What I’ve Learned about Death and Grieving from Losing Four Siblings

My brother George’s death anniversary was just a few days ago. Yesterday, I spoke with my niece Katie, who mentioned she’d had a tough morning as she re-grieved the loss of her father. I’d had a tough morning too on that day and we talked about the benefit of a therapeutic cry. As my mother used to say to me when I was feeling upset, “Looks like you need to just go crawl in bed and have a good cry.” I have found that advice beneficial many times over my life.

Today, I discovered this piece that I wrote a while back about what I’ve learned from losing four of my siblings. I thought it seemed appropriate to share right now, particularly since our country is losing so many people to Covid-19. I realized after reading my list that I should have added the benefits of having that periodic good cry. I don’t know how I could have forgotten that. Thanks, Katie, for helping to bring that very good advice back to mind.


As some of you know, I am from a family with six children (seven, except my little brother, Robert Alexander, died shortly after birth). All my older siblings: my sister, Leslie (11 years older); and my brothers, John, 9 years older; Jim, 8 years older; and George, 3 years older; have died. The only sibling I have remaining is my younger brother, Sam, who is five years younger than I am. Alas, death has become familiar over these past years. John and Jim died of AIDS, George of cancer, and Leslie from complications related to a past head injury that manifested as Alzheimer’s.

Here are a few thoughts I have upon reflection:

1) You can live without people even if you don’t want to.
2) You can cope with loss even if you don’t want to.
3) You can not keep people here just because you aren’t ready for them to die.
4) You can feel grateful (and guilt-free) about appreciating the benefits of a short-lived illness versus long-suffering.
5) You are lucky if you get to have that one last conversation you were hoping to have.
6) You will survive if that conversation you hoped for doesn’t happen. You can discern from your many other conversations with that loved one that they loved you and they knew that you loved them back.
7) Any unresolved feelings/relationships can become resolved even after death since dealing with death and grieving helps you to gain perspective.
8) Having a few favorite objects of the loved one can bring great comfort.
9) Love transcends time and space.
10) The people you love are never far away; in fact, it can sometimes feel as if they’re standing right beside you.
11) Life is imperfect in terms of people, timelines, hopes and dreams.
12) Last Rites is a lovely and healing ritual.
13) Having the opportunity to serve as a “midwife” for your loved one’s transition from this life to the next is one of those experiences to be treasured.
14) Recognizing the essential nature of the circle of life can bring great comfort.
15) Birth and death are very similar in that you have no real control over either and time elongates during the wait.
16) Gratitude will serve you better than almost any other emotion.
17) Faith, hope and love are essential bedrocks when coping with loss.
18) You will have the comfort of dreaming about your loved ones at different times after they pass away.
19) You will sometimes think you see your loved one in a crowd of people, even though you know absolutely that they are now dead.
20) Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s 5 Stages of Grief are right on target.

This post is spurred by the recent deaths of two people in my large scope of friendships. I can see that my experiences have colored my perceptions and have brought some clarity to me about the death experience. I was very lucky in that I was able to be present for the deaths of two of my siblings; and in close contact for the deaths of the other two. Watching that shift from “here” to “there” is miraculous in itself.

compass & growth

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Mary Jo Doig says:

    This is so generous, Len. Thank you.

    1. You’re welcome, Mary Jo.

      1. Mary Jo Doig says:

        Thank you for your words, Len. Your visit always warm my heart, and especially now.

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