Your Grief Has No Deadline
I lost my sister to septisceamia at a young, impressionable age.
I went to school on the morning of March 10th having my big sister and best friend, and went home that afternoon not having her.
It was not long after that initial shock that I soon found myself swarmed by unfamiliar pain and emotion; it was so difficult to process it (so much so that I eventually developed a form of PTSD aa couple of years later), but all I know is that it was a pain so corrosive and intense, that I would never wish it on anyone.
There would be moments when I thought I could pull myself together - glimpses of sanity, and functioning like a normal human being one more. These seemingly futile attempts at gluing the remains of my normality together soon dilapidated at the slightest instance; I'd notice her favourite pair of slippers on the floor, or her well-used Spanish law books that she had fastidiously scribbled in studiously, and suddenly the perilously slapdash patches I'd been fixing myself up with would burst open alongside heartbroken weeping.
I lost any sense of reality and struggled with grappling with the most basic of everyday functions, like completing any semblance of schoolwork, or figuring out what to order when dining out (a challenge difficult enough for any female in any case, without the added weight of grief...I'm joking, before you all pounce on me).
Emma was my best friend, a second mum in many cases; and as the eldest sibling in a family of girls, lead the pack in a sense that she was such a kind, inspiring person, and made me want to help make the world a better place just by the way she acted and interacted with others.
But unable to deal with the intense emotion and sadness that grief had wrought upon me, as well as having difficulty in processing the concept of death and mortality during a time when I was alleged to be at my most carefree and innocent, I pushed back the idea of being present with my pain and processing it, and stuffed my emotions down to the depths of my soul - so much so that it accumulated and festered like toxic waste until my older years.
It wasn't until I started to realise the true finality of the situation a couple of years later that the full spectrum of my grief came to fruition and bubbled to the surface - Emma wasn't on a year abroad or a long holiday, she was never coming back, and that was something I never really let sink in.
Moments like my 21st, for instance, knowing that in a year or two I would be 'older' than when Emma took her last breath on this Earth unnerved me; when I got accepted to do study Spanish and Portuguese at King's College London, I felt hollow inside, knowing that I couldn't tease Emma for her choice of attending UCL for her similar degree; a sweet sense of melancholy loomed over my year abroad in Madrid, knowing that this was her favourite city in the world, and I couldn't share my excitement or delight with her; even the very act of learning Spanish became painful at times, as I'd always imagine her teaching and guiding me and helping me be a better linguist if she were alive.
The jolts of pain I still get from moments like these perfectly encapsulate why grief is an ongoing process - they are moments which, albeit happy overall, will forever have that underlying dull ache not dissimilar chronic tooth pain or a mild cramp - it if the manifestation of the joy and love which you will never get to express to that person ever again.
After Emma's death I have been constantly reminded that things 'get better with time'. In truth, I don’t think this is quite exactly the case. I have come to the conclusion that grief never ends; it just finds different, perhaps less intense forms as the years go on, and we just find different ways of managing it within our lives.
At twenty-four I am at first glance a chatty, happy, albeit loquacious individual, but there's no doubt that talking about Emma still to this day has the power to wrench apart the stitches which I have tried to sew myself up with. I think about her, am (still) inspired by her, and use her in my writing and drive everyday, and I am okay with this. There are no time limits for grief, and anyone who tells you otherwise is simply lying to themselves or have never experienced the heart-wrenching process of having someone you love dearly be torn away from you for good.
If I were to talk to my younger self, (and trying to make a point out of this post!) I would tell her to feel no shame in the pain and try and process it - that there was no 'deadline' for emotional acceptance, and to try and put yourself first from time to time, rather than accommodate others' discomfort at discussing an otherwise alien topic for them.
In fact I would urge any of you going through grief - be it the death of a loved one or end of a certain era in your life - to remind yourself that grief cannot be turned off at will. We cannot just 'choose' to be happy or 'good vibes only' - and that's OK, I think as a populace we need to be much more embracing of our vulnerability and pain, as it ultimately makes us better people in the long run. Process your emotions, and be OK with the fact that there is no timeline - there is no shame in how you feel, no matter how long ago the event was. The main component to takeaway is to acknowledge our suffering whilst finding meaning and goodness in our lives - without darkness, we may never have our most beautiful, awe-inspiring constellations.
I used to think of Emma and feel a pang of sadness for what was and what can never be. Now, I still feel that gentle emptiness - but with the knowledge that it's OK to be happy, and be safe in the knowledge that she will never be forgotten.
My big sister is still in my life, always; she just speaks to me in ways which require me to listen a bit better.