Damn it, what a year.
I didn’t sleep. I didn’t want to eat. I didn’t feel a damn thing. I remember driving down country roads with my boyfriend (now husband), just looking out in silence. I didn’t care about any of it. I was numb.
When she died, I was 20. She always seemed invincible to me, someone someday maybe I could be cool enough to be. I had always thought about how great it would be growing older together and having phone chats about our future kids or husbands.
After it happened, I didn’t understand life… or death… And I especially didn’t understand why we are here or what it all meant. I refused to believe that any just God would kill my sister. Furthermore, I was mad that I never tried enough, called enough, or showed her I cared more. That I didn’t try to prevent things before they happened. Regret. All I ever thought about in the following months was, “Why didn’t I…?”
This anger was natural. And the regret was healthy. These emotions were leading me to a special place of learning. They led me to discover a different side of myself that I didn’t know existed. It transformed me completely.
Before I continue, it’s important to touch on the person I was before this tragic event in my life. I was a cautious kid, scared of change and failure. I didn’t want to get hurt (physically or emotionally), and getting outside of my comfort zone gave me a lot of anxiety. In our relationship, my sister was the one taking chances – the fun one. She would ride the rollercoasters, and I’d sit and wait patiently on the sideline. This “safe” existence continued into my adolescence and early adulthood. But that person, this old me, is long gone now. Anyway, back to the story…
After a few more months, the regret I had turned into panic. It was a crazed fear of “WHAT IF I DIE TOMORROW??” It made me feel insane, erractic, and less present than ever. I was thinking that everything I loved in the present didn’t matter because the future was always looming – and what was I going to do with it?! This stage in my grief was important. It woke my butt up. I stopped being overly cautious and scared to do things. I wanted to experience everything.
Eventually, I began to calm down and be present. I was able to enjoy things again. This new adventurous me went on to see countless countries, take up exciting hobbies like rock climbing and whitewater kayaking, experience new jobs and new possibilities – and now, an indefinite move to a foreign country!
Here’s the deal: I’m writing all of this because it’s important to acknowledge your grief for what it is. It can be an opportunity. It’s important to see that you can learn and grow and be better when something traumatic happens to you. When you’re in the middle of your grief, you can’t relate to anything. You don’t see any order to the madness or light at the end of the tunnel. Just chaos and sadness. But eventually, you can get through it and be a better version of yourself. Because you have the ability to be resilient and to keep going – and to THRIVE – no matter what happens to you.
It was years before I realized what I had learned from my sister’s death. It took me the longest time to see that this had reshaped me in such an epically beautiful way, a way that I could have never been able to reach on my own. Once I realized it, I discovered that my sister had left me the greatest legacy anyone could ever ask for: a full life – one filled with experiences and healthy risks and continual learning. A life I can really see the value in because it’s short and bittersweet – and really such a journey.
And this lesson has been the most beautiful gift I’ve ever received.