complicates the grief process as well as their own belief in their self-worth.

Rise Up…

I fell in love with this song the second I heard it.  It is far more meaningful now than it was 3 months ago.

Process or Regress

When you woke this morning what was your first thought?  Do you remember?  I woke up and thought, “Already?!”  It’s already time to get up?  I just went to bed – or at least that’s what it seemed like to my body and mind.

Over the last month I have run myself ragged.  I go, go, go just to stay busy.  It helps when you are remodeling a bathroom.  I get home and there is always something that can be done; except cleaning the house as that is pointless at this time.  But it never stops.  I keep busy for a reason – so I don’t have to think.  So I don’t have to process.  I can push any emotion, that has the potential to surface, to the side.  I am fully aware that this may not be the best practice, but it is what it is.  However, sheer exhaustion sucks.  I sleep at night, but who knows if it’s restful.  I don’t go to bed early because I’m not tired.  But getting up early and going to bed late is not always the best option for one’s physical well-being.

“It is what it is” has definitely become my response to a plethora of things.  “Sorry about your brother.”  “It is what it is.”  Car battery dies.  “It is what it is.”  Short temper.  “It is what it is.”  I have used this saying loosely in the past, but my favorite has always been, “It will be what it will be.”  Pretty similar in the overall meaning.  I understand that either term may come off callous; especially when using it as a response to anything having to do with my brother or his death.  What else am I supposed to say?  I say thank you, or I appreciate that, or I appreciate you or whatever, but as of late I follow with, “It is what it is.”  And really it is.  There is nothing I can do to change it, make it go away, make it better, make it worse.  It just is what it is.  If that sounds callous then so be it.  I think people assume a person should act or react a certain way – but in reality that’s not how it works.  It’s a process.

Processing emotions is like watching the waves crash on the shore.  They reach so far and wash back into the ocean.  It comes and then just as quickly retreats.  This can result in confusion, anger, frustration.  But is that not life?  Is life not a series of waves crashing onto the shore and washing back into the ocean – where it came from.  You have calm and then you have the destructive waves that wreak havoc.  The tidal waves, the monsoons, the tsunamis, the hurricanes.  A combination of warm and cold butting against each other waiting to create a storm.  That is life.  It’s a combination of great and terrible and they hit each other head-on and create a storm within you.  Their destruction is either minimal or massive.  It will destroy you or just create a little turbulence.

I am not destroyed by Matt’s death.  The self-destruction that he created, the familial destruction he created did not destroy me.  Perhaps it is slowly destroying family, but not me.  Many will say it was a selfish act – and so fucking what if it was.  You weren’t in his shoes, you didn’t know his pain, and if it was a selfish act to rid himself of the darkness, the pain, the demons, then so be it.  Who are we to judge him for that?  I get so damn tired of people using the damned phrase, “It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”  How the fuck would you know?  You aren’t in their head or their lives.  We don’t know what is truly going on with them.  How do we make a judgment call such as that?  It’s because people are stupid, ignorant, and small-minded.  See how destruction works?  See how I can destroy that?  See how deep anger can flow?  The simple phrase of it was a selfish act can spiral uncontrollably to something it was not intended to reach.  That is depression, that is self-harm, that is suicide.

Suicide, like drugs or alcohol, knows no boundaries.  It does not know ethnicity, race, religion, creed, sex, gender, sexual orientation.  Here are some statistics from SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education):  

  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US for all ages. (CDC)
  • The suicide rates decreased from 1990-2000 from 12.5 suicides per 100,000 to 10.4 per 100,000.  Over the past decade, however, the rate has again increased to 12.1 per 100,000. Every day, approximately 105 Americans die by suicide. (CDC)
  • There is one death by suicide in the US every 12.3 minutes. (CDC)
  • Depression affects 20-25% of Americans ages 18+ in a given year. (CDC)
  • Suicide takes the lives of over 38,000 Americans every year. (CDC)
  • Only half of all Americans experiencing an episode of major depression receive treatment. (NAMI)
  • 80% -90% of adolescents that seek treatment for depression are treated successfully using therapy and/or medication. (TADS)
  • An estimated quarter million people each year become suicide survivors (AAS).
  • There is one suicide for every estimated 25 suicide attempts. (CDC)
  • There is one suicide for every estimated 4 suicide attempts in the elderly. (CDC)

Think about this the next time you decide to use that fucking phrase.  This is real.  This is a problem.

Okay, so maybe that little bit of information doesn’t really fit into this blog.  Mindless wander – from here to there.  This is how my mind currently functions.  I go from one thought to the next with no segway.  It just happens.  It’s all fragmented, but it’s also all compartmentalized.  I have made a decision to disconnect from pretty much everything and everyone.  I compartmentalize majority of everything.  It’s nothing new, it is what it is.  Life is a series of events and we process those – or we don’t.  Even when we think we don’t process them we do; maybe not as well as we should or in a healthy way, but we do.  The fact is, we must process.  How do you resolve anything without first processing.  Think about it.

Until next time…