Celebrating Grief

My sister Eileen died 14 years ago today, after an excruciating night, from Hepatitis B, a disease she was never supposed to catch, that once caught, was never supposed to kill her.

Her death ended a part of my life.  The safe part.  The part that did not yet know grief.

And here’s the thing ab0ut grief (I think about it a lot in May, what with Mother’s Day and Eileen’s anniversary).  It’s not when life is crap that you feel it most.  Not after the initial flush, anyway.  Once it’s faded, you face the bad times bravely.  And alone.  It’s the good times that almost kill you.  They’re the times you want to get on the phone, or jump in the car and go share your joy, shout your glad tidings to the ones you’ve loved.  And lost.

And just when you think it’s over and you’ve put the worst of it behind you, something happens along and kapblooie, you’re right back at it.   Grieving.

We all mark these things in our own way.  My aunt lights a candle every year on the anniversary of my cousin Deanie’s death.  My mother didn’t believe in candles or shrines or marking the day.  I can remember a moment of awkward silence the first time I saw a photo of my sister Patty, who died before I was born,  and asked “who’s that?”

You learn to respect these differences, to tread carefully the land around people’s hearts.

After 14 years, grief gets a little raggedy.   Something that those who don’t know it, don’t know you, didn’t know her might think you should cast off, be done with.  But after 14 years, you have so little else left of this person who once meant the world to you.  Everything else has been worn down and misplaced.  Lost.  After 14 years, grief is really all you have left to give.  And so you give it freely.  And you celebrate it, with tears and candles and weird Facebooks posts that maybe three people in the whole world will understand.

Because it is a part of life.  The part that sucks.  The part that makes us human.

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25 Responses to Celebrating Grief

  1. catherine says:

    You nailed it.

  2. Lindsay says:

    tv off, radio off, sat down and read this aloud with my parents.
    Thank you.

  3. Tweekala74 says:

    Gosh, how strange to find this post today of all days. It was four years ago today that my lovely mum died and I did indeed post a random note on Facebook! Your description of the passing of time was so touching. Even four years on I believe I am still in denial but I hope I will get to grieve before the memories fade too much. I am so happy to have found your blog – it resonates on lots of levels. Thank you for taking the time.

    • Barb says:

      And thank you. For letting me know.

    • Kumar says:

      Thank you for these words on writing about grief. I have been kipneeg a journal for several years now, but before I started this I had already lost or thrown out the diaries I kept as a child. My sister died age 7 in 1980, so I would have liked to be able to look back on what I wrote as I was growing up. I recently decided to start writing a book about my journey through her death and my healing journey to the present and I found it hard going! It’s still on my to do’ list, although, having written only a few pages, has slipped off the top of the pile. If you have any tips for me, I’d appreciate them!

  4. john says:

    Hey sis –

    Every time I attempt to tell my story, it starts like this:

    When I was four, my sister died.

    And so, I know what you are feeling.
    It doesn’t make any sense, and maybe we spend our entire lives trying to replace the one who has gone.

    In two senses:
    I will take her place,


    I will find the missing one.

    And the pathetic thing is that there is no chance that we will do either of those things. SO …

    Just going on is an heroic / pointless thing.

    And I have never known what else to do.

    hang in there.


  5. Last week was 6 years ago I lost my baby in my fifth month of pregnancy. I, too, was compelled to share on Facebook.

  6. Barb says:

    I’m so sorry Alison. And thank you.

  7. Kim says:

    Wow Barb…you kind of took my breath away with this one. Thank you. ((hugs))

  8. Karen says:

    Grief never leaves us. Maybe it’s a way of reminding us our loved ones never truly leave us either. My little brother drowned when I was 12. I’ve never had a normal day on June 5th. Probably never really will. It’s like it happened yesterday. I allow myself in that particular day to wallow in the grief and honour his memory by just fully remembering. That’s how I keep him alive.

    Hugs to you, my jack-of-all-bestie! Let your grief live.

  9. Barb says:

    Thanks Karen. And hugs right back to you!

  10. sandy says:

    So I’m at Long Beach on Vancouver Island a couple of weeks ago – feeling all groovy and then it hits me, Lori told me she rode her horse on this beach – THIS beach in the ’70s. And I’m slayed. Slayed by a memory of her that I didn’t even share, I just heard her talk about. The boundaries of the Void left with her passing become almost palpable by the pain. Sigh.

    Thanks for your post, I had almost pushed all of this under (wherever stuff goes when you just turn away from it). And that would not be right. Even from a zillion miles away you help me heal. Thank you, friend!

  11. sandy says:

    I’m sorry you lost your sister. I would have liked to have met her.

  12. Macy says:

    I’m still at the stage where the little stuff sneaks up on me.
    Doing a crossword, and thinking, “Ha, he’ll like this one, loads of knowledge of South America and birds needed”.
    Hell, it’s been 18 months now since there was anyone to be impressed when I finished the day’s crossword.

    • Barb says:

      They say the first year’s the hardest, but as we both know, that time frame is purely arbitrary and completely wrong.

      I’m so sorry…

  13. Tracy Bachellier says:

    Thank you for sharing Eileen and Patty; for giving so freely; for celebrating that part of life that sucks and makes us human. I can’t even begin to imagine losing 2 sisters…another insight into the depth of your very being and the events and experiences that have helped shape you into the beautiful person you are today… xo

  14. Patti Winker says:

    I’ve put off reading this until now. I celebrate the grief of losing my mom and my sister, too. I talk about losing my mom pretty freely, but have yet to share with others the grief of losing my sister. But you said it all so perfectly, I don’t even feel like I need to say it anymore.

    I lost my much younger sister 11 years ago. And, people who have not experienced that pain don’t know how the happy times can tear your heart out. You understand.

    Thank heaven my family has strong ties and a good sense of humor. We often laugh through our tears, but we also cry when we should be laughing. The pain of those joyful moments cuts like a knife. The heart never is free to be light. I long for those light-hearted days. From my sister’s birthday in October to my mom’s birthday in May, my family is constantly reminded of the joys we are missing. Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries… they all hurt.

    Thank you for sharing your celebration of grief and of the lives of Eileen and Patty. I live my life now trying to do what would have made my mom and sister proud of me. I think Eileen and Patty would be very proud of you.

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