I’m sorry for your loss. It’s a phrase we say when someone we care about has lost someone they care about. It’s a phrase I’ve heard hundreds of times since September 25, 2023, when my brother passed from Fentanyl poisoning. I recently googled ‘what is the true meaning of loss?’ It’s defined as the state of being deprived of or of being without something that one has had. This simple definition hit me like a ton of bricks and brought uncontrollable tears to my eyes, even shocked me a bit. Deprived is definitely a feeling I have become familiar with these last four months, but it is not a word I would have ever used to describe my life before Griffin’s death.
Griffin meant so much to each and every person he met. He lit up a room and had the natural ability to bring old friends, new friends and family together in a way you’d assume everyone was already connected. Each person Griffin touched is now deprived of the joy he might have brought them in the future. His best friend getting married in June doesn’t have Griffin as his best man. His buddies who used to rely on him for Taco-Tuesday don’t have a place to show up for a dinner where they don’t have to bring a single thing. My sister and I are deprived of watching Griffin grow up, get married, and have a family. My kids are deprived of silly Uncle Griffin throwing the lacrosse ball in the backyard or playing hide and seek on our crazy family vacations. My parents are deprived of having more grandchildren and walking their son down the aisle.
The magnitude of our loss is something I know everyone close to him feels very deeply. Something we all had and held very close is gone. For me, something constantly feels missing. It’s as if I tried to put something away and it ended up in the wrong spot. I find myself searching for it all over only to be flooded with reality; it’s gone. When I realize Griffin is gone and he isn’t coming back, it takes my breath away and I am back to the moments of I’m sorry for your loss.
Now what? What does life look like? A little over four months ago, and in the blink of an eye, the entire trajectory of my life changed. Everything I knew and looked forward to has shifted and created this deep hole in my heart. I still catch myself thinking life is exactly as it was before we lost Griffin. Since Griffin lived in Chicago, I think a part of my brain believes he will be flying home for the next holiday. Is this shock or is it denial? I’m not sure yet.
If you’ve experienced this kind of loss, you’ve probably been told to keep busy, but it feels impossible when the feelings come up. There are moments I sink into the loss and the despair, and I feel frozen. Maybe you’ve been told to take care of yourself. Sounds like a no-brainer but it can be a challenge. Still, it’s good advice and self-care can help lift the pain off our shoulders. I work to find moments of joy in my day—soak up the sun on my face on a walk, read a book with a yummy latte in hand. But I know it’s also okay to feel out of whack, to feel sadness and anger. Sometimes I just have to release it all and let myself cry—I’m talking ugly crying, the kind where you get mad and angry and scream into your pillow. Every single feeling that pops up is normal—fear, anger, nostalgia for the past, confusion, and uncertainty about what life will be like going forward. Sometimes it helps to talk to him. I talk to Griffin every day. I tell him funny things, I tell him I miss him, I tell him things I surely know he would roll his eyes about.
I think we can all agree that grief teaches us some things. It teaches us that life is incredibly short and we need to express gratitude for the moments we had with the ones we love. On days when I don’t want to get out of bed, I remind myself that I am grateful for a home that provides unconditional love, laughing children, and truthfully—a gym in my basement where I can move my body. When I cook meals and bake for my family, I am grateful to have healthy kids and a loving husband to feed. Movement, cooking and baking are my medicine. I do not take for granted any moment I am in those spaces getting to do the things that bring me joy as those are things that have helped me get through the darkest of days so far.
Sometimes missing my brother feels like a kind of homesickness, not for a place but for a person, for what felt like home when Griffin was in my life. I am confident that he walks alongside me and is with me every day. He protects and guides me, as well as my children and family. He shows up in signs. Sometimes it’s his name, favorite song, or a University of Georgia sticker on a car. In fact, as I was writing this post I was looking out on a dark and gloomy day, but just now as I’m finishing up, the sun has broken out and it is, in fact, a beautiful day! It’s a sign that prompts me to say out loud, Thank you G, I miss you like heck. Keep showing me you’re here!
Olivia Harrell lives in Baldwin, Maryland, with her husband, two young children, and a Bulldog named Lola. She lost her brother, Griffin, to an accidental overdose from Fentanyl on September 25, 2023. Her monthly blog examines the twists and turns of grief and healing. Olivia loves to spend time with her family, make sourdough from scratch, and exercise. She is also incredibly thankful for the community of LITT and invites others with a similar loss to participate in LITT’s Sibling Support Group. For more information click here.