“It’s as bad as it can be. It’s Over. It’s Over.“
My Dad’s tear-filled words shook me to my core. Between shallow breaths of traumatic, shocking despair, I let out a string of dilapidated I-can’t-do-this’s. With his words, our life imploded, crashing down in horrific slow motion. In a single moment the world became grey. All colour was ripped and torn from its fibres, slipping through my fingertips, leaving me unable to grasp even a shred of it to remember it by. No glowing yellow or bursting red or soft pink or radiant blue. Only dark.
My little sister had died by suicide.
Each and every distressed fragment of my being wishes I could tell you that after my Dad’s words, everything was a blur. But, it wasn’t. Every fraction of a second that occurred leading up to and in the wake of my Sister’s death will be imprinted into my soul for the entirety of my life. Permanently etched into my memory, silently echoing through my body and mind—ready to re-surface, to re-live with the same harrowing despair, forever.
I will re-live with relentless heartbreak:
My despondent screams as we drove an hour home to our unwelcome reality.
Laying stunned and unable to sleep on our living room floor, fearfully frozen in the dark, museum-like eeriness of my childhood home. The place of her death.
My Sister’s phone alarm blasting through our home the morning after—the shocking reminder that she planned for tomorrow, but couldn’t bear to get through today.
Listening behind closed doors to my parents’ full-body pain and tears as they made their way through the never-ending list of phone calls, re-explaining and re-living her death over, and over, and over, and over.
My collapse onto the cold laminate floor of her bedroom when I learned how.
My mind’s intrusively unstoppable, horrifying visions of her death.
The sickening realization that I am now the ‘only daughter’.
Reading her letter.
Seeing her body.
My Mom’s frail, broken, despair-ridden voice as she sat alone in our kitchen, in the glow of yet another day’s sunrise, singing My Little Sunshine.
Because maybe Rachel would hear her singing. And maybe if she did, we could go all back.
But, we can never go back. That’s not how this works.
This is permanent.
Death cannot be redacted.
Welcome to life.
At 24 years old, the first dead body I saw was my little Sister’s—my best friend’s. It was, and will always be, horrifying. In the hours, days, and weeks after her death, grief and guilt began to flush over me with intense force and speed. Death is unpleasant. It is gritty. It is sharp. It’s impact cannot be conceptualized nor imagined. It can only be felt like an unrelenting tidal wave in our time of despair. But understanding death and experiencing its resulting grief is the final chapter of becoming fulsome humans. It is ours and our loved ones’ eventual end—the one we move closer to with each passing day.
It is inevitable.
And yet, we rarely speak of it.
Because of this, there is a need for those who have experienced grief to share. Because those whose suffering is endless and isolating, need to know they are not alone.
So, here I go.
Grief, for me, is an animal’s carcass. This journey has left me starved and abandoned in the heat of the desert sun. I am now scouring for meaning and purpose. I am shredding the meat off of my grief, desperate to lick every bone clean. To think, re-think, analyze, interpret, and understand every facet. I am scavenging for my way to flourish, not despite my grief, but with it. And so, I am serving every morsel I can bear to share with you, in my subsequent writing and reflections on this blog.
To those of you who have not yet experienced grief: These stories are a glimpse of what is to come. They are the harrowing, action-inspiring reminder that our—and our loved ones’—time on this planet is finite. My hope for you, as an explorer of grief, is two-fold: (1) That your priorities are forever altered. That you cherish more deeply. That you love fiercely. That you seek and create joy relentlessly. And (2) That through your knowledge of grief’s soul-shredding, unwelcomed embrace, you become a patient, thoughtful, and trusted confidante for your friends, colleagues, or family members who are battling grief; life’s most formidable heartbreak.
To those of you who are living with grief: These stories are a reminder that you are not alone. They are our shared experience. They are the commonality that connects us as humans, despite never having met. My hope for you, as an experiencer of grief, is that you, too, cultivate the courage to share. That you acknowledge the bravery you exert each day, surviving through your grief journey. That you become an advocate of building positive relationships with grief, sharing your reflections and coping strategies—because ultimately, “the mountains you’ve climbed may be a page in someone else’s survival guide”.
To those of you who are struggling to survive: You are loved. You are important. You are worthy. Behind these storm clouds the sun still shines, and you will, too. My hope for you, as a warrior, and one day, a survivor, is that you, please, hold on—one moment at a time is enough. You are enough. Close your eyes and breathe deep. We cannot promise that we understand the pain you are experiencing, but we can promise to stand by your side as you continue to fight. This storm will pass and you will survive. Your future shines so much brighter than this darkness.
To all of you, the explorers, experiencers, and warriors: welcome to my journey.
I hope you find what you’re looking for.
Now that you understand why I’m here, this is it, in the words that follow. My first, and at this time, my most beloved, “share” about grief: an explanation of my “comforting truths”.
My greatest fear in the traumatic wake of Rachel’s death, was that our family would continue on, indifferent to the loss of such a beautiful soul. I feared we would eventually settle in, regress to the mean, and revert back to our previous “normal”. When I look back, I understand that these thoughts were rooted in the fear of her death being in vain. But the onset of these thoughts also perplexes me—how could I conceptualize a world in which I would not be changed? How could the world flipping upside down, inside out, backwards, and then punching me in the gut one thousand times, not change the fibres of my being? It’s ludicrous. Maybe I did not yet realize the severe impact of such an event occurring in one’s life.
Maybe I did not yet understand the length of the journey ahead.
As I began to move through grief, I decided there would be a need to understand and articulate the changes that were occurring within me, resulting from experiencing the permanence of death. But what could I call these “changes”? Changes that alter my world-view for the better, but are despairingly sickening and selfish to obtain from such a tragedy. Are they “sick benefits”, “silver linings”, “bright sides”, “lessons learned”? Absolutely not. I refused to embrace a phrase that would diminish or fail to fully encapsulate the complexity of this pain. Instead, I stumbled upon and decided to borrow a phrase from my Sister herself, “comforting truths”.
The morals to our own heartbreaking stories.
It has now been eight months. And you know that little voice in your head? Since my sister’s death, the voice that I hear is no longer mine, but hers. She now speaks my “comforting truths” to me—the guiding thoughts and values that have been spurred and formed as a result of experiencing the aftermath of her death. The values and thoughts that embody her short-lived existence and essence, the ones that give me a semblance of purpose and resolve as I trudge through my tumultuous grief journey.
But why do I share them now?
I share them now because her death has taught me, in the most irreversible way, that our time here is finite—and whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, our hourglass has already been flipped. We will not always have the luxury of living in blissfully ignorant abundance. As a result of this, we owe it to ourselves—and the ones we love—to live fervently and vibrantly while we still have the opportunity to do so. To bask in sunshine and to soak in salty ocean air without a care. But also, for those whose abundance has been lost or misplaced all too soon, we owe it to ourselves to fight relentlessly to re-integrate some form of happiness. Despite sickness, illness, tragedy or death having already taking hold of it, chewing it up, and spitting it out.
But where do we start? For me, it starts with creating, cultivating, and consuming my comforting truths.
So here they are, my comforting truths—the first and most-referenced page of my survival guide—mostly for me, but also for you:
01. I am enough.
If I do not give myself the permission to love me, to embrace my faults and elevate my strengths, then I strip the world of following suit. I now recognize that I am one of the privileged who wakes each morning with the power to decide that I am enough for this world. And I will no longer relinquish this power to the thoughts and judgments of my ‘negative’ self. I’ve heard before that if your mind creates a thought, your mind also has the ability to tear apart and re-frame that thought. So, starting with one thought at a time, I am reminding myself that I am only human, and that I am enough. And that all I can give is everything I am, at this moment in time. That is it.
By doing so, I’ve adopted my Sister’s bravery in being open about her battle with mental health. I’ve allowed myself to wade into the vulnerable space of sharing my own battle scars, too. A space that “before March” would have left me undeniably exposed and uncomfortable. But now, “after March” it is a space that has become my platform for cathartic release. For understanding. For shared experience and for connection. And with patience, persistence, and courage, the walls of negativity and self-judgment I’ve created are beginning to crack and fall. They are revealing the beautiful, uniquely-me being that I am proudly cultivating, watering, and pruning each and every day. Because in the words of my Sister, words that I so desperately wish she could have believed:
I am not a sculpture, I am a garden.
I am never set in unforgiving stone.
But rather, made to change and grow.
02. No one’s words or judgement can hurt me more than what I have already endured.
Rock bottom. That is what these seven months have been. And in this dark, unwelcoming place, the physical, cognitive, and emotional aspects of my being were reduced to infantile capacity. During this darkness, our family lost its innocence. We lost people we thought were our “friends” and “family”, we lost jobs, and we lost hope. But together, we made, and continue to make, the deliberate choice to survive—and, make no mistake, it is a choice—to wake up every day and fight through this pain, so that we do not lose another.
I used to believe that my pre-March “problems”—an irrelevant, non-thoughtful question in a meeting, a botched conversation, a failed interview, a confused glance from a coworker—were the be-all-end-all. Because of this, my modus operandi was to act from a place of fear, paralyzed by my own mind convincing me that one small slip-up would render my dreams unreachable. But, I now know that nothing is more excruciatingly painful than permanently losing the one you love. And, I’ve been there. I’m still there. In that degree of pain. In the worst of it all.
But even in this worst, the crashing down of my world will be, one day, only temporary. Because even here, at this depth, I have no choice but to rebuild. It is not over, even here. And there is a certain liberation, a release, that is acquired through this type of realization. It no longer matters who is sitting on the other side of the table. Their words or actions have no reason and no right to send me spiraling—nor to render belief in myself and my values irrelevant. Because my values are now rooted in indisputable, incontestable facts—I know me, I know what I am capable of, I know how I deserve to be treated, I know what’s best for me, and most importantly, I am enough.
If I can survive this gut-wrenching permanence of death, then I know that I can and will, always, survive anyone’s words or judgement.
And because of this, I will never again operate from a place of fear.
03. My words, thoughts, kindness, and love, matter.
Our world is filled to the brim with arbitrary, unfounded, trivial judgment. Despite my Sister’s consistent kindness and generosity, strangers, and worse, non-strangers, teased her over surface-level aspects of her being—including her struggles with acne and weight gain. Struggles that only existed as side effects to the medication she took in order to continue to live with bipolar. Read that again. My Sister was being silently suffocated by the depths of depression and yet people made the choice to be cruel. These one-off comments resulted in her tear-filled discussions in my arms, whirring, uncontrollable thoughts while she was trying to heal, and resentment toward herself. These comments are part of her suicide.
It is not my responsibility to rid this world of trivial judgment. But it is my responsibility to combat this judgment by following my Sister’s lead of spreading genuine, unabashed kindness. Previously, I’ve held my thoughts and compliments close, as if spreading them widely would diminish their value. But what if I knew that just one sentence of my kindness could make the difference between someone continuing to survive and falling short? Would I use my words to save them? Of course I would.
But the reality is that we do not have visibility into who is struggling, who has lost their hope, and who’s life is hanging on by a thread. All it takes is a fraction of a second to share positive thoughts—a message, a like, a comment—that acknowledge the gift that someones gives to this world, whether it be radiating an unequivocal glow, an inexplicable love of life, or deep admirable courage. But it is this fraction of a second that could be the one that pulls them back from their ledge, sparing them and their family from immeasurable, irreversible heartache.
It is these simple acts of kindness that my Sister handed out selflessly, when she was in fact, the person who needed them most.
It is these simple acts of kindness that would have reminded my Sister that she was an integral, beautiful piece of what is good in this world.
And it is these simple acts of kindness, that I will now, not ever neglect to show.
04. I need to ‘hustle for joy’.
This one is borrowed from Rachel Hollis‘ “Girl, Wash Your Face”, because it is one of my grief readings that provided a almost tangible, “a-ha” moment. When life teaches you in the most earth-shattering way that you no longer have the time to diminish who you are, what you love, or what you are capable of, how can you translate this into your daily life? No doubt, I wish I could drop everything. Right now. Trail run, adventure trek, and find myself in the wildest ways for the remainder of my life. But the realities of our lives reasonably limit our time to dream, plan, and embark on adventures that make our inner light shine brightest.
So how do we begin to prioritize accordingly?
Well, we “hustle for joy”. That is, we “work just as hard for fun moments, vacation moments, and pee-your-pants laughing moments, as we do for all other things“. This is the first perspective of “balance” that has ever resonated with me, at a time where my previous lack of balance—nights and weekends overflowing with university and career— ripped me away from the limited time I had with my beautiful Sister. My Sister that simply needed to feel connected; like she belonged. My Sister that needed someone to take the time to remind her what was beautiful in this world.
And although I am painstakingly grappling with the reality that it is too late to save my Sister. I, myself, still have time. As a result, I am now hustling to prevent the “spillover’ of work into my personal life, by deliberately scheduling in my “joy” hours. Writing. Running. Family. Friends. Sunshine. Planning future treks and adventures. I now desperately refuse to continue to let the days, weeks, and years go by—where I am “thinking of doing that” tomorrow, instead of getting started, today.
And for once, through this approach, I am beginning to realize the power and agency that results from taking ownership of my own “joy”. I am setting boundaries. And I am asking for what I need. And although still consumed by the despondence of my grief, I am confident that underneath it all I am inching closer and closer to fulfillment. Contentment. And genuine, unbridled happiness.
Here, in this harrowing, irreversible chapter of life.
So now, as I now strive to live by these four comforting truths, not a day moves forward without feeling the searing pain from the loss of my beautiful Rachel. I understand that this grief will never cease until I, myself, die. Because of this, my loved ones and I are learning to cope with this pain. We have been forever altered by the sights, thoughts, and realities that occurred after her death. We’ve lost our innocence—that glimmer of hope we used to see in each other’s eyes. It is gone.
We now understand permanence.
But as guilt-ridden as it is to acknowledge or verbalize, our family will find a way to be better for this. We have to in order to survive. We will view the world through a different lens. We will be more authentic, empathetic, kind, genuine, generous. We will be more “Rachel”.
But, at what cost? These are only our comforting truths—facts we scrounge up and tell ourselves, to combat the pain.
I would trade it all in a heartbeat if it meant I could hear my sister’s heart beat, again.
My Nana recently blew out the candles of her 88th birthday cake. As she closed her eyes and made a wish, I couldn’t help but consider what I would use my one birthday wish for. I wholeheartedly believe that my wish each year will now be the same: to go back before that day and save my Sister.
For Her. And For the World.
My logical mind knows that this will never happen. And maybe one day my emotional mind will make peace with it too, and with our family’s story.
Maybe one day I will have the fortitude to take comfort in being able to close the Book of Rachel—even just for a little while. But maybe not.
For now, this is my truth.
And this is my first, of many, grief “shares” with you.