I very recently read an article that came up on my Facebook timeline – a beautiful article about dealing with the death of a friend. It was about grief, friendship, and the pain of loss. I read it, and if I’m honest the first emotion that came up was a kind of bitter anger. I thought “You think *you’re* feeling bad – how do you think their family is feeling?”, as if somehow my grief was more valid than people who were friends with my brother. As if I “deserved” to feel more pain than someone else because I was related to him.
I’m not proud of that reaction. I honestly feel ashamed that I felt that way, because grief is hard and awful, no matter who you were to the person that passed. I sat with the emotion, recognising it for what it was, I realised it was rooted in a jealousy that I had for people who were friends with my brother – they knew him in a whole other way, they had a whole different series of memories about who he was. I remember looking through photographs at his funeral, seeing him drunk and on nights out with his school and uni friends, and smiling because this was my brother in a way I had never seen – a regular mid-20 year old man who got drunk with his friends. It was funny to see him in that way, not because I didn’t know he did that, but because I never saw that side of him.
I’ve recently had an experience where someone has portrayed me in a very different light to how I see myself. They’ve painted this picture of me as an unpleasant person, and this who they believe I am. That’s the box they have put me in. It’s hard when you see yourself through someone elses eyes if that person doesn’t “see” you in the way you hope you come across. But it also shows you that “who you are” is fluid. “Who you are” isn’t fixed, we are complicated, multifaceted people who look different depending on the lens someone else is viewing us through. We have so little control over how people see us, and relinquishing that control is… a little challenging, honestly. Trying to convince other people you’re not a scary beast isn’t worth it, when you could be focussing on building relationships with the people who *do* care about you.
Looking back at the article and the feeling it brought up, I realised that I have been quite selfish about my grief. Grieving is very much a “you do you” thing, where you can’t tell someone else how to do it, everyone just grieves very much in their own way. There’s nothing even remotely wrong with grieving selfishly, if that’s how I needed to to it. But also, I think, I’ve been almost keeping myself from admitting that it was more than just “my brother” that died. I said at the beginning that my family had all lost someone – My parents had lost a son, my sister-in-law had lost a husband, her parents had lost a son-in-law. I said it to try and keep everyone together during the hardest time of our lives, but also to remind us all that he wasn’t just a son, or a brother, or a husband, he was all of those things and more. He was something different to each of us, and we all knew him in our own way. But I neglected, I think, to include other people that knew him in their own way. Each individual facet of Matt’s personality was reflected in each of these individuals, and each one of those facets has gone forever. To ignore the grief of people who considered him a friend, or those who considered him an aquaintence, or even those who may not have even liked him very much – is to ignore those parts of who he was.
So when I felt jealous of my brothers friends for having a different relationship with him than I did, it’s almost like saying their version of him was “wrong”, like who Matt was was who I saw him as. That idea is like saying who Matt was was a fixed identity, or like who I am is fixed and my reality is the only reality that matters. In letting go of that control – the control of how we see each other, it rubs up against that same fear of letting go of how people see me. I don’t want to be seen as this awful person that the above person has decided I am, but I can’t control that anymore than I can control how my boyfriend thinks that I am wonderful and worth love.
We are not one person or one identity. To hold onto the idea that all we are is in who we think we are is to discredit the complexity of what it means to be human. We put so much thought into our self image, and who we want to be seen as, whether through Facebook or in how we present ourselves in the day to day. We want people to see us in this certain way, our “idealised” self and we make friends with the people who see us in the way we want to see ourselves.
But we have no control over that. And really? Who someone else sees me is really… none of my business.
Matt connected with so many people through his own writing and his own story, he inspired people and changed lives. He was an incredible person – and he was my younger brother – and whoever he was to you, I hope you can forgive me for my selfish reaction to the grief of other people. And above all, I hope that you find some comfort in your grief. My blog, and my stories, and my illustrations can’t match Matts – we are pretty dramatically different people in outlook and writing style, but I don’t want to close off my grief and act like my family are the only people who can feel sad. Sharing your grief, sharing the loss of the person he was to you is to celebrate all of those aspects of who he was. If you need me, I’ll be here.