It’s been three years now since I wrote my last piece about the loss of my sister. It was the first time that I allowed myself to really revisit the weeks leading up to her death and what came after in a linear way. I wrote the piece for the 10 year anniversary of her death: [https://braintangles.wordpress.com/2015/05/09/alissa/]. I would let my mind wander to individual moments, only to flee the scene and push it deeper into my mind without letting myself sit with it. Sitting down and writing it all out from start to finish was incredibly therapeutic. After that, I felt drained from the processing energy that took, and didn’t do as much “external observing” for lack of a better term. This year, I’ve arrived once again to the anniversary of the worst day of my life. May 9th 2018 marks thirteen years since she passed, and this year feels different for some reason, or perhaps it’s landing on me in a way I’m able to acknowledge now. Every year, I don’t know how I made it here, and I don’t know how another year will drag by. I’m getting hurtled through time, further and further away from that day. While time has indeed transformed the grief into a less immediate, raw feeling, there’s a profound fear of moving away from the last day she was alive. The loss gets more real and more permanent (yes, somehow something as final as death can start to feel even more final). I’ve been thinking a lot about how I acknowledge these anniversaries and how I internally process them. I’ve realized that I want to and I’m ready to channel this energy into something productive and healing for myself and others in new ways.
The survivor’s guilt that comes with not only losing a loved one but losing a younger sibling intensifies with time. She got stuck at 13 while I kept on growing, but a part of me got stuck too. As I approach my 30th birthday- already a stressful/exciting/terrifying life milestone of wtf have I been doing what’s the plan rn, girl who are you- this guilt has gotten worse. Who am I that I got to go to college, learn, work at something important to me, laugh, have my heart shattered on the floor like a vase, sleep in, stress about things happening a week from now, have one more drink, lay in the grass, dance to music in my room? Who am I that I get to do these things, for no reason at all? Alissa doesn’t get to do any of that. She barely got the chance, and this is a truth that hurts too much to look at on the other days of the year when I’m living my life and bitching about the smallest of inconveniences. I was just talking through some of this guilt with a friend after I realized I hadn’t been taking more time to allow myself to feel sad and sit with it all. He reminded me that I don’t have to feel guilty for being distracted by my life and the day to day at this time of year. I feel like I’m somehow taking energy and life force away from Alissa’s memory when I’m distracted or even happy in the days around these anniversaries that mark pain and loss. I live and indulge every other day it seems.
This time of year was so full of excitement when we were little, between the warm weather and our birthdays being so close. It’s a terrible irony that she lost her life right in the middle of a time that was so special to us. Now, when I catch a whiff of spring I obsess over making plans with people, finding things to do, and striving to feel like I belong somewhere. I try to make the time special still, despite all my conflicted feelings. Being able to put these thoughts into words alone is a weirdly exhausting process. Once these feelings are brought to the surface and reckoned with, just a little more healing happens. Healing happens once I give myself permission to just be as I am and fight the urge to judge myself for how my thoughts and feelings organize around the intersection of past and present at any given time. Being distracted, being stressed, being so present it hurts, or being completely detached, all of it is okay and none of it means I love my sister less. While I’ve told myself and others that there is no right way to grieve I’ve still silently held myself to invisible rules that I guess I came up with at some point.
Despite all the conflict, I do know that I’ve taken time every year to remember, even if it looks different from year to year. I’ve shared her name, shared a part of her story, and invited people into this part of my life, because it will always be a part of me. I also know that there have always been people near and far who remember her with me, and there are those who take the time to remember with me even if they never got the chance to know her. I’m always grateful for the kind words, the love sent from afar, and the times when people have carved out time and energy to be with me or take part in some of the rituals I’ve put in place to remember Alissa. I’m grateful for people answering my at times haphazard calls for emotional labor and help. Grieving is lonely business, and experiencing a loss that (fortunately) isn’t common is isolating. People in my life have always risen to the occasion to help me. It looks different from year to year, but it means the world. The literal shoulder to cry on, the long phone calls, the plant shopping, the movie nights, the drinks and living room dancing, the rainy walks to Chick fil a for that morally questionable but delicious chicken, even the texts just to check up on me, all of it, means so much. For those who have helped me through these times, not one ounce of that energy was lost on me. There’s still a loneliness and exasperation that still can’t really be touched, like an emotional itch no one can scratch. Still though, knowing that people care can go a long way.
Whether or not it’s the incredibly loaded milestone birthday that’s colliding with this anniversary, I’m finally confronting the fact that I need to take my mental health more seriously and process the trauma I experienced (via therapy) because unfortunately I am seeing it show up in various parts of my life that no one tells you about when you’re 17 and holding some dumb teddy bear and grief coloring book the hospital counselor handed you as they wheel your sister’s body away. It’s an awkward age to live through already; I was in the process of chewing through my various identities and where they intersect and forming my sense of self. Add a profound loss to that and you can forget about it.
Alongside stubbornly deciding to seek out professional help, I’ve begun to identify media that I think handles grief and loss well. Stories that involve death have always appealed to me. Yes, there is a draw to the morbidity sometimes, but what I really connect with is how the fallout after a death is handled. How are the emotions expressed and communicated? How does the loss isolate a character from those around them? How does the character change? How do others respond to those changes? My silly shows (yes, Criminal Minds is on that list), movies, and songs that I get excited about are portraying parts of my story that I don’t see reflected in the fact and fiction of my life. Seeing someone else’s imaginary loss validates my real one.
So, what I’d like to do is use various forms of writing to process grief and tell stories of loss in a more intentional way. I also want to do this with other people who are struggling with loss and want to use creative outlets to share their stories. Just sharing my story has been incredibly powerful, and maybe others can have that same experience. There’s something about having a witness that takes the edge off of carrying these things alone. So anyone who is interested in this, seek me out, I’d love to have friends and collaborators in this. Death is a shitty thing to live with, but we have no choice but to deal with it somehow. For those in my life who want to talk more about this with me and truly connect, I’m here. For those who can relate, pour one out however it makes sense and however it feels right for the ones you’ve lost.