Grief, although a natural part of life, is a topic most people avoid. At least I used to, until my sister died. Despite the fact it’s been four years, the words still sound unfamiliar. She died unexpectedly at age 26.
At the time, a lot of people told me to embrace the “lessons” from grief. The “lessons” were unwelcome then. How could there possibly be a lesson in the wake of of the worst moment in my life? Reflecting on the fact the world moved on, despite my grief, I recognize that grief changed me.
Upon further reflection, I recognize the lessons were always there, I just did not realize them until I was forced to.
Life is not as long as we think.
The first lesson came quick, as time did not stand still. Although my world shattered, time still moved, and fast. Days turned into weeks which turned into months. The first holidays without my sister blitzed by. It did not seem right. Yes, life is short. But sometimes life is really short. The trouble with life is that you always think you have more time than you really do.
What did this mean to me? It meant be present with loved ones. Cherish moments together because your loved ones may not always be there. I took it for granted that my sister would always be there. She wasn’t physically there for my wedding day and my son’s birth – two moments that I never imagined experiencing without her. Never again will I take a moment with a loved one for granted.
There is no bond like sisters.
There is nothing like a sibling relationship. A sibling impacts your character, identity, and in most cases is one of the longest (and most complicated) relationships of your life. For the first time, I realized how much my relationship with my sister impacted my life, down to my basic identity. Truly, my identity is intertwined with my sister’s identity. There can’t be a “rule follower” without a “rule breaker.” My relationship was complicated with my sister. She could be by enemy and my best friend all at the same time, resulting in a strong connectedness. That connectedness continued beyond her death. She is a part of me and will be in my children and family for as long as we endure.
Ask for what you want.
Grieving is a lonely process, even when you are surrounded by family and friends. That is because each person responds to grief differently. Of course, there were moments when I felt no one understood. But people are not mind-readers, and they want to help. I found that my support system was there whenever I asked; I just had to ask. I also realized who was not supportive and which relationships were not worth keeping. Letting go of those relationships was surprisingly easy and enabled me to focus on those that mattered.
Staying connected is important.
Before experiencing loss, I mistakenly thought the goal was to move on. At first, I was scared to talk about my sister. But eventually I realized it is important to stay connected to my sister. I like talking about her and reliving old memories. I appreciate hearing stories about her from other people. It turns out that recalling old memories is helpful for healing. Research shows that nostalgia eases grief. A beautiful quote by Henry Louis Gates Jr. PHD, captures this sentiment by describing nostalgia as a way of “testifying to our loved ones’ continuing existence” by recognizing that “they haven’t passed on – they’ve passed into us.”
Therapy isn’t terrible.
It really isn’t. I tried several types of grief therapy. Some worked, some did not. In therapy, I found space to talk about my sister. I processed and worked through what happened. Therapy taught me the importance of mourning. What is the best therapy? A good, gut-wrenching, long cry. Best of all, it does not require an appointment.
Time heals grief.
That’s a lie. I hated hearing all the cliché sentiments about grief, this one in particular. There is no closure in grief. Time makes you accept grief as the shock fades away. The hole in your heart becomes covered with a scar. Yes, a part of me is missing, but it is always comforting to be reminded that that I am missing someone who meant so much to me.
My dear sister, my baby’s aunt; my best friend;
I wasn’t ready for your path to end.
The tears didn’t stop no matter how much I prayed;
So much, I miss the memories we never made;
I thought you would always be here;
I wasn’t ready to miss you so much sister dear.
I know that although you may no longer be near where we can see,
I know in my heart, you’re peaceful, and free.