As with other people, I have faced many challenges throughout my life. The magnitude of what was about to happen to me was shocking, unexpected, and unacceptable.

When I was growing up in Naples, Italy, our parents taught us that death is irreversible. With honesty and empathy at a very young age, they explained, it happens to everyone, eventually. Nothing in this life could have prepared me to lose a sibling so close to me.

I feel compelled to write a story about a life changing experience. Those who have lost a family to COVID-19 can relate to what I am experiencing. How can we find closure following the death of a loved one to COVID-19 if we never had the chance to say goodbye? I am sharing my story with a great hope of finding some answers to diminish my anger, and ambiguity.

By early March 2021, I had received both vaccine shots. I started back to my routine of having my monthly lunches at my favorite restaurant with some of my former elementary educator friends. Without worrying about perpetual social distancing or of being infected with the virus. The unwavering happiness did not last long. The Delta variant became a dominant strain and changed everything for the worse in our nation and the world.

The morning of April 10, 2021, I received the call from my sister, Lucia. It was another ordinary Saturday. I was up early, trying to catch up with some unwanted weekend chores. I received an early morning call from one of my sisters. She went straight to the news and said that my older brother, Michele, and his wife were in the hospital. They were in the hospital for infections in Naples, Italy. Both had contracted the COVID-19 virus. I remember holding my front head with one hand as my sister was speaking softly, explaining what was happening. It was difficult to stay focused because my mind was going blank. I had the sensation that I could not breathe. Immediately, my first reaction was to fly home to be with the family.

Michele was ten years older. He was my support, my safe place, and my inspiration. An avid runner, a Police Lieutenant in Italy, he loved life and the beauty of nature. He was that someone if I was having a bad day; it did not matter how busy he was at the office; he was always ready to return my calls to cheer me up—a wonderful husband to his wife; Antonietta, a noble father to his three children; Antonio, Stefania, and Sabrina. He made one last call from his hospital bed that fateful day telling me to stay calm and to stay put.

He spent most of my formative years loving me and guiding me. I believe his love and guidance has shaped me into that person who I am today. He was almost at the finish line. He was only two weeks away from receiving his first vaccine. Just a few days after his passing, I found the strength to go on his Facebook page. As I was scrolling through, I felt emotional when so many of his fellow police officers and people that he knew addressed him as the “good giant.”

The doctors and nurses at the “Domenico Cotugno” hospital did a great job keeping the family updated on my brother’s condition each day. After a couple of weeks, when the doctors intubated my beloved brother, we lost all hope. We knew then that his condition was grave. After three long agonizing weeks, my big brother, on April 29, 2021, lost the battle. When I received that call that everyone dreads, I felt my heart skip a beat. Then shortly after, I felt an intense pain in my chest. My heart immediately started beating at a fast rate, which went on for months following his death. 

Address your suppressed emotions. As humans, I believe that we have a natural ability to describe our emotions. In my case, I was not ready to put in words what I was feeling. To be able to process and assess what had happened, I needed more time. 

There are things in life we must deal with. I did not have any intentions to relive the ordeal or identify the moments of what my brother was going through. Slowly, day by day, as his life was fading. I felt powerless as I kept on hoping for a miracle. Going through grief can make you feel disconnected from your own body. With our extraordinary body and mind, as we look deep inside ourselves, nothing looks or feels the same; our life looks and feels different. Even our favorite spot in our home feels different and not as welcoming.

After struggling for months with my repressed emotions. I was ready to stop resisting and rejecting what I was feeling. I understood I was not alone. There are over seven billion people on this earth. Millions of these seven billion people have sadly lost a loved one throughout this pandemic.

As time goes by, I keep on searching for techniques for relaxation. I have been honoring my mind and body with a calming workout. Tai Chi, according to Mayo Clinic, it is a great exercise to lower our stress level. Tai chi helps reduce stress and anxiety. It also helps increase flexibility and balance.” 

Throughout the years, I have heard that “expressive writing” for those who have been through trauma can help organize our thoughts and feelings. For me, it was intimidating and quite stressful to write about my emotions. I kept on deleting every single note that I would write each day. Then one morning, as I was healing and ready to face my negative emotions, I started writing about anything and everything that crossed my mind at that moment. It was such a peaceful feeling. With writing, I was processing and acknowledging the emotional pain that I had been resisting. Now, here you are reading my journey.

Looking back during my time spent working in education; I remember my mantra to my scholars,“To never stop learning”. We are students of life on this earth. Losing my brother has taught me that each day is precious. It is up to us on how we choose to spend them.

Michele, you will always be in my heart. I will honor the love that you had for life, and compassion you had for people. I will always cherish the time we spent with you and your beautiful family during my last vacation before our world changed in 2020. Someday I will see you again, big brother. Until then, keep on watching over us. Love you always-your little sister, Nuna.

Un omaggio in memoria di Michele Brancaccio. La tua improvvisa scomparsa è stata una grandissima perdita per tutti noi. Caro fratellone, è stato un onore condividere con i miei lettori i tuoi ricordi. 

Riposa in pace amato fratello. Un giorno ti rivedrò e ti abbraccerò di nuovo.

In memory of Michele Brancaccio:

28/06/1955 – 29/04/2021


  • Nunzia Stark

    Writer with a special focus on wellness and mental health.