Grief Talk

In March 2019, my 21-year-old little sister, Rachel, took her life after her courageous, hard-fought battle learning to live with Bipolar Type I. Her beautiful life and soul was, and is, iridescent. She possessed a deeply authentic beauty—one that humbles you to the core, one that fills you to the brim on the darkest of days, one that you, deeply and regrettably, did not take the time to return to her ten-fold. If our family can label any piece of our horrific tragedy as ‘fortunate’, it is that my sister left behind 15 journals from her 5-year battle. These poetry-, observation-, and insight-filled journals contain a depth of candid creativity that makes you pause. That makes you soak in the world through a lens of unadulterated appreciation. We pour ourselves over these journals, continuing to learn intricate details about my sister long after her body has been laid to rest—a gift that, only now, I can begin to cherish.

Rachel’s journals give the impression that there are enough of her words to fill our lifetime. But I understand that this is only blissful, protect-myself-now-deal-with-it-later ignorance. One day, her words will run dry. There will be no more pages to turn, no new words to share. This gut-wrenching reality is disheartening, not only for myself, my family, and the dear friends she left behind, but for the world—a world that dealt her a darkness so deep that it unknowingly condemned itself to live on without her.

I am now trudging forward, learning to live within my new reality and beginning to dabble my toes into the ‘making meaning’ phase of my grief journey. In this, Rachel has taught me that when we leave, all that remains is our finite collection of stories. The stories that will make our loved ones full-stomach-laugh and wailing-cry. The ones they will cherish and desperately hold on to. She’s also taught me that our stories—no matter how painful—are better shared than silenced: “I believe that our weaknesses and our vulnerabilities are what can connect us the most. And in doing so, they become our greatest assets. The moral of our own personal stories.”

The 11 Words That Changed My Life

This is the piece of writing to start with—to understand how I got here. This article is the harrowing beginning to my grief journey. It is also the first step I took toward healing:

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.

And here it is—my always-growing library of reflections about learning how to live, after loss.

GRIEF TALK // Surviving The Loss Of Sisterhood

My Sister once told my Dad the reason why she was uncomfortable with people reading her journals: “My journals represent who I was and how I thought at a specific moment in time. I may have changed since then” For me, I consider my writings about grief, loss, and adventure as “guarded vulnerability”. My words…

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GRIEF TALK // My Cherry Blossom

March came barreling down on me,As if unannounced.As if my brain decided that this year,And maybe every year,March would simply no longer exist. Because,How could it?How could it be almost a year?How could I survive this year?How did I survive this year,Without you? The answer:A piece of me didn’t.A piece of me will be forever…

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WEST COAST TRAIL SOUL-O // Letting The Light Pour In.

There are hundreds of moments spent evaluating risk in the outdoors: bears, cougars, rising tides, slippery ladders, kelp-covered rocks, hand-pulled cable cars, strangers, nights alone, inclement weather. As a soloist, there are no second opinions. Your choices are yours, alone, to own. But to me, the most jarring solo-moment occurred while I was spending an…

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GRIEF TALK // (SOMETIMES)

“Maddie you and I should get matching tattoos,” Rachel said. “Mmmmm no thank you,” I responded. Tattoos weren’t my thing. “We could get yin-and-yang. One side of it on each of us—because we are entirely opposites in every way, yet together, we are so well-matched, both so necessary. Together we are beautifully full,” she explained.…

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GRIEF TALK // I Wear My Dead Sister’s Clothes

Before you read onward, I know what you’re thinking. Maybe you’ve already decided to stop reading, overwhelmed by the shock of my confession. Maybe you are curious because you had not considered where a loved one’s possessions would go, after death. Or maybe, you have your own stowaway of items, once cherished by your loved…

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GRIEF TALK // The 11 Words That Changed My Life

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.…

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ORCAS MARATHON // Still Here. Still Me.

As I flew through the descent, it came: a moment of pause; a moment of appreciation. I thought, “she would be so proud of me.” And it wasn’t in a you’re-face-to-face-engulfed-by-grief-so-anything-you-manage-to-scrounge-up-the-courage-to-do-you-should-be-proud-of, kind-of-way. If she were here, she would beam with pride because I put myself out there, in the position to fall, to stumble, to…

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SUNSHINE COAST TRAIL // Finding My First ‘Piece’

Preparing for our first trek after my sister’s death, I was under the romanticized impression that whisking myself into the Sunshine Coast’s mountainous solitude would resolve my grief. I was naively embarking on the search for a single ‘moment’ where I would begin to accept our harrowing story. Maybe what I found, instead, was that…

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Love From, Rachel

Love Notes, from my Sister, herself.


My Sister’s deepest desire was to publish a book of poetry. It would tell the story of her survival, the story that would keep herself—and one day, others—alive. When she died, she left behind 15 journals from her 5-year battle with mental illness. These poetry-, observation-, and insight-filled journals contain a depth of candid creativity that makes you pause. That makes you soak in the world through a lens of unadulterated appreciation. We now pour ourselves over these journals, continuing to learn intricate details about my sister long after her body has been laid to rest.

They include the battle scars. The heartbreaks. The horrors. But most importantly, the abundance. The vibrance. The love. And the hope that she felt more wholeheartedly than the majority of us could even begin to conceptualize. Rachel’s journals now give the impression that there are enough of her words to fill our lifetime. But I understand that this is only blissful, protect-myself-now-deal-with-it-later ignorance.

So I read them. Consume them. Lose myself in them. Soaking in their wisdom. Pretending that each page is a gift she left, to me, to our family, to us all. Imagining that each page is signed, in her cursive: Love From, Rachel

Love From, Rachel // I am not a sculpture, I am a garden.

This is the next piece in a collection entitled: Love From, Rachel. My Sister’s deepest desire was to publish a book of poetry. It would tell the story of her survival, the story that would keep herself—and one day, others—alive. When she died, she left behind 15 journals from her 5-year battle with mental illness: the…

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Love From, Rachel // Two Belugas, Two Blue Guys

This is the second piece in a collection entitled: Love From, Rachel. My Sister’s deepest desire was to publish a book of poetry. It would tell the story of her survival, the story that would keep herself—and one day, others—alive. When she died, she left behind 15 journals from her 5-year battle with mental illness:…

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Love From, Rachel // Rachel Millsip

This is the first post in a collection entitled: Love From, Rachel. My Sister’s deepest desire was to publish a book of poetry. It would tell the story of her survival, the story that would keep herself—and one day, others—alive. When she died, she left behind 15 journals from her 5-year battle with mental illness.…

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