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I had homework last week during a pre-conference continuing education course. The idea that I was doing homework in a city away from home that I essentially had to pay for would have delighted my brother to no end, especially if he knew it made me think of him. I can almost hear him laughing about it.
The first assignment we had was to take photographs after class. The only stipulation was that the photo needed to be something that “spoke to us.” We were told that these photos could represent our life experiences, emotions, or a topic that meant something to us. While I am frequently taking photographs, this proved to be both easy and difficult simultaneously. The next day we explored these photos together and what reactions came from them.
I have a photo essay on my phone from that evening as I was trying to discern the meaning of everything “speaking to me.” However, it became very clear that a photograph of a brick walkway- and the walkway itself- was the very thing I needed in that moment. Had I not been assigned to take photos, I likely would have walked on this path not noticing the bricks or my connection to my past, my heritage, and my bittersweet joy. You see, these were not ordinary bricks. They were old, paver bricks with imprinted lines, and more than several were stamped with “Pittsburgh” or various now-defunct brick companies. They had moved with the earth and a path was worn into them from whatever long, rich history happened there.
Ok, you may be wondering why am I telling you about bricks or what on earth they have to do with sibling loss or grief.
When I saw these detailed paving bricks, I was taken back to the alley behind my grandparents’ home made of these pavers. A flood of memories, including my brother and I navigating the bumps, cracks, and weeds growing through the crevices as we entered our grandfather’s enormous, fragrant vegetable garden, led to other memories of not only my brother but also of my grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles.
Something as cold as a wet, paving brick filled me with warmth and bittersweet joy.
I wanted so badly to call my brother and share the magical discovery of a brick. Yet, seeing them I felt the bond to my brother’s love and my relationship with him and my extended family.
While I couldn’t call Tony to share my joy, one only he would fully understand, I had to learn in that moment that I can rebuild my narrative and identify of who I am now in the “after” of having lost my brother. While I love that this could have been anything, I think it was no coincidence that the object that spoke to me were bricks. My grandfather was quite handy at building and my brother’s favorite toys growing up were all the construction toys you could imagine. They are a symbol of resilience and reconstruction but also that building (or rebuilding) takes time and is shaped by the stories, environment, and circumstances.
I am far from being reconstructed and the losses will always be part of my story.
As a reminder continuing bonds is the name for the relationship we continue to have with our deceased loved one.
Tips to explore your continuing bonds with your sibling:
Remember, no two relationships are the same in life and certainly will not be the same in death. Some of these ideas may work for you and they may not.
These are just a few ideas.
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