loss. --- what I've experienced since.

Going into 5 years without my brother, If I close my eyes I can picture each moment like it was moments ago. Sometimes I hate to close my eyes, sometimes I love to close my eyes. There is a feeling of guilt when I don’t feel anything at all, and there is a feeling of guilt when I feel it all. What I have learned most over these past years is that truly there is no right or wrong way of grieving. The only wrong is avoidance. 

I want to share my story of loss with you:

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At age 21, I lost my oldest brother. He was 28, only 7 more years of life than myself at that time. too young. If you know me, you know his impact on my life. If you don’t then let me paint a little picture for you. He was my dance partner at every wedding. He chose that, I never had to ask. We were the ones doing the "Dirty Dancing" lift in the kitchen. Drew was the one who sang all the time, would change every “you” in a song to “Drew”. He was the one who told me that I would follow my dreams with no one holding my hand, that I can do it, and I will be proud that I did. He believed in my dreams and made that very apparent. He was the one who drove behind me when I was driving a car full of girls with my permit (sorry mom and dad, secrets out), he said that if I was going to get pulled over he was going to speed past so they would go after him instead. Drew was more than a protector, and he was not perfect. What he was and what he is still painted in my heart as… is a friend that believed in a bright, laughter filled, loving world, full of encouragement and possibly pranks. He simply made the room more fun!  

Like I said, I can close my eyes and remember, so clearly, my favorite moments…. and some of the scariest. Watching my brother pass, and waiting for it… every breath in was a blessing and every breath out was fear… “was that his last”/ “I just don't want him to hurt anymore”… But with such little time between both inhale and exhale your heart couldn't keep up. A roller coaster isn't even a good enough analogy. When he did take his last breath it was shocking to feel a sense of relief for him, but then instantly I looked at my family surrounding me. I saw the heart break in their eyes, it became a whole other pain that I have never felt before. I remember looking at the clock and it said 3:20 and I knew at that moment we all shattered the same… the only glue we had was each other.

The most random thing for me and weird “dream like” memory that I have, is that we went to dinner at Mimi’s Cafe after, cause I guess we didn't know what to do. After, you spend everyday living in the ICU waiting room for weeks, what do you do? Well, we went to eat dinner with our extended family. Not knowing what to say, not knowing what to eat, I just remember staring at my plate… “Out of place” is how life felt. That feeling lasted for awhile, weeks maybe…. until the idea of “forever” came into the equation. Although, “forever” may have been the hardest thing to realize, it allowed for clarity to come in and I believe to let the grieving process begin. 

I hope no one experiences loss, but if you do I want to share some of the things I have learned. Maybe they will be helpful, maybe they will be something you can relate with, or maybe it can give you courage to trust your process. Just know, even before I say anything about my journey, that I am so sorry for your loss, I know it hurts, I don’t know how your’s hurts specifically but I know it hurts and I am so sorry. 

My process started with me asking every day to see beauty, something that would could brighten my day… give me hope. And the beautiful thing about simply throwing up a prayer to see beauty, you will get it. I started experiencing more genuine laughter, more smiles and noticed everything glowing and bright around me... I would stop in my tracks cause of a flower that fell on the sidewalk. I think I knew my inside had pain that was way too much to bring attention to, so I had to work from the outside in. However, what I noticed began to come with this, was a false mindset that EVERYTHING had to be good and beautiful. I started getting mad at myself and not allowing the time for the tears or pain. There simply was not time nor space for that to exist in my life. I’m going to tell you, anything that was great, was such a huge part of your life, when you lose them, you ARE allowed and there will always be space for your heart to break… bleed…. cry and feel fully what you are going through. It will happen at some point and it needs to so you can start the healing process. 

SO, my first tip of advice: (easier said than done, and I still have to remind myself) give yourself time. Ask yourself what you need, and what you feel. 

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2nd tip of advice: Social media is amazing for love, support and for people to shower you with praise for being “strong”, however, what I am JUST now learning… is that the attention you are getting for being strong is not an expectation for you to ALWAYS be strong. They are simply saying I acknowledge your strength. That also sounds better than… “good job for crying on your kitchen floor until there were no more tears”. Just know you are already strong because you are still moving forward with time, and that is ENOUGH, there is also so much strength in letting the grieving process be real and present for you. Cause trust me I said “NAH” and ran from it many times. Which honestly, I thought that was my strength talking but really that was fear. 

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That day-to-day of looking for beauty existed for a while until it took me into a place of bitterness, I started to look at everyone’s complaints and “sadnesses” and I’d roll my eyes ----“if only they knew my pain”. This was tough for me because it didn't align with who I was/am. I began fighting my thoughts A LOT. I’m glad I did because I believe ultimately that pushed me to do something I rarely have done prior....

WHICH leads me to….3rd piece of advice: Trust the ones that are close to you, to be your pillow, your journal, your friends. 

My friends here in LA didn't know my life in KS or my brother. I had a hard time bringing my pain into their lives. I felt like a burden, a downer and truly I was more embarrassed of feeling like I was “too much” or “annoying” or a “Debbie downer” that I would keep my mouth shut. Until life said you can’t do that anymore.  A car wreck, panic attacks, and finally a safe therapy room, led to me seeing that it’s time to start leaning on people. Now they know I have moments where I feel more pain than other moments and guess what… they let me have that space. They let me tell them stories of Drew. The best part about this, is the more people know of the person you lost, the more it keeps their color alive in your life, it keeps their stories alive and it’s not so much sad as it’s real. I find it’s special to remember Drew as real, instead of a memory that’s only going to exist as a part of my past.

I deny the possibility to have his heart and the drumbeat of his soul to be left within the dates on his tombstone. There were too many people impacted by him and I was too greatly impacted by him to neglect bringing who he was… his drumbeat, forward into my life ahead.

I’m going to  stop here for today because that’s where I am at in my life. It doesn't seem like a lot for being 5 years, but now I understand why people say you grieve for a lifetime. 

This is my story, my journey and it hasn't been perfect but what I know to be perfect is healing and when asked for, healing will come. I wish I had never experienced losing my brother, but because I have… I feel its important to be transparent with grief. Again, if you are reading this and are experiencing loss, I AM SO SORRY. I hope that me saying “me too, I am on this rocky road with you” can add some hope to your journey, to know you aren't alone, and everything you are feeling is OK. 

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arielle bodenhausen