Today would have been my sister’s 26th birthday.

 

It’s only been two and a half months since Ann passed away. Two and a half months feels like just yesterday and a lifetime ago all at the same time.

 

And I’m feeling the grief hard today.

 

Thinking a lot about grief today…

 

The thing about grief is that nobody prepares you for it. 

 

The day before my sister died was my 32nd birthday. I did a stadium workout and went to breakfast with my gym friends. I treated myself to a much-needed massage. I shot some videos for my chin-up challenge. I taught my Seaport Sweat bootcamp class. Tim met me downtown, and we enjoyed a dinner at one of my favorite restaurants with the harbor-side fireworks lighting up the sky above us.

 

The morning of my sister’s passing, I taught a spin class. Trained a client. Went to the party store and bought beads and wig accessories for the Lady Gaga concert that night.

 

And then, bam. The phone call I’ll never ever forget that left me in a heap on my dining room floor. The blurry drive home to my parents’ house. And the worst thing we’ve ever had to tell my mother in my entire life, a scene I can’t stop replaying in my head. 

 

Ann’s death was sudden. But even with expected passings, I still don’t think anyone is ever fully prepared for these types of moments and the grief that follows. 

 

The thing about grief is that everybody reacts to it and experiences it differently.

 

I’m still navigating what “my way” of grieving is.

 

I know that I’ve never felt this kind of tiredness before, my concentration and memory is completely shot, being in loud places makes me super anxious, and that social events in large groups are tough. I know that sometimes I have zero desire to talk about it, while other times I get angry, other times I can speak about it very matter of factly, other times I cry and get sad, and other times I find comfort in telling funny stories. 

 

Continuing to work and spend time on my business helps me, even though my creativity feels non-existent. Spending time with my friends one on one or in smaller group settings helps me. Honoring traditions and being around my family all together with my parents, brother, aunts, cousins, and grandfather helps me. Going to my weekly grief counseling appointment helps me —-> no shame in this. 

 

But I recognize that my way of grieving, which seems to change daily, may be different from my mom’s way, my dad’s way, my brother’s way, Tim’s way, and the way of others. My way isn’t right, just like differing ways are not wrong.

 

When someone passes away, there is no right or wrong. There is no one way. And the thing about grief, is that even though different people all might be grieving the loss of the same person, everyone has a unique relationship to mourn that affects their individual grieving process. Just because someone else is responding differently, doesn’t mean they aren’t mourning as well. 
 

The thing about grief is that it’s not linear.

 

After Ann’s services were over and I went back to work, I didn’t cry for an entire week and a half. I thought something was wrong with me. 

 

But then boom. I came home from a weekend away at a biz conference, and I had a complete meltdown.

 

Grief can come at us from all directions. Some days I won’t be thinking about it at all, and then bam – I see a ridiculous leopard print bag in a gift shop, a whoopie pie in a bakery window, or a commercial for The Walking Dead on TV, and it hits me again. The most random things can trigger it. Sometimes it will hit me in the middle of the day that my sister is dead. And then later that day, the permanence hits me harder. 

 

Grief isn’t linear. Instead, it’s unpredictable. The only predictable thing about grief actually, is how unpredictable it actually is.

 

The thing about grief is that it comes with a lot of guilt.

 

Grief has this way of illuminating the many could haves, should haves, and would haves.

 

I should have been at my sister’s birthday dinner last year. I should have taken her to the farmer’s market the weekend before she passed away. I should have been more empathetic to her struggles.

 

I should have been there in more meaningful ways for my friends who have lost loved ones in recent years, now that I understand what it’s like to experience it myself. 

 

We all have thoughts like this, and while it is totally normal to feel this way and have a perception that somehow we’ve failed or done something wrong, it doesn’t change anything. Someone recently told me to keep reminding myself that I did what I thought was best with my understanding of each specific situation at the time. That is helping. 

 

The thing about grief is that the rest of the world seems unaffected. 

 

In the time immediately after Ann passed away, Tim and I drove back and forth to my parents’ house for ten days straight. I remember on our drives home each night feeling angry that the people in the cars passing us were just having a regular night, probably smiling and laughing on the way home from dinner just like Tim and I had been after my birthday dinner. 

 

The feeling that the world goes on as if nothing happened, when your own world has been shattered, is one I think everyone experiences when losing someone.

 

And yes, people send their thoughts and prayers, but I’ll say it. Sometimes thoughts and prayers aren’t enough. 

 

It’s the people who reach out to you in meaningful ways AFTER all the services are said and done, AFTER the first few weeks of initial shock are over, who help the most. They acknowledge that life is not the same for you and that you are still grieving and might be for a long time. They quite literally pick you up while the rest of the world buzzes on. I am so grateful for the people who continue to show up like this in my life, words can’t do it justice. 

 

 

Really, though… the thing about grief… is that there’s no getting over, there’s just getting through. 

 

 

“Grief never ends, but it changes. It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith. Grief is the price of love.”

 

 

 

Happy birthday, Ann.
I wish I could give you the birthday present I picked out for you in Maine this summer. <3 

 

Readers, let’s chat. How have you experienced grief in your life, whether related to a loved one’s passing, a breakup, someone still alive but very much absent in your life, or in other ways? 

  1. I’m so sorry for your loss. We very nearly lost my brother last January and his life will be forever altered after what happened. But we are lucky that we all have another chance to spend time with him and do things differently. I has affected the rest of our family dynamics as well. It took me some time to grieve from his accident and everything that was lost. I can relate to what you are going through while at the same time I am acutely aware that it’s not the same. She had a great smile and looked so much like you!

  2. Erica Calderone says:

    She was so lucky to have the best sister in you and you in her. Your love for her has been apparent since I met you! You are so strong but you deserve to grieve however you need.

  3. Jackie Steiner says:

    I have been so hesitant to say too much because I only know you through social media but you are such an example of strength. As an older sister, this post, and your others about your sister, have hit me deep. I lost a friend earlier this year to cancer (I think I mentioned this), and soon after we found out my uncle, who is like a second father, is battling a cancer relapse. I haven’t been able to shed tears for him, even though I feel so deeply, and I really sometimes just think I am ‘broken’. It was almost like I grieved so hard for my friend there isn’t enough emotion left. My uncle is performing part of our wedding ceremony though, and I am a little scared about the emotion that will hit me during that time, knowing that all of our time with him right now is precious.

    I hope some day if we ever meet in person I can do something to brighten your day and provide relief from the sadness.

  4. Kelly Snowdale says:

    This post is spot on. 13 years after losing my dad it still sucks. My journey was so different than the rest of my family and felt my struggles seemed so much worse. The loss of a sibling is unfathomable at this age. Your honesty is so refreshing. It’s tough. It will evolve and be eaiser, but it always hurts. My wish is that those thoughts and prayers could fix it, but know all too well it doesn’t. Keep focusing on what you need and the love of those around you. You will find strength you didn’t think you could muster. Let the memories bring smiles and fill your heart with love!

  5. I love the way you explain the non-linear aspect of grief. My husband’s mom passed away 2.5 years ago and this is EXACTLY how it’s been for us, too – anything BUT linear. It comes and goes, pops up out of the blue, and smacks you in the face when you’re least expecting it. The guilt aspect is something that not enough people talk about and is important to understand, also when supporting someone who is grieving (while simultaneously grieving yourself). I had a very difficult time supporting my husband and still do at times, because I too miss His mom and am going through my own process, while I know that for him it’s much more intense. Often I am simply at a loss for how best to support him, knowing that the emotions of grief are so sporadic and ever-changing. I’ve found that the only thing to do is to try to keep communicating our needs with one another while practicing patience, forgiveness and generosity as part of our love for one another.

  6. This is beautiful, Athena. I can relate in a lot of ways. I lost my only sibling in a motorcycle accident. There are not words that exist to describe the shock and pain of that phone call. Your post rings true for me, too, because we all grieve differently and we can grieve the same person differently. Our relationships with a person all vary, and, yes, something can come up to remind you of that person and knock you flat on your face.
    No one really discusses sibling grief, which is so unfortunate. I scoured Amazon and bookstores for books to help me process what a sibling feels after the death of a sibling. It is unlike any other relationship in your life. And the guilt…yes. The would have, could have, should haves…I think about all the times I should have stood up for my brother when he was being made fun of on the school bus, all the times I should have given him a hug, all those times I told him “I HATE YOU” and slammed my door on him…
    My heart is with you today. <3

  7. Thank you for sharing your experience. All of this is spot on! It is hard to understand the depth and breadth of grief until you actually experience it. It has been 4 years since my Dad died and I still feel the loss, especially on his birthday or the anniversary of his passing. Over the years I realized that grief becomes a part of you – the weight of it lessens in time but it never goes away. There is NO timeline for grief. It is deep in your cells. You view the world differently, sometimes sweeter sometimes sadder but always different than before. Just be gentle with yourself. Happiness and joy will be yours again. I promise!

  8. I’m so sorry to hear about your sister. It’s so hard, so life altering, to lose someone you love unexpectedly, and the raw pain and grief can be so overwhelming. The only way is through. I feel for your pain.

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