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The Commons
Photo 1

Courtesy photo

The author with her nephew Kaya, center, and her son Ajna, right, at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, “one of the most wonderful times we shared together,” she writes.

Voices / Essay

'For 30 days, I wore black'

To lose a young person in your family one time in your life is one time too many. To lose two is unthinkable.

Brenda Lynn Siegel is a frequent contributor to these pages and the loving aunt of Kaya Benjamin Siegel, 25, of Putney, who died unexpectedly on March 8 in Minneapolis, Minn. Her late brother, Johnathan Guy Siegel, was Kaya’s dad.

Originally published in The Commons issue #454 (Wednesday, April 11, 2018). This story appeared on page D1.


When my brother died, I was 19 years old.

It was beautiful and sunny peak autumn, and my heart was broken. My aunt had to fly to meet me where I was living in Tennessee so I would have someone to fly back with me.

To his memorial service I wore clothing that felt “magical.”

I would wake up all night, every night. I had no concept of the pain that was to lie ahead or that I would grieve forever. I did not know what was to come, and in some ways that lack of knowledge made going on easier.

One month ago my nephew, his son, died unexpectedly.

This time, I know that 20 years later. I will cry the same as I did the day that I heard the news.

I know that it will take a while to right my ship. I know that who I am in the world and what I do in the world will change forever.

I know that there will be a dark cloud of grief and sorrow that will always be there. I know that trauma is trauma and that I now have another open wound — one that will not heal but that I will learn to live with.

* * *

This time, I stood on Elliot Street as I got the call, and I screamed and screamed and fell to the ground in the middle of a snowstorm. I felt who I was pour into the pavement. I felt myself crumble to the ground.

I felt a familiar yet unfamiliar feeling: the palpable reality of my worst nightmare coming to light.

I felt the world crumble around me and everything go dark.

When I finally got myself to my father’s house that day, I changed into a black dress and leggings. In that moment, I knew that this time, I would wear black.

I wore black for 30 days.

I wore it because that was the darkness that my world had become and because no part of me wanted to feel light.

I wore it because I knew there was nothing magical. I knew the pain and the suffering and — worst of all — I knew the permanence of the loss.

To lose a young person in your family one time in your life is one time too many. To lose two is unthinkable.

* * *

It took me nearly two weeks to go home again. I have fallen asleep with tears in my eyes and woken up the same for 30 days. I have accepted that I will keep moving forward with this new and open wound, and I have consciously decided to grieve openly and with raw honesty.

Why have I done so?

I have done so because as I began to write on Facebook daily, I discovered that so many people did not know that their pain around loss was “normal.”

I was reminded that our culture does not allow suffering.

I renewed my frustrations about how the New Age culture of “gratefulness” and “manifesting our own realities” negatively impacts those suffering due to causes beyond their control.

I decided to grieve openly because I am unwilling to pretend that this does not hurt.

* * *

Death is such a taboo subject that our culture actually perpetuates our extremely unhealthy societal norms that keep us from talking about it in advance of someone dying. It prevents people from grieving tragic loss and promotes the silence of suffering over speaking of it.

It occurred to me that some of the rise of mental illness in our society is due to us shoving down our trauma. We have to stop doing so.

There are a lot of people out there grieving or suffering another trauma, and to help them discover that they are not alone or abnormal is worth shedding light on the subject. The feeling that they “can’t get over it” does not mean that there is something wrong with them. They need to know that everyone grieves differently and that their feelings are completely valid.

When you see a loved one hurting, crawl into their dark cloud and sit with them. Be and embrace them where they are.

Don’t try to drag them to where you wish they could be. Don’t tell them you think something is wrong with them. Don’t ask them to hide while they hurt.

Don’t tell them that there is a gift in losing someone that they love — there are not gifts in losing a young person.

There is nothing you can say that will make it better. There are no words that can heal them. You are not in control of their pain, and the best thing you can do for them is just meet them in their grief.

My son’s teacher said it perfectly.

He said that the pain, suffering, and grief that you feel are the memories and love you shared with your loved one — and that no one has the right to take that away. It is an injustice when you try to make it better; it hurts instead of helps.

Don’t ask people who are grieving to be better for you. You need to be better for them.

* * *

For 30 days, I wore black, I drank tea, I walked many miles, I stared, I cried, I exercised, I laid awake, I loved my family, and I wrote and wrote and wrote.

That was what I needed this time. This time I needed to hurt, and I will hurt for a long time.

Why wouldn’t I? A baby I once held, a little boy who I loved, a young man full of life, was taken from us.

I don’t say any of this for sympathy as there is nothing anyone can say that will make it different.

Rather, I want to shed light on the pain of grief. For so many people who don’t know what to do, there is nothing, there is no right thing. Let us begin in our culture to allow pain and truth.

I will leave you with a quote from Being Mary Jane, a television show I watched recently. The dialogue was spoken about death, but it should be true in life as well.

“Make sure that you tell everyone that you love that you will love them no matter how ugly their truth is.”

Our society would be so much stronger if we loved people in their truth and their reality as opposed to the truth and the reality that we place on them. Let us love people who are grieving in that truth — not the truth we want them to have.

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