when i returned home and started seeing people again, roughly a week after Barbara’s death there was an awkward presence that i hadn’t noticed before. like an empty shadow that followed me wherever i went. i couldn’t put my finger on it because i could only just manage to think.
i had lost nearly ten pounds in a month and a half, i barely slept and i couldn’t focus on even the most mundane necessities. i had to literally tell myself, ok, now get out of bed, ok, now go to the bathroom, ok, now brush your teeth. that sort of thing. i was taking baby steps but i was still stumbling all over the place.
i can’t really remember most things from back then but i remember how strangely some people reacted to the news of my sister’s death. i was talking about how i had to go to canada in the summer and an eavesdropper asked, oh what was in canada. my sister died, i said. his follow-up question oh, did she live in the french or the english part. uhm. what? another kicker was the one where someone told me how thin i looked. i told him that my sister had just died and that i was struggling. he said, oh I’m sorry but you really should put on some weight. you don’t look good when you’re this skinny.
mostly, people did have a good reaction. whatever the hell a good reaction is. the weird ones were few and far in between, however there is one that stands out. it still happens to this day. the condolences, i was happy to receive them, to feel other people’s concern. just hearing the words gave me a sense of emphatic connection. everyone had lost someone so grieving was something that was normal to most people. i did not anticipate the afterthought, though, which happened more than i can count.
”my deepest condolences”
”how are your parents?”
i would stutter and mutter something like, well, you can imagine how they are or hanging in there or whatever other bullshit that spat out. i’m still sad about this but 9 out of 10 times, people asked how my parents were. one person even asked if Barbara had kids and upon learning that she didn’t, they said, oh that’s not so bad then.
yeah, i guess. it’s not so bad. but still. think about what you’re saying. this is where ‘the heart is in the right place’ does not apply. honestly, i was happy with just receiving the condolences and that would be the end. let me know if there’s anything i can do, was also something that i appreciated. i never did let them know but i still liked to hear it.
the ”how are your parents” really threw me, especially when it happened the fourth or fifth time because that’s when i really started hearing it.
you’re standing in front of me and you’re asking how my parents are doing.
ask me how i’m doing. i lost my sister.
a sister who was younger. a sister who was only 33 years old when she died. a sister whom i shared a room with for ten years. a sister, without whom i don’t remember my life because i don’t have memories from the time before she was born. a sister, essentially, who was also me. my best friend. my soulmate. someone who used to follow me around everywhere when we were little. someone who imitated everything I did. someone who looked up to me. who looked for my advice. who, even when she hated me when we were teenagers, still asked me to do her make-up for her high school prom. someone who smoked her first joint with me. someone who told me to fuck off but loved me anyway. someone who would text wanna skype and we did. someone who stole my clothes and also lent me hers. someone who got a tattoo in secret but she still told me about it. someone who asked me to be her maid of honour. someone who always told me when i was being an idiot. someone who encouraged me more than i thought i deserved. someone who a lot of times called me at the same time as i called her. someone who laughed with me when i was happy. someone who cried with me when i was sad. someone who told me to snap out of it when i needed to hear it. someone who told me to ‘just do it’ whenever i was doubtful.
someone who was always there.
and now she was gone.
yes, we are all sad but ask me how i’m doing, is something i would think many times.
being invisible like that hurt more than i can say. of course i felt shitty. of course i wasn’t ok. but my grief suddenly had no place. i had no place. that or people didn’t really know what to say. they were probably worried that i would break down in tears. and who wants to see that? but it would have made me feel a little better. i wouldn’t have broken down completely. i did that on my own time. a tear here and there would have helped me. or just talking about her. whenever i mentioned Barbara, people usually changed the subject quickly. one person even started talking about how the death of his cat was the same thing.
ok. I get that losing a cat is horrible. but please. have some empathy and pick your timing accordingly.
i don’t blame anyone. i can’t. i’ve probably reacted the wrong way about someone’s death as well. death is a tricky subject and everybody deals with it differently so the reactions will vary. and there will undoubtedly never be a correct way to react. we’re humans and we learn as we go.
but ‘how are your parents’ never made me feel better. a lot of times it was followed by ‘there’s nothing worse than losing a child’. well. i don’t have kids and so that cannot ever apply to me because i will never have kids.
losing my sister, to me there hasn’t been anything worse than that. trust me.
and yes, i love talking about her. and no, it won’t make me break down, throw myself on the floor and start a tantrum, wailing to the heavens, shaking from grief and cursing heaven and hell. it will make me remember her which will make me happy. i will tell you something interesting about her because she was very interesting and she made my life more beautiful. also, she was hilarious in her quirky way. whoever knew her will probably tell you something similar because she was a shining star that still gleams its light upon us, even though we can no longer see it.
but it is there. here. i know it is because i can feel it.
there was one reaction that positively stands out to this day. maybe it was just said at the right time or maybe because the person wrote it to me in an email and i could read it at my own pace, with my own voice. i don’t know.
she wrote, they say that time heals all wounds but, in truth, time teaches you to live with the loss.
that helped me more than she will ever know because the loss is ever so present every single fucking day. sometimes it hums quietly in the backgroud, other times it throws its way forward into your chest, making it hard to breathe. making life unbearable. but life will continue. so, every day, i have to choose to continue as well, whether i like it or not.