Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Boy, this grief is something else! I knew my sister was dying and I tried to imagine what it would be like. I tried to prepare myself. I learned right away, I think the moment I got the call that she was gone, that it is impossible to prepare oneself for a grief like this. My wise friend and colleague said that she has heard this from people before and (this is the wise part) you can't prepare yourself for grief because it is not a cognitive process, it is an emotional one. I have been talking with one of my sisters a lot. She is angry. All the time. She says that mean thoughts go through her head constantly and she is annoyed with people over the smallest of things. Yep. That's grief for you. Another sister says she isn't angry at people, she just doesn't have the patience for them because she knows that they don't know what she is going through and she doesn't want to bother explaining it to them. She has detached herself from people. Yep. That is grief too. Me, I am sad all the time. I feel depressed. I have never actually felt depressed before but I have encountered it a lot in my personal and professional life so I recognize the signs and symptoms. I sit in my car trying to get the energy and motivation to something. Anything. I always tell people that I think medicine can be a very good thing for depression. I think maybe I should get some medication. Only thing is, it's not depression. It's grief. I think this is the worst part of it all: you can't medicate grief. In fact, you can't really do anything for it but let time work its magic. I guess you can do some things. Like I talk to my sisters a lot. I spend a lot of time staring at pictures of Joydell. I think about it, almost constantly, and try to work through all the spiritual questions it has raised for me and what I really believe after all. I think of how she would want me to live my life and I try to do it. But in the end, she is still gone and I am still hurting. Because while you can do things to support yourself (and others) through grief, there is nothing that makes it better or takes it away. I'm a fixer. I think most of us are fixers. If something is lost we find or replace it. If something is confusing we do our research and find the answer. If something is broken we fix it. But you can't fix grief. You just have to wait it through. Honestly, I can't imagine how I will ever not hurt this badly when I think about my sister. In fact, it seems to me that with time I will just hurt more because it will have been longer since I have heard her voice, held her hand, laughed with her, listened to her stories and her opinions. But everyone tells me that with time it hurts less. And so I am trusting in that. And in the meantime I am getting through it one minute at a time.

As I type this I realize that the last thing I want to hear is someone telling me that it will get better. I have learned a lot about grief from this experience and what I do and don't want from people. There is a good chance that not everyone feels the same as I do. But there is also a good chance that many people do and that, if not exactly the same, what all grieving people find supportive will be pretty similar. Here is what I have found is helpful.

1- Talk to me about my sister. I love her dearly and think of her constantly so it is just natural that I would want to talk about her. Talking about her helps me keep the memories alive. It helps me to validate my feelings about her and about her death. But let me guide the conversation. Let me talk about what I want to talk about. It's okay to ask questions, this shows interest. But please ask questions that show interest and not questions that are to satisfy your own curiosity and feel invasive to my grief or her dignity.

2- Acknowledge what she meant to me. I have noticed that often in grief people like to jump on the bandwagon. I saw this with my sister. I have seen it even more with some of the "high profile deaths" that you see on the news or that are extra unexpected or dramatic. People get caught up in it and talk about how sad it is, and I think they really do feel sad. But then their lives go on. For those who were extra close to the loved one life is never the same. I remember walking away from my sisters grave site and at that moment it hit me why I was annoyed by some of the people that had come to grieve my sister's death that hadn't really been that close in life: they walked away, acknowledged the sorrow of the situation, and went on with their lives. I don't fault them for coming to grieve with us. I appreciate the support and their kindness. But when I walked away from the grave site, like so many others that were really close to my sister, I was taking some of the hardest steps anyone ever takes. I was just starting to grieve and figure out life without her. We shared some of my sister's experience with others on Facebook. It's how most of us do a lot of things these days. I really appreciated joining with others in this forum to grieve together. (My sister lived our of state for most of her life and so the people loving and grieving her were physically disconnected. Facebook connected us, and I loved that.) One of the things that touched me the most is when people would say "Pray for her family". For me this acknowledged the special role she had in our lives and the grief that is unique to family, and really close friends, that the other grievers don't experience.

3- Acknowledge what I am feeling. I'm feeling sad, angry, confused, lonely (even with others right next to me), and tired. Acknowledge how hard it is to feel all of these things. And then say you are sorry and show genuine concern. Don't tell me the positives of the situation or that others have it worse. Don't rush me in my grief. Don't try to cheer me up. I'm not ready to cheer up. I have good reason to not be cheery right now. And don't say too much. You don't have to fix it. You can't fix it. Please just share your love and kindness.

4- Be gentle with me and forgiving. I'm not doing my best work right now, in my job or in my friendships. But I am doing the best I can. I may not be fun for you to be around. I'm not fun for myself to be around either. I may not give you my full attention. My attention is wrapped up in memories of my sister and questions of life after death and replaying the events of her life and death in my head. As you can imagine, it doesn't leave a lot of room for me to think about other things. Even your good news. I'm sorry, but it won't last forever. Please be patient with me. I may show up with my hair not washed and my clothes not ironed. And my house is probably a huge mess. I'm trying, but I am tired. Grieving is exhausting and sometimes things like cleaning and ironing just don't get done. Please don't criticize me for it or worry that I am falling apart completely and need serious help. I'm just putting a lot of energy into grieving right now.

5- Don't give up on me. I know I am not a lot of fun to be around right now. Grief can feel very selfish. But I am not really the one being selfish, the grief is selfish - it takes everything. I may not answer my phone or return calls right away. Please don't stop calling me. I need people in my life. I need to know you are there when I am ready to laugh again and talk about frivolous things. I may be a bump on a log right now, but sometimes I need to be a bump on a log next to someone rather than all alone. Sometimes being alone terrifies me, like I will suffocate with sadness. Even if I am not adding a lot to the conversation or laughing at the right times let me be with you. 

6- Don't get freaked out by the things I say. I remember a mom I worked with once say at that death of her young daughter that she didn't want to be on this earth without her. I admit, it freaked me out. Did she want to kill herself? And what about her three surviving children, wasn't it insensitive to them to say she didn't want to be here when they were still here? But now I get it. I have said it. I don't want to be on this earth without my sister. I don't want to. But there are a lot of things I don't want to do. Like get out of bed, go to work, pay bills, do laundry and more. But I do them. So while I don't want to be on this earth without my sister, I will be here without her. When I say I don't want to be here without her it doesn't mean I want to leave, it means I want her to be here with me. I didn't understand this when I talked with that young mother. I'm embarrassed by it. And I'm sad because I feel like I failed her but freaking out and over-thinking what she said. If I could go back in time I would simply say, "I know you don't. Being here without her doesn't feel right. She should be here with you." 

7- Don't get freaked out by me. I don't understand everything I am experiencing myself. Like the way I can hold my two amazing children that mean the world to me and somehow not feel joy when I look into their eyes. Or the way that I do sometimes feel that if I had the choice (and I realize I really don't) I would choose to leave this earth and everyone on it to be with her (including those two kids of mine). Or how I can sit for hours and do practically nothing. Or how I cry out of nowhere. Or similarly, somehow merge seamlessly from laughing to crying. Please don't get freaked out. Just stick with me. And remember that I have experienced a big loss and my world is trying to sort itself out and resettle. And then remind me of this because doing so will help me to feel less freaked out myself. 

Those are the things that come to mind right now. I don't know if they are profound or if they even make any sense (refer to number four) but they come straight from my grieving heart. Sometimes I really hate that knowledge comes from experience. I wish I could have my sister back and unlearn all the things I listed above. But we don't always get to make these kind of decisions in life and, as stated in number seven, life is full of doing things we don't want to do (another thing it turns out my mom was right about). I'm not into playing Polyanna. In fact, I really hate that movie Polyanna. Sometimes life just sucks and it is okay to just acknowledge that and not try to turn it around. So I won't say that my new insight into grief is something positive that came from this situation. I'm not interested in thinking about the positives that came from my sister suffering and dying much to soon and leaving us all behind. 

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