Why my brother died – we may never know

OK, so, to start with, this topic (what would you like to know more about?) is not very imaginative of Plinky, since this very same prompt came up earlier this year. I know, because I answered it. You can read my answer on Plinky or here.

But I thought I’d respond again, firstly to say that my previous answer, about black holes and other things I don’t know enough about, is one of my favourite posts. For no particular reason – I just really enjoyed writing it.

But secondly, I was prompted to respond in order to contrast the way my life has changed since I wrote that rather light-hearted post. Now what I’d like to learn more about is: why my younger brother died suddenly, 3 and a half months ago.

My brother was 33 and had no known health problems. He died in his sleep on a Friday night in early September.

Now I know that, to you, a stranger, reading this, my brother is just an abstract idea. Even if he was alive, he would just be a faceless person mentioned in someone else’s blog. Dead, he is a faceless person mentioned in someone else’s blog, who died. I can’t, and don’t, expect you to invest emotion in the fact that he is no longer around. But here’s how it is for me.

I can still hear his voice. I can still see his broad, cheeky grin. I can still recall his laid-back, easy-going, good-natured presence, and how I loved his company. Just like the people that you know and love, every day for the last 33 years, I had taken it for granted that he was alive and would be for many more years, but suddenly, with no warning and no apparent reason or explanation, he was not. When I was told that he had died, he literally vanished from my life – I never laid eyes on him again.

It’s impossible to describe the level of shock I experienced at his death. Only those who’ve had a loved one die suddenly could imagine how it felt.

So we’ve been waiting for the report from the autopsy, almost as if it might offer answers to the deep philosophical questions of how could this happen???? why did this happen???? – but it was not until just before Christmas that my parents finally heard from the coroner. They received a death certificate, which listed the cause of death as “inconclusive”. They also received a letter outlining why it was inconclusive, and positing a probable cause of death, based on having excluded other causes. In other words, the forensic team were making an educated guess, by eliminating all the things that would have left definitive signs, such as heart attack or stroke – a process of elimination along the lines of how  Sherlock Holmes solved murder cases.

According to the letter, it is highly probable that the cause of death was a seizure, leading to suffocation. This is suggested because, apparently, a seizure can leave no sign that can be found by forensics, making it, I guess, a default option in such cases. In regards to what caused the seizure, again, I assume, they could only make an educated guess. Since apart from being a heavy smoker and drinker, he was healthy, with no history of any medical condition, and there is no history of seizures in our family, they focused on his lifestyle. They referred in their letter to a link between alcohol consumption and seizure. Confusingly, however, they also sent a fact sheet about a little-known genetic condition that could cause seizures (“Long QT sydrome”), and a letter saying that any siblings and close relatives should be referred for a check up to see if they have this genetic condition, and finally, a letter asking for permission to have a sample of his blood (“no more than a tablespoon”) used in some medical trials in Sydney and Denmark.

These documents were handed to me by my mother on Christmas day. Having read over them, in a noisy house with people talking all around me, I remained as confused about what had caused his death as I had been before. I wasn’t even sure whether the forensic team had reached a conclusion or whether the tests in Sydney and Denmark were a continuation of their investigation.

So it seems that science can’t answer everything either. This, of course, is not breaking news. Scientific method involves hypothesizing the most likely explanation, and continuing to try and prove it untrue.  So we are left with a hypothetical explanation suggesting why, that Friday night back in September, at some unknown moment during the course of the night, my brother stopped breathing, his heart stopped beating, and, a moment later, he quietly passed forever from the state called being alive. With no sign to let any of us know.

In our minds, as time passes, that hypothetical explanation will become the definitive reason, as it is unlikely to ever be proven untrue.

But actually, truth be told, I don’t know that I really care after all.

I began by saying I’d like to know what caused his death, but to be honest, it was just something to focus on, in the hope of getting some kind of answer, when there is so much that can’t be known or understood about someone you love dying suddenly.

To me, the much bigger issue is that my brother has died. Knowing what caused his death is not going to change that.


PS. If you are reading this post because your brother has died, my heart goes out to you – I’m so very sorry that you are going through this terrible experience too.  In case you might find some very brief comfort in reading about how someone else felt in the same situation, you can find more posts I wrote at the time of my brother’s death by clicking on “Brothers” or “grieving” in the tag cloud or under Categories. 

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  1. jj moon

     /  May 18, 2012

    Nice piece


  2. Just wanna tell you I liked your post… This is such a difficult topic sometimes…. Hugs


    • Thank you. Strangely enough writing about the death of my brother was not as hard as you might think. It was a really terrible time just living through those days and weeks, writing was no harder than any of the rest of it, and perhaps for me it was easier than some of it.


  3. Sue

     /  November 15, 2013

    Hey feel your grief, i have started crying because the same thing happened to me a month ago, very evocative. I am lost and in deep sorrow


    • I can’t express how sorry I am to hear this. Now I am crying a little bit. My thoughts go out to you. I know there is nothing I can say that can help you to feel better.

      I don’t know if it would help you, now or later, to read how someone else felt, but if it would, you’ll find that all my posts from Sept 2011 for the next few months were about grieving for my beautiful little brother. At that time, the only thing I wanted to read was about other people losing their brothers, suddenly, with no explanation – and I couldn’t find anything. I still think about him every day.


  4. connie

     /  June 11, 2014

    My brother also died im his sleep on 25th may 2014. 49 yrs old to young. I also dont know why. Im hurting so bad.


    • Hi Connie, I’m so very sorry to hear this. It is such a shock when you find out your brother is not going along, living, same as every other day, as you thought he was. I know there is nothing I can say that will help you feel any better right now, but my heart goes out to you. I’m so sorry to know that you’ve experienced this terrible thing too.


  5. Cathleen bunting

     /  August 12, 2014

    My brother died on the 7th July 2014 no cause can be found I miss him so much Its really helpful to read other peoples experiences I have cried everyday for him I wish so much he was here. Our mother passed away 3 months before he died but she’d had a good long lovely life and although we where sad my brothers death wasn’t the same I’m trying to be positive and hope I can find something hopeful from all thisx


    • Oh Cathleen, I am so sorry! When my brother died I felt like I had a new understanding of the level of suffering that so many people are going through every day, because every day thousands of people die. It made me feel like the world was full of grief, unbeknown to those lucky people who hadn’t experienced it yet. And when someone writes a comment like this, I think back to the date you’ve mentioned, which seemed like just another day…and how that date has taken on a new significance to you, and will always be remembered by you with sadness. To lose 2 family members close together must be just devastating! And for your brother to just die suddenly, with no known cause, only 3 months after your mother’s death….! It just makes me feel that life is very random.

      I hope you get some closure on your brother’s death, although personally, I didn’t even care in the end that there was no reason given for my brother’s death….that he had died was the life-changing fact I wanted someone to change.


  6. Melanie

     /  May 27, 2015

    My brother, Phillip died 5 weeks ago in precisely the same circumstances. He too was my younger brother and aged 32. Reading this echoes my feelings and his story in such an eerie way. How are you coping now? Is the ache still overwhelming? I am struggling to cope.

    Regards, Melanie


    • Hi Melanie, I’m so sorry to hear this…it brought tears to my eyes, thinking that you have just had the same experience, and remembering how it felt. I don’t know if it will be any consolation to you to hear this, since I know that, 5 weeks after the death of my brother I didn’t want to contemplate the possibility that I’d ever feel better – but – yes, the ache is less overwhelming now. Probably from about 2 years after his death, I’ve been able to think or talk about John’s death without feeling shock and unbearable sadness.

      But I imagine you’d rather reject the thought that time will continue to march on and that there will ever come a time that will be 2 years after your brother’s death. And I’d fully support you there. I don’t think it’s much help to you right now, to know that in 2 years time you might feel less pain. I reckon that you are probably right where most people would be at 5 weeks in. 5 weeks – that’s nothing. You’ve known your little brother for your whole life so his loss is IMMENSE! Don’t feel bad about struggling to cope. I remember new waves of grief and shock would come over me unexpectedly when something caused me to think of John, months after he died.

      I don’t think there is anything neat I can tie this up with, because having been through it myself, my feeling is that the best I can hope for you is that you are freely able to grieve the way you need to. But if it’s literally stopping you from being able to function, and that is creating other problems, then I’d suggest seeing a counsellor. I went to a counsellor for about 6 sessions. Or try writing your feelings down, as I did in this blog. Or I’m happy to talk more via this blog or email if that would help.

      Sending you love and all my sympathy on the loss of your little brother. x


  7. Monica

     /  July 1, 2015

    I lost my 28 yr old bug brother at the beginning of April. I feel a searing pain of longing for him. The reason similarly at yhis point is unknown but i have alreafy come to the same conclusion the cause of death now doesn’t really matter. All around me i hear people preparing for weddings having babies. The prospect of me attending my brothers wedding and becoming an Aunt has now long gone. I fell this has aged me beyond my years, searching for different meaning, shuffled priorities in an aim to better-fit my confused snd despaired belief system. My past fun and carefree lifestyle devoid of responsibility is now light years away and I dont know if my friends will recognise the person I’ve become, it’s too painful. I would do anything to have him back.


    • Oh Monica, I’m so very sorry to hear this. 28 is younger even than my brother was – way, way too young to suddenly be taken from you! I recall that feeling that you describe. I felt as though some veil had been lifted, and I was (and still am) now privy to a world I hadn’t seen before, a world that is split in 2 – half the world goes about its usual business, shopping, marrying, having babies, knocking down buildings and building new structures – just to drive home that it’s going to keep moving on – and yet alongside all of that, the other half of the world, the unseen people I’d never realised existed in masses – are grieving and will be forever, for the loss of someone they loved so dearly.

      I hope for your sake that in the future – although it’s unimaginable now, I know – you will be able to experience happiness again. But I agree, his death will have caused you to change priorities. I, too, feel as if the past, when my brother was alive, was an innocent time, when I didn’t realise how lucky I was. I know nothing I can say that will help you to feel better after only 2 months, so I’m sending you a big hug of sympathy and sadness.

      As someone said to me, go gently. And grieve for your brother as much as, and in whatever way, you need to. x


  8. Elisha Eatman

     /  September 30, 2015

    My heart goes out to you and your family, I do just lost my brother 4 days ago suddenly and unexpectedly. He was 42 years at his untimely death, I’m searching and looking for answer and came across this article, yes we need answers but the my only thing that’s comforting is that he was died with a comfort look, no grabbing covers, or facial grimacing present therefore he didn’t even know…. I’m so hurt and confused and also scared they I would now lose my only surviving parent (mother) and only surviving sibling (brother) and possibly on own life… IM SURE I SAID ENOUGH NOW 😔


    • I’m very sorry to hear of your loss Elisha. Losing a sibling is so hard – you’ve had such a long history with your brother, it’s very hard to understand that it’s over. Yes, I took some comfort too, from the fact that my brother had died in such a peaceful way, by dying in his sleep, and I suppose he never felt any pain, & just passed from sleep into some other state.

      Unfortunately the sudden death of a loved one makes us realise the unpredictability of death, and that we can never know when we may lose anyone else we love, so all I can say about that is, spend time with your other brother and you mum while you can, and let them know you love them. I hope they do the same for you. x


  9. Carbro

     /  August 20, 2016

    I shared a bed with my little brother (Aus) till i was almost 13. We then got bunkbeds and shared a room till I graduated High School. We were Very close for 90% of our lives. I had to fight to stay close to him. He moved back home a few months ago. I would pick up my 15 month old son from daycare almost everyday and we’d go hang out with Aus. He only lived 3 minutes away. Throughout our lives we were always close since we shared many interest. The last few months, we had never been closer. He was a great uncle, and the only member of my family (4 boys, 1 girl, both parents) who understood and didn’t ignore me.
    I had been spending ALL my free time with him since my gf and I were fighting. Aus, my son, and I were together the whole evening. Aus wasnt sick, he wasn’t doing drugs, he seemed good. I even thought after dropping him off about how much better he was doing. He was finally over his Skunty Gf who sucked his checking and credit account dry while taking on all suiters. She was caught by my sister’s bf as she was riding her coworker in her car… Which was parked in a packed lot where everyone smokes. Anyways, I dropped him off and txted him when I got home. I wanted to plasti-seel my car with him next Tuesday after I got paid. He responded something around 11pm which was way past his bedtime. I don’t know what he said or what time exactly. I’m a nightowl and didnt go to bed till 6am. I had to work in 3 hours so I txted him thinking he’d be up soon. My gf loves invading my privacy, so I deleted my txt convo with him before I laid down to sleep.
    I woke up running late for work. My mom called me 2 times but I was rushing around to get ready. I figured I would call her back on my way to work, because she was probably just going to wish me “Happy Birthday”. My gf’s step dad stopped me at the door and wouldn’t let me go till I called my mom… Odd… So I called my mom.
    “You need to come to the house. It’s Austin. He’s gone. He didn’t wake up this morning.”
    I thought it was a joke. I stood outside my parents house on the road in the August heat. I’ll never forget weeping in agony out on the front yard where we played as kids.
    I still feel that maybe the sky will turn purple, and I will wake from this dream. I feel like I just have to miss him a few weeks, and then he’ll be back, and things will return to normal. I miss him so painfully bad. I turned 27 the day my brother died at 24.

    No cause yet. I dont even care how. He’s gone and knowing which bodypart failed him brings me no comfort. He died peacefully in his sleep. His dog laid beside him until they removed his body.

    I finally saw him before they took him to be cremated. I’d seen him sleeping a million times, that’s how he looked. I loved him for his insightfulness. I loved him for his hard working nature. I’d spend the day picking grass out of cowshit as long as he was there with me. His mind and his voice is what I miss the most.

    Aus was my favorite and I dont know how long I can drag on till I’m with him again.


    • Carbro, this is devastating. It sounds like you and your brother had such a great relationship, I have no doubt that your brother really loved you. I can’t believe this on your behalf either. I’m heartbroken for you, and crying at how cruel this is. To say I’m sorry that this has happened to you would be an understatement. I can’t understand how life can be so cruel. I also have a sister and 4 brothers, my youngest brother (P) was 30, when his brother died at 33, and they were very close, they rented a house together and hung out all the time. P was the person who found John, checking his room after not having seen him for 24 hours, in bed, deceased.

      For your beloved brother to die at all bad enough but, on your birthday?? That is unbelievable, a nightmare. I’m not surprised you think you may still wake up from it. It’s hard to say anything more, because I don’t believe in offering platitudes like “time will help” because I didn’t want to hear that shit when my brother died. I didn’t want to imagine a future where I would be ok with the most terrible thing that had ever happened in my life. I imagine that’s how you feel at the moment too. Please feel free to comment here again if you feel the need to touch base with someone else who lost their brother. Especially if you feel like you can’t talk to the rest of your family. And please, take care of yourself.


  10. Marijana

     /  October 19, 2016

    My brother died 3 months ago, after spending 51 day in unresponsive coma caused by brain damage after cardiac arrest. Reason of cardiac arrest remains unknown. He woke up, talked to dad, and after a few minutes went to cardiac arrest. Seems unbelievable, dad and paramedics couldn’t save him, he was only 31 years old. He had undiagnosed hyperthyroidism. I got a medical record from his GP and saw that his ecg was abnormal when he was 10 years old and then his GP said (as my mom remembers) it must have been from allergies and didn’t do nothing about it. I also saw when he was 15 years old he came from school because of lassitude during physical education class, his ecg then should arrhythmias and they never took it serious or called my parents. Three years ago his ecg should left axis deviation (this ecg i found among his things) and his GP never brought into his records annotation of this. He was than sent to specialist, but never did recommended tests. I supose they didn’t frightened him about fatality of his difficulties. I saw a paper from this specialist but there wasn’t anything written (to me as a lay person) that would caught my attention about the seriousness of his heart condition. I suppose that even he didn’t thought it’s something dangerous. He never complained to me about chest pain, and he was always strong and hard working and otherwise healthy ans very active. I did once saw him making painful face expression while puting his hand on a chest, I did advised him to see doctors. And once he texted me to ask what does it mean cardiovascular, and when i asked me why he is interested in this he replied he saw the word somewhere and just wanted to now whether he got the meaning right. I feel such a guilt that i could prevent this. I’m a psychologist and this makes it even worst. I could take his medical papers to medical doctors colleagues or find I way to make him see doctors again (not just talking to him to see them but use my knowledge to find a way that would be more in accordance with his personality characteristics and so on……). I feel he we are betrayed by his GP because he was ten when this could be stopped, only if his GP sent him then to further examination and not giving my mom explanation that it’s a probably from his allergies and then doing nothing when he was 15. I ask my self would his GP do the same thing if he was her child or he would be then sent to further examination. I feel so betrayed and that everything could be prevented. The fragility of our lives is so devastating. I feel nothing in a world has it’s meaning any more. I’m living alone, my parents far away. Sometimes i feel nothing happened because I’m far away from them and him, in another town where i’ m living for last 7 years. I regret my job because it took me away from him for the past 7 years. I think about him being unhappy for the last 4 years,in a bad relationship with a narccistic gf which took all his spare time. He was struggling bad for this relationship just to be left from few months before he died, without a closure. She just vanished never giving him opportunite for closure. He than was sad and deppresed but i thought this will pass. He drank more (which was bad for his undiagnosed heart problem), had hyperthyroidism (also unrecognised and suspected lasting for few years) causing fatigue, insomnia and more depressed feeling (which he assigned to bad break-up) and spent his last months in emotional pain and using alchocol to alleviate it. I feel so unhappy when thinking that he spent his last years unhappy, that although we were close we saw each other monthly because of distance. I blame his ex gf for a pain she caused to him, maybe if he was happy and not using alcohol he would notice some signs of heart problems. Now he is gone and I can’t stop thingking about what if’s. Sometimes i feel it’s cold for him out there. My mother’s pain is something I avoid thinking about, she is devastated. My father is a diabetic and ill, he avoids talking about him, although he was the one doing cpr that day. I wish i could know how things went on that day, but dread asking him about. Sometimes a thought of him as a miserable man who couldn’t save his own son crosses my mind and I think if I were there and not my old and disorganized father I could save him. Their marriage was always troubled and we had hard times while growing up. But due to our mother’s support and love we did fine and grow up into fine people just to experience this tragedy. I feel bad living my mother in this troubled marriage, i would feel better if i knew they would be a good support to each other, but this is not the case. My life is losing meaning, I am also unmarried, not in a relationship, living alone. I know in my head brother is gone, but my heart remains a rock, sometimes i even feel i don’t have a heart or soul and i wonder how the blood is pumping through my veins. Watching him in comma for such a long time, looking like a big beautiful boy just taking a nap; made my heart feeling he is just sick and wiil wake up one day. And being unhappy during his last years and going through such a tragic death, makes me think of him as a victim of big misfortune which makes things even worse. He was such a handsome, funny, spontaneous, energetic and simple minded soul and I was always his protective sister not dreaming of a day when i couldn’t do anything humanly possible to protect him. I wish i could have someone to blame for this, to point a finger but since i’m not a religiouse i can’t even blame God.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Marijana. I’m so very sorry to hear of your loss of your beloved brother. It must be awful having to see someone in a coma for all that time and then cope with their death. I’m sure it’s also awful, discovering all that information about his condition now, when it’s too late! I can’t imagine how upsetting that must be for you, with each new discovery.

      “The fragility of our lives is so devastating” – I remember that feeling well. It is still a shock, at times, to be reminded of the fragility of human life. A shock, also, to recall that many lucky people are not yet aware of this.

      I’m not sure if you have any other siblings, it doesn’t sound as if you do, and if so, this must make it also very hard for you, to lose your only sibling. It’s definitely a time when it’s hard to see any meaning in life. After my brother’s death, I believe the the only meaning in our lives is the meaning that we give to it. So I hope you will be able to find some things that are meaningful to you, however small they may be, to help you go on. Be kind to yourself, because you are grieving, my friend.


  11. Kim

     /  July 26, 2017

    Im so sorry for the loss of your brother then loss,pain hurt is horrendous. My little brother my best friend left this world nine weeks ago in Spain he had only just landed five hours prior to his departure from us on earth . post Morten s say pulmonary edema but the inquest is still on going how could a blot clot go unnoticed as which to cause sudden death. Young people should never go like this and I want to know if doctors could do more x


    • Hi Kim, I’m so, so, sorry to hear about your brother. How incredible, that he had just landed in Spain. Life is strange and a sudden death is incredibly painful for those left behind. I can understand your pain and suffering, especially if you think there could have been more that doctors could have done. How does a blood clot go unnoticed? I don’t know. Had he had a recent head injury, and been to the doctor? I wondered if my brother had a head injury that had gone unnoticed too, but the autopsy revealed nothing. Young people should never go suddenly, it is devastating. I’m so sorry you’ve lost your brother and best friend. I am thinking of you.



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