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.