Last month, I wrote about the passing of my brother, Marty Ogino. Since it was so sudden and this was a sibling that I loved so deeply, I experienced a depth of grief that I never knew before.
At my age and the age of many baby boomers, we will be facing the pain of death more often than the joy of birth, so I wanted to share my thoughts now that a month has passed since I lost my brother.
These are things I learned from others or through my experience. Since grief is so personal, perhaps these will not resonate with you. But I wish I learned some of these things, so I could have been a better friend as people grieved.
If it speaks to you, I hope it gives you permission to feel all that you feel in your time of grief and an understanding of what others may be going through. If it doesn’t speak to you, it is just my personal thoughts and experiences.
THINGS THAT CONSOLED ME:
• I appreciated those who gave me space to grieve. I remember one person writing in an email two days after I lost my brother … “Marsha just needs time to heal.” She was so right. And though I know I will still have difficult moments, time has eased the pain.
• I appreciated people crying with me and sharing their experiences of losing a sibling or loved one. I felt so vulnerable when I cried, and when people were vulnerable back, my heart connected with them and I felt heard. This also gave me permission to lean into all that I was feeling and not judge myself.
• I appreciated my husband and best friend saying that I should do what I needed to do as I grieved. Sometimes that meant I stayed in bed, curled up, feeling my loss. Other times, it was to watch television to give myself some respite from the painful thoughts of no longer having Marty in my life. But mostly, it was to be allowed to grieve in the way that was best for me.
• I appreciated people sharing how much my brother touched their lives. Hearing stories made me remember the good Marty brought into the world and not just the sadness that he was no longer here.
• I appreciated people not trying to cheer me up or feeling bad FOR me. I know people were doing so out of love and care, but it made me feel like it was NOT OK to be sad. On the other hand, when people felt sad WITH me, it allowed me to be vulnerable in my grief. I know in the past I have tried to cheer people up. In the future, I will be different. I will listen to what they need and just BE with them in their sadness, their memories or how they want to be comforted.
THINGS I LEARNED:
• Everybody grieves differently. We all must find our way back to our life in the way that works best for us. For me, it was not putting any timetable on my grief, but just allowing it to be what it was.
• Asking for what I needed and receiving the support was such a welcomed response. For meetings that I did not feel could be canceled, I asked for support, and others graciously stepped up to lead. That was such a gift. I didn’t feel guilty, but I felt cared for.
• I could not love my brother so deeply without grieving his passing in the same way. I had to feel the pain and devastation, so as time allows me to heal, I could feel the love and the connection we had. If I numbed myself to the pain, I would have numbed all he was to me. Keeping my heart open was hard, but it was important.
I hope some of my thoughts will help you if you lose someone you love or comfort someone who has lost a loved one. There is a children’s book called “The Rabbit Listened” by Cora Doerrfeld. One of my dearest friends, Jennifer, sent it to me.
The author wrote this book as a reminder that often what a person needs most is someone who will just be there with them and listen.
I am so grateful for all of those who sat and listened to me.
Marty was such an amazing human being when he was alive, and I can see that he continues to be that amazing person even after he is gone. How else would I have been able to write this column and share all that I have experienced without his inspiration whispering in my ear. Rest in peace and love, dear brother. You will always be in my heart.
Marsha Aizumi is an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and author of the book “Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother, Her Transgender Son and Their Journey to Love and Acceptance.”