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Beyond the Grief – 4 Years On…

Ethan at Sunset

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This weekend is the 4 year anniversary of my little brothers death.

He died suddenly – aged 24. It was truly shocking and devastating.

At the time I found writing about it cathartic. But as the intensity of the initial grief subsided so did my willingness to share the deep chest pulling hole that you feel when you think about the person you love who should be here but isn’t.

Especially if you have returned to the everydayness of every day living.

Every year around this time and around January (his birthday) it comes up again.

I look at how I have progressed. How have I changed? How do I keep him alive in my own way?

This year I have been dreaming about Ethan a lot. I am pretty sure it is more than previous years, several times a month I wake up with a glimpse of a moment we just had. Or I remember it later in the day or week when something happens that seems familiar. In my dreams I remember little things that I never paid much attention to when he was alive.

When I dream about him, I know that it is special. Even when I am asleep, I know to savor those moments.

His death has changed me. A discernible shift in the way I am. With the grief of losing someone you often hear that people realise that life is short.

It’s true. It happens. Life is short.

Armed with this new appreciation for the frailty of life, John and I booked our tickets, got rid of our possessions and went out to see the world.

One thing I have found through grief is a whole new understanding of compassion. Which perfectly suits the work we have been doing in impoverished places and with disadvantaged people.

Over the last 2.5 years we have met people and collected their stories. Stories from the 25 projects we have filmed and also hundreds of people who we just met along the way.

It’s this exquisite thing… we meet people and it just happens, they feel compelled to tell us their story and we feel compelled to listen. Even when we don’t speak the same language, the humanness of stories transcends language.

The Bolivian woman who was enslaved for 15 years, working morning until night, 7 days a week only being paid enough to buy rice.

Our Colombian friend who lived homeless and alone in the streets from the age of 10.

The family in Guatemala whose father injured himself at work, throwing the family into a severe poverty and hunger.

The ex-prostitute in Nicaragua who told us about the violence and abuse that she suffered at the hands of her clients.

The Afghani medical student who had to flee his home at 14. He travelled for months by himself to claim refugee status. He has never seen his family again.

The Irish chef whose baby was stillborn. The depression destroyed his relationship, and he ended up a drug addict on the streets on Dublin.

The Brazilian woman whose husband died soon after they married, she now is dedicated to teaching art to underprivileged children.

Each one of these stories is something special. To be treasured. I feel like they were given to us, and that we are privileged to have been given them. Many times there is a victory over the past. Many times there is not.

I still think about him several times a day, every day, and from time to time I feel really, really sad that Ethan is gone. But more often, I experience him in this huge capacity I now have for compassion for the people we meet.

For the struggles and triumphs they have and for my ability and willingness to do something about it sometimes, even if it is just to listen to their story, carry it in my heart and treasure it for what it is.

Thanks bro.

If you like it, please share it!


Speak your lovely mind!

  1. It is so sad and such a cutting experience and yet, everything else goes on as it always has. I found that the hardest to deal with when my mum died. But that’s life, it goes on, with or without you. And it’s short! We better make the most of it!!!

  2. Hi Serena,
    I watched the video of your gorgeous brother with a lump in my throat. Your loss is terrible but your words are inspiring. Kia Kaha

  3. Losing someone you love is the deepest cut of all, but be assured Serena he will always live in your heart. Life and death – the yin and yang. Live to the full.

  4. Beautiful heart-felt post Serena…thank you for sharing xx
    Paula Johnson recently posted..Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself…My Profile

  5. This is one of the most beautiful posts I’ve read. It always amazes me how resilient people are and what they can live through. It’s beautiful what your brother’s death has taught you and the stories you’ve been able to capture. I love how you wrote “Even when we don’t speak the same language, the humanness of stories transcends language.” I’ve always believed that hearing the stories of others can change us, heal us. It is such an honour to be let into people’s worlds when they share their stories, especially the hard stories. That’s why I wanted to become a journalist.

    I am reminded of this quote. I definitely hold onto it in the hard times:)

    “With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.” – Max Ehrmann

    Thanks for sharing Serena.
    Christel Price recently posted..On perfectionMy Profile

  6. Serena thanks for the great writing and sentiment put into your article. It’s great that you have been motivated by memories of Ethan to become interested in documenting other peoples lives. We’ve had our own bit of grief in our street recently that made all the neighbours reassess their lives. A neighbour and close friend opposite us lost her only son Sam in a car accident about 10 years ago. Two weeks ago her husband Joe also died of a brain tumour after a short illness. It seemed as though the dust had just settled after Joe’s funeral when we had a terrible phone call saying her future son in law Daniel had suddenly died last weekend. So within two weeks her step daughter had lost a father and a partner. Their daughters first birthday party was to be on the Sunday (Daniel died Friday night). We have heard that he bought some sort of synthetic drugs over the counter from a sex shop after some drinks with mates. Maybe it was some sort of horrible allergic action, as yet no one knows – except that he died as a consequence. So, I’ve gone on a bit of a mission myself! I think I’ll call it, “If you can’t grow it, don’t take it!” Being an older bloke now I get my buzz from a beer or wine occasionally but I worry about my teenage kids and everyone else’s. It’s so easy to make a mistake and cause yourself damage especially when it’s legal to sell these concoctions. Enough said!
    Bravo Serena – I now know exactly why you dropped everything and started your adventure.
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  7. hey Serena,
    grief is a great long arm that binds us to our loved ones – in a tight embrace until we’re ready for it to turn into a thread of gold – that’s how it was for me over the last 25 years since my mother’s death. That’s death, that’s life. We go on… you are going on with great works….
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  8. Thinking of you Serena. It’s awesome that you share with us while feeling your grief. It must be helping so many other people!! And yes life is short :)
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  9. Grace-Shanti says:

    All love and Blessings to you Serena and Thank You for sharing this beautiful video giving a 12 minute glimpse into a beautiful Souls short life. Continued Blessings to you, to Ethan and to your family. May Ethan Rest In Peace and Rise in Love. The Love that you have in your precious Heart for him is wonderful and it is inspiring how you have/are evolving because of it. <3

  10. lisa | renovatingitaly says:

    a beautiful way to share the memory of your brother Ethan, my own brother Bradley died in 2010 just a few months after his 50th. That hole you mention never goes away, and yes losing those closest to you changes how you live your life, how you sense loss in others, how you have a new empathy and compassion that just is magnified by the force of those you lost, for me it has been my son, brother and Dad, sending love xx

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