Good Grief: 5 Lessons I Learned From Losing My Twin

5 Years ago, at the age of 22, I lost my twin brother in a car accident. I found myself at a fork in the rode and chose the path that sent me on a winding, magical, transformative journey. Below are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

1. How to Feel:

Following my brother’s passing, I unknowingly numbed my feelings, and pushed myself to continue life as it was before he had passed. I guess you could say, I learned this first lesson the hard way. Unsurprisingly, my unexplored feelings began to manifest as physical pain: I experienced migraines for days at a time. I’d wake up with my legs shaking from anger, and everyday the forecast for my mind was fog.

I set up an appointment to see a psychologist, and I learned that physical pain can be a manifestation of suppressed emotion, and overthinking can be the result of attempting to think through something that needs to be felt. I learned to feel my feelings, I learned to stay with them, and I learned to identify them. Was I feeling, “Sad? Angry? Afraid? Hurt? Happy?” I’m a somatic person, so if I felt a tug in my body at any of those questions, I paused, and explored that feeling. Where did I feel it in my body? What did it want to do? What did it want to say?

A wise person once told me that the way to let go of a feeling is to let it in, let it be, let it grow, and before you know it, the feeling will unravel and let go of itself. If I could give you one piece of advice here it would be to feel your feelings, and listen to them. They may have something to teach you.

2. How to Be Vulnerable:

Every time I shared the news of my brother’s passing with a new person, I felt like I had dropped a bomb on the listener. My physical body reacted accordingly, setting off my sympathetic nervous system’s flight-mode. Instead of running away, I would change the topic as fast as I possibly could — often before my counterpart could finish exchanging an, “I’m sorry”.

Overtime I challenged myself to stay present with the awkward silence, with the caught-off-guard listener, with the array of well-meaning responses, and with the uncomfortable feelings that arose within me. I began to realize what a true “I’m sorry” meant to me. It meant that people cared enough to share in my sorrow. As I learned to remain present with others in that new and uncomfortable space, I afforded them the opportunity to sit in that sorrow with me. Little by little, the gift of their presence unburdened the load.

3. How to Empower Myself Through Self-Care:

There is nothing like migraines and general wooziness to force you to learn to take it easy. Through the grief process, I learned how to relax, how to care for myself, and how to fill my cup before pouring into the cups of others. I took an easy job and focused on healing for a solid year before challenging myself in other areas of my life. I learned to not judge myself for the anxiety, anger, fear, introversion, depression, exhaustion, or confusion I was experiencing. I learned to not judge myself for my short fuse or the controlling behavior I was exuding. I learned to accept that my base level of stress was at an all-time high and I learned to adjust my everyday life and the expectations I had of myself accordingly.

I learned how to speak to myself kindly and to recognize that all parts of myself always wanted what was best for me, they just had different ideas of how to go about it (e.g. the part of me that wanted to go to the gym for an endorphin-boost vs. the part of me that wanted to stay at home and comfort myself with cookie dough).

I learned that the grieving process isn’t linear and I learned how to be patient with myself. I could be having a upbeat month and suddenly something could poke an old wound just right, causing buried pain to surface for healing. I learned how to hold myself and promised to be there at all times.

4. How to Use the Power of Love:

One of the first healing experiences I had after my brother passed was the moment I realized why I was grieving so deeply. It was because of love. I had loved my brother so much. I began to understand that I never had to stop loving him. In fact, as time went on, I learned that I could love him even more.

I could close my eyes and feel the essence of my brother’s energy at any time. I could visualize him singing goofy songs and dancing around the kitchen. I could imagine myself hanging out with him on the back porch of our childhood home. I could remember what it felt like to hug him and make that feeling grow. I could even conjure him up in my mind and have conversations with him. Through this practice, I realized our relationship did not end when he passed. It just changed. Now I know that I can feel him with me at all times.

5. How to Forgive:

After my brother passed, I felt a lot of pain. I directed that pain in the form of blaming others: the Universe, other people, and my brother himself. I expected that things should have been different and certain people should have acted differently. Those expectations seemed reasonable to me at the time, but ultimately, they were still expectations. I learned that when we have expectations, we give our power away. For example, if I expect someone to be a certain way, I’ll be disappointed when they don’t meet my expectation. Then by blaming them for not meeting my expectation, I once again put my happiness in their hands.

I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to be happy all of the time, on my own terms. I learned to shift my expectations to realistic ones, and I realized that everyone is different and everyone is doing the best they know how to do at all times. These shifts in understanding freed me of the blame-game all together — making forgiveness obsolete.

Healing through grief can take time. Everyone heals in their own way and at their own pace. If we do the best we can and show up to do the work with courage, the lessons we learn can last a lifetime.