This is what grief looks like.
It’s every day.
It’s unlike anything I’ve ever felt before.
All the work I’ve done documenting women in their grief and loss, I was completely caught off guard with the death of my brother. I had no idea what I have been asking of these women, to show up and show me what they were going through. My friend Jill suggested I turn the camera on myself during this time and at first, I thought that was the worst idea I ever heard. Then I thought I really want to share my own grief experience. I need to share it. It might help me heal.
I hope it might help others know it’s ok for your life to totally suck. This is truly how I feel right now. And that’s ok. My heart is broken. I do feel like shit. My life is a fog of unknowing.
I’ve been thinking about writing this post ever since he died on June 19, 2021. He died while he was out biking by himself. That part has made me really sad, the “by-himself-part”, on top of the constant sad I now live with. The thought that he was all alone is almost my undoing. But they said it was sudden and fast. So that helps me feel a tiny bit better.
We had two funerals for him. A Viking send-off and a more traditional funeral. They were both perfect.
The strange thing was, the morning of his Viking funeral, my family and I were walking to eat breakfast when a man in a van drove past us with his hand on his heart asking for help finding an ER. We had no clue but did ask if we could help in any way and he zoomed off since we did not know.
He turned into the parking lot a short distance away and stumbled out of his car. My sister and I ran over to him and tried to help. All I kept saying to him was, “you are not alone, we are here”. That mattered to me so much about my brother, and I found it interesting that this showed up, someone we could help. While we were trying to help him he kept saying, ” I’m burning up”, and my sister who has some health care experience thought that was really strange so we rolled him on his side. We realized we had rolled him into a pile of ants that were biting him all over his face and neck.
I also thought that might have been my brother, laughing as he always did, especially since we rolled him into an ant pile, that would have been a story he retold in a much more elaborate way. Eventually, the emergency crew showed up to help him. Was it really my brother helping me help someone else the way I had wanted to help him? I’ll never know. And I’m getting ok with that.
My brother was a liver. He lived life so fully and with such zest and fun. The stories I heard at his funeral were so beautiful. He helped so many people in so many ways. When I was younger, he saved my life by stepping up and bringing me into his home with his wife when I was going through a particularly hard time. I don’t know what would have happened to me if I did not get his help. And that’s not all the help he gave me. He constantly supported me through my hardest times. And the beautiful thing I found out was it wasn’t just me. He and his wife helped so many in that way. Any hardship got an invitation to live with them or at least help.
One of Paul’s close friends went thru cancer and chemo. My brother went to every one of his chemo appts. and brought him bone broth. I never heard that story before. He didn’t talk about it, he just did it.
He opened a restaurant, Boldo, and found out about another young girl going through cancer and sent her bone broth all the time. When he worked at Boldo he also organized a Thanksgiving Event where he cooked and provided free meals for over 100 families. He also only hired local Latinx employees, he worked with schools to do garden/farm field trips, he commissioned an employee (a budding artist) to make a huge graffiti piece on a wall in town celebrating food (I think that one was illegal but it was awesome). Everyone who worked around him said he should run for Mayor of Santa Ana because he immersed himself in the community so fully through his restaurant. It was intensely inspiring. And he had a picture of Oma Mae framed on the wall in the restaurant. He loves his family.
He also started a farm for credit system through which locals could grow produce in the backyards and trade it in for meals.
He has given me such inspiration on how I want to live. Just like him. Loving and living with zest and deeply caring for all those around me.
What I have come to understand, is that grief is all-encompassing. It’s always with you. It finds you all the time and any time. You can’t hide from it. I don’t even want to. I need to get my tears and anguish out. I’ve isolated myself because it seems easier than always answering how I am doing. I’m doing badly. I feel like shit. I cry all the time. My heart is broken. I can’t remember anything. All I can do is talk to my other family members about how they are doing. We all get each other. We all are grieving differently, yet the same giant grief. A part of us is now gone and it is not coming back, no matter how much I wish it. A part of me is missing. I feel like we are all parts of an intricate cloth. That when one string comes out, we all fall apart. We need all the strings to stay intact. My brother was one of my strings. And now my cloth is weakened. Yet with this missing string all the other strings in my cloth, my family, all of us, are pulling tighter. To strengthen the cloth in a new way. His string’s imprint will always be there, it was marked from the beginning. Yet it’s missing.
I miss you, Paul, with all my heart and soul. I miss your stories that were always way better than what actually happened. I love how you loved your wife and kids and us. I miss adventures with you. I miss that you will never be here again.
That right there is a total heartbreak.
Mornings are the hardest for me. I wake up and it’s still true. I wish it wasn’t with all my heart. Yet it is.
I do hope we see each other again; I keep waiting for a sign that you are still around somehow. I guess I just know you are and that’s enough. That helps me get up in the mornings.
I know you would want us to live. You would not want us to suffer at all.
I see you running with the dogs, fishing all the fish, and making everyone laugh with your amazing stories.
I love you, I miss you and I wish I could see you one more time.
23 thoughts on “My older brother Paul, died.”
That was so beautifully written. We all share in your grief. Paul was an incredible man, brother, father, uncle, friend. An incredible spouse to my sister.
So few are as good of a human being as our Paul was.
We will love him and miss him forever.
Beth—I feel your loss and pray for you and your family’s healing. Keep the thoughts and memories close. Hugs—
So raw, so beautiful, truth. Your family is so beautiful:) prayers always for you all
A beautifully written post about your brother Paul. I cannot remember the last time I saw Paul, I know it was years ago, but we in Minnesota share your grief. Always heard from either Gayle or Joyce what a wonderful, funny guy he was and a good family man. I pray for you, your sister’s and brother, your mom and dad, that you will eventually heal from this heartbreak, but right now you take all the time you need. Sending lot’s of love, hugs and peace to you.
A relative from Minnesota, Sharon
Beautifully written.Thank you – that helped me. Yes, unraveling, Re weaving , frayed, torn fabric…but it’s that favorite pair of jeans I’ll never throw away.
This is so beautifully written Beth. I never got to know/meet him, nor many others in your family as Jan and Tom lived and had their family in Michigan but wow, he sure sounded like a great guy!! You are also, being and allowing yourself to be vulnerable to us, to live and show and share your grief. I really do think that man who needed your help was a clear message from your brother to help all and do as he would have! I am so sorry for your family, for Jan and Tom to lose a child has to be devastating. I know the whole Syvertson family is deeply saddened and grieve with you. You will find the strength eventually, to go forth, to heal, to experience joy again but yes, you will always miss and grieve the loss of Paul. This I know to be true.
Tears. We can’t have such pain without having astronomical joy. We see clearly now what, who he was/is now that he is gone. And that pushes us to be better, more alive like Paul. Sensing the pain, and as Paul and Ellen said, the journey that strengthen us. The spirit that is in/from him we are Blessed with.
Thanks for sharing Beth; you, Judy, and all continue in my thoughts and prayers.
No words have ever resonated with me so powerfully. Grief is something so unknown and each journey, no matter what, is so isolating. I wish I knew your brother as he is just what our world needs more of! So much love to you, always. Tie a knot in your rope and hold on. ❤️
What a powerful testament to the love for your brother. I wish I could have gotten to meet him. What a beautiful soul you describe. I’m so very sorry for the loss you feel. Only time can weaken the pain. Hard to believe but it does come in smaller waves.. Live in it but know it will, in your own time , begin to soften. Thinking of you. I hate to see you hurting. I’m sending you love from VA. -Paige
Hi Beth. I don’t think we have ever met but I’m Alma’s granddaughter. Your post is gut wrenching but so true. Grief is gut wrenching. It can be unexpected and even when it’s not it’s no less gut wrenching. Your grief and sorrow is unimaginable to me. Thank you for sharing the story of what a wonderful man your brother was and your grief journey. Know many are sending healing thoughts and prayers your way and all of Paul’s family and friends way. Everyone’s grief journey is their own. There is no right or wrong and no time limit. May you find some peace in your memories.
Dear Beth, I did not know your brother Paul and so glad you were able to tell us about what a wonderful human being he was. What an example of love, caring, compassion for others and kindness he gave us. My heart grieves for all of his family and friends and for all the people he helped, a role model for all of us in this world we live in today. That is why all your grief is so strong. Grief is very hard work as you are finding out. My heart aches for Paul’s parents, his wife, family and his siblings. Praying you find strength and finally peace. Carol Haslach.
I knew Paul through Judy. Back in NYC when they were puppies, I saw him over the years when our paths would cross and I always felt the warmth of his smile.
This is a beautiful tribute to your beautiful brother. Grief is tough. I’m living through some of my own. Lean into it. In time, the pain lessens. ❤️
My sweet Beth
Powerful, raw, authentic love. Such beauty in your pictures and in your words. I want to share a passage from my friends book that I read thinking of you and your family during these uncharted waters you are in at this moment~
Message from Above
“You are never alone,
You forget this and forget all you have to do is call, ask, speak, think, listen, and I am here by your side, in your heart.
Open your heart to me, close out the noise.
Slow down, hush now and tune in.
You will feel my steady presence, my willingness to go where you lead, my love, my undying support.
I hold you gently, tenderly, in a space of love, a cloud of acceptance, a breath of faith.
Especially when you forget.”
From 111 Invitations
Beth, you are so creative in expressing yourself through the lens of a camara as well as written words. I feel everything that you have described. Grief definitely comes in waves and sometimes it just hurts so bad. Paul was an amazing brother, dad,husband,friend and son. We all our blessed to have spent time with him here on earth and I am so grateful that he was my big brother. I have felt that a part of me is gone too. Thanks for sharing your raw feelings. I love you so much!
Dear Beth, Thank you for sharing your beautiful thoughts. I was his Mother-In-Law’s life long friend, so knew Paul through her & Judy & “the family”, I’m so sorry I did’nt get to know him better! My heart goes out to you & especially to dear Judy. The world is a better place because he lived. And though those left without him suffer now, the good he did MUST overcome the suffering of those left behind!
Beth, thank you for sharing. I have just met a small glimmer of Paul through your poignant words and memories. May you find comfort in those, and in knowing how much he loved you all. I’m very sorry for your loss.
Beth & Family,
This is another beautiful creation.
My heart hurts for everyone who knows and loves Paul.
(Not knew and loved)
His life lived and his energy will continue on through everyone he touched.
He was a truly great person with an open heart.
He always had PURPOSE!
Oh Beth my heart is fully cracked open reading this beautiful piece on your grief and love for your brother.
Thank you for sharing this with us all. It’s just so beautiful, your brother sounds just as amazing as you.
Love you with all of my heart Beth.
Beth, this is so beautifully said. I’m so so sorry. Your words speak to and from my heart in my own experience of losing my sister. They are the only people on earth that know all of us, these siblings of ours. I love that you have so much love in you, for him, that it’s cracking open and spilling over to us so we can be reminded to continue to love while we’re here.
I don’t think that we have ever met, but I am your mom‘s cousin. I am so sorry for your loss. I too understand the pain of losing a sibling. In the last year, I lost my sister and three months later my brother. Thank you so much for sharing your story and your grief. What touched me the most what your explanation of your brother being a string in your cloth and how that weakened your cloth. That resonated with me and the fact that the remaining family pull their strings tighter to strengthen that cloth. That was beautiful. Thank you for helping me by sharing your grief. It sounds like Paul made an imprint on your life and the lives of so many others. He will always be with you. ❤️ Jacki
Beth, Your photograph’s have always told an amazing story of your subjects. But your raw and beautiful thoughts about your larger than life big brother capture so much more about Corg than pictures alone. Thank you for opening up and sharing something so difficult.
Noeske St. lives on?????
OMG even 6 months later and it still hurts. You wrote from the soul, and reflects so much of what I still feel. Love . . .
Yes, it’s true. It’s hard to believe. My heart is still so broken. I really just miss him, do damn much. I liked what you said at the river, about being the last man standing. That will be so hard, harder than it is now. God dang it all.