I woke up today to a message from a college friend that her brother passed away last night. My heart instantly broke, as my mind flashed back to four years ago as I received the news that my own sister passed away. At the time, there was absolutely nothing that anyone could say or do that could relieve the unbearable level of pain and confusion I was feeling. Unless they were God and could miraculously erase the call that she died, they had no advice or comforting that I wanted. She died, and that was a fact no amount of prayers, private messages or flowers could erase.
What I needed more than anything at that moment, was the ability to know that life would go on. I needed my job to let me continue to do my work. I needed my parents to still call me every night. I needed to still listen to meaningful sermons, and still write as I looked out on the lights of NYC. I needed normalcy as my world tumbled down around me.
While the prayers, private messages and flowers eventually held a very special place in my grieving process, I needed those around me to ultimately understand that I lost a substantial figure in my life and I needed the space and respect to deal with that tragedy in the way I needed to deal with it.
Here are some other things I needed to do in order to survive losing someone who was there the very moment I was born into this earth:
Take The Time To Heal
It’s hard to do, but you absolutely have to allow yourself time to grieve and forget any timelines or third-party advice you receive about healing during a certain time frame. I learned this best when my best friend passed away at 15. I mistakenly saw a counselor who had no idea what she was talking about just a few days after he died, and she told me I shouldn’t be feeling pain as strong as I was now that there had been a few days since his passing.
I freaked out, and became fixated on the pain I was feeling and how ‘long’ it was taking for me to get over it. Four months later, my mom took me to see our pastor, and my pastor took one look at me and said, “Marji, you take as much time as you need to grieve this loss. There is no time frame, and you need to feel your emotions and grieve for as long as it takes.” I immediately felt a weight lifted off me and a sense of relief. All I needed was permission to take time to heal.
This one was tough considering I am a strong-willed introvert that rarely admits to needing help. I would often times deflect any questions about my pain, or my sister, to the person asking. I would turn the conversation around so we could talk about their lives instead of mine.
However, when I decided to own the story (which you are somewhat forced to do when social media does the lovely job of broadcasting your sister’s suicide), incredible doors opened for me. Angels wrapped their arms around me, and gave me the flexibility and patience I needed as I wrestled with a thousand different emotions.
Turn The Pain Into Something Valuable
I quickly realized that there was absolutely nothing I was ever going to be able to do to bring my sister back. She died, and that was a cold, hard fact. After a year of practicing yoga and meditation, I also realized the power of turning negative energy into positive energy. I took all of the excruciating, tragic energy of my sister’s death and transformed it into positive energy towards making the world a better place than she knew it to be.
I began living everyday as though I were also living it for her, since she no longer had the opportunity to make decisions about her career, love life and relationships with others. Every day suddenly had an extra layer of meaning to it, because I had the opportunity to go out there and live it, while she did not.
She is with me every single day in the decisions I make and the choice I make to live each day in a positive, radiant light.
Be Grounded In God
My faith was the #1 thing that got me through my grieving process. I never, ever lost sight of my faith in God, and his promise to me that all would be well. There were moments when He was the only one I could have conversations with when I felt confused and alone. I trusted his reasoning for taking Erin so soon, and I trusted that he would wrap my family in angel wings and deliver us all safely through the tragedy to the other side.
Pray, pray, pray and know that when it seems like the world lacks all compassion and understanding towards what you are going through, God is right there with you holding you in the palm of his hand. He is guiding you, holding a safety net around you to make sure you don’t fall. He is your source of healing energy and promises to never leave your side, even during the 3AM freak-out moments.
Never Let Go
This was a tough one for me, especially since I was dating around at the time and everyone’s first question is, “Do you have siblings?” Sometimes I would say I had two sisters, but then I would have to quickly explain that one just died. Then I would spend the rest of the night telling the tragic story and getting those sympathy looks that make you just want to crawl under the table. Eventually, I switched to saying I only had one sister. Although, then I felt as though I were lying and denying that my sister ever lived. So, I quit dating for a brief period of time to avoid the question altogether. However, I realized that question pops up in a lot more places than just the dating world.
Now I gauge the situation and decide on how I am going to answer. Often times, I say I have two sisters and speak about both of them as though they are still alive. I’ll mention my sister went to MIT, and she was an engineer. I speak about her in past tense, but it’s hardly ever picked up by the listener. The fact of the matter is, she existed, she was my sister, and there is no reason for me to deny that fact because someone might find out she died which might lead to an ‘uncomfortable’ situation.
Ignore The Haters
There will absolutely be people that are 100 percent insensitive to death. I encountered everyone from coworkers who snickered behind my back because they thought I was getting too much ‘attention’ from my sister’s death, to childhood friends who made snide comments about how my family was acting since my sister passed away.
Guess what? There is absolutely nothing you can do about those people except give yourself permission to distance yourself from them and have compassion for them because they most likely are deflecting their own pain, emotions and misunderstanding onto you.
I will tell you something else, though –> for every hater there is an angel that will sweep you off your feet and take care of you in the most unexpected way. I also had other coworkers take me into their own home while I was grieving, set up Christian counseling for me and offer to travel with me back to my home state. Angels truly exist.
[bctt tweet=”For every hater there is an angel that will sweep you off your feet and take care of you.”]
Find Strength In Heroes
One of the greatest coping mechanisms for me was talking to others that also lost significant people in their life. As I mentioned earlier, my best friend died when I was 15. He left behind the most courageous, beautiful little sister. I watched her grow up in awe of her ability to deal with the tragedy of losing her brother to suicide, never imagining that I would lose my sister to suicide years later. Katie showed me what living in grace through tragedy looked like, and subconsciously helped prepare me for my own walk with grief.
To this day, I am in constant awe of the inspiring work she is doing and the exuberant positive attitude she has every single day. She is a true role model for what it looks like to get to the other side in one radiant piece.
My college friend asked me today to tell her that one day it would feel like her heart wasn’t being ripped out. I told her that the ‘ripped out’ part would eventually fade away and be replaced with a sense of purpose to live her life for her brother and a sense that he is always with her now, no matter where she goes. The heart cannot be ripped out if the person is now with you in spirit through every single moment of your day.
If you lost someone close to you, as we all eventually do, know that is okay to grieve, and it is okay to eventually transform that grief into something beautiful that contributes to a better world for those to come.
-Marji J. Sherman
As a non-believer, I don’t have the faith ideal to lean on. However, I do have all the others, and around this same time I had to deal with the death of a young man who I actually held as a baby, which is a first for me. His family’s courage was amazing, and it helped uplift us all.
You put thoughts and feelings into sentences so well. Loved the reading! I lost my mom last year, cancer ?.. And before that other churchruns. I’m so sorry btw about your loss? /hugs
Marji J. Sherman
Oh wow, Magnus. I am so sorry to hear about your mother. My mom is fortunately a cancer survivor, but I lost my stepdad to it. Sending lots of love your way. Thank you for supporting my writing. Xo.
As an ordained Christian minister and hospital chaplain, I deal with pain and grief regularly, whether it is the immediate death of a loved one, or the fear of impending death that could come if an illness gets worse.Faith in God does, in fact make it easier for people to deal with this, as they have a foundation on which they can lean, but as Marji says, grief should not be given a time frame for grieving, and people of the same family or faith may even grieve differently.
Marji J. Sherman
Thank you for your perspective, Jim! I appreciate it!