A July Day, 38 Years Ago, to Now

My only brother, Dan, died on July 27, 1978, from cancer. He was 22.

Just when I think I’m done writing about this…you know, there it is.

This day comes around each year, sun blazing, and I’m back in that quiet hospital room in Ames, Iowa, watching my place in the world shift.

Time keeps changing my perspective about his death, in surprising ways.

For the first many years on this day, I was so sad. The memories of my brother were fresh. As in you could smell them fresh. His clothes and possessions were left in my parents’ basement long after others might think they should have been.

I knew of only two other people my age who had lost siblings, and I didn’t know them well. Before it happened to me, these people were aliens, caught in some scary and bleak setting I couldn’t imagine. Now I was one of them.

Too soon, others joined us in this murky territory. Two of my best friends lost their brothers, within five years of my loss. The three of us were numb. For quite a while, my mission was to stay that way. I knew of no resources to help one deal with sibling loss. The idea of “grief stages” was brand new.

At age 30, I had a daughter of my own. Now I was able to try to imagine, almost daily, how my parents felt when Dan died. My heart hurt for them in a whole new way.

As a teacher, I experienced deaths of students, students’ siblings and parents and fellow teacher’s spouses. Grief resources were a fact of life now, and I took advantage.

My father had been dead for seven years, my mother for three, when I reached the age the age they were when their son died. I could now contemplate the circle of their lives. I witnessed how they were in the years after their son died. The sadness and grief never went away. But my daughter brought joy to our worlds. I could feel gratitude.

Now people my age are grandparents, and some must endure the death of a grandchild. I think of my grandmother’s face the night Dan died. My heart goes out to these people who have to feel that savage pain. I’ve seen what that looks like.

I think about people I sat through math class with in high school, and the losses we’ve all suffered. And what we didn’t know then.

One of my jobs as a freelancer is writing articles and blog posts for the funeral profession. I’ve heard a lot of sad stories.

I have perpsective.

But no matter how much life I’ve lived, every July 27, I’m still a sister who’s lost without her brother.

Like what you read? Give Kitty Sheehan a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.