My sister died Friday March 4, 2016. She had been battling addiction since 2009. I don’t think anyone ever wins that battle, but my sister found sobriety last year after a true fight. She made peace with her family and mostly with herself. I am proud of her. She’s gone now, and while she has found true final peace, I have not.
I have been blessed to have friends, family, even strangers, be supportive since my sister’s passing. There’s no right thing to say, ask, or even do when someone dies. Every person deals with their grief individually and on their own terms, which has never been more clear to me until now. People often ask me how I am (and there’s nothing wrong with that). Generally, when we ask people how they are the answer is automatically fine, good, or some other generic answer: it’s a cultural thing. The thing is, I’m not fine. My sister died.
Everyone talks about and compliments me on being strong, and really handling things well. Personally, I feel like shit. I’m exhausted, empty, and can’t remember anything. I’m functioning on fumes. I am truly pretending. However, I feel like I can’t feel like shit because there’s so much to do. I have to make plans. I have to go to work to have a paycheck. I have to have a paycheck to survive. I have to be strong for everyone else. That’s the world today. We are so consumed with doing that we rarely find time to be.
Immediately following my sister’s death, I broke down, but then found a checklist. I had to get home, support my mom, and then make arrangements. I was so fantastically busy every day I was home, I’m not sure I ever had any real feelings. I couldn’t allow myself to think emotionally when talking to the funeral home director about cremating my sister, and what to do with her body. I’m sorry for my language, but it’s the most fucked up thing in the world to plan a memorial service and tell someone what to do with your sibling’s body. I never in my life thought this would be something I would do, much less at the age of 28. I have news for you: you never know how strong you are until it is required.
I thought I would melt down upon getting home. That’s the thing though, only more checklists met me. I was immediately back at work trying to support myself financially. I felt guilty for not being there, and knew I needed the money. What world do we live in that I have to worry about my paycheck in the wake of losing my sister? This one.
I don’t share any of this to make anyone pity me. I mostly share it for myself. I find relief in putting my feelings into words. I find that when we share our grief, emotions, and mental states, that there is always someone who can relate. Out of random coincidence I have shared my story with others to only find we had the same reoccurring dreams after losing a sibling. We are not alone. That is the most promising thing about grief: while it is miserable, we do not have to do it alone.
My struggle is that it is not what I imagined it would be. I am an emotional person. I wear my feelings on my sleeve. I didn’t cry at my sister’s memorial. I couldn’t. I have cried a few times, but grief feels so locked up. Caryn Antos put it best to me, that I am in shock. I’m not sure when I will leave this stage of grief, but for now, I have a hard time understanding and comprehending that Amanda is gone.
See, the thing is, I remember so much about my sister. We had the same sense of dumb potty humor, and irritated the shit out of each other. I can tell you stories upon stories that me and my sister would probably only find funny. I spent so many of the past years being mad at my sister for her addiction that things weren’t funny for a long time. Anger does that. It sucks any and all emotion and plays to your pride. I couldn’t let myself love my sister, because I was angry. Truthfully, I was afraid. My anger was a shield for my deep seated fear that some day I would lose my sister and my family to addiction.
I guess my fear was right that I lost my sister. She’s not here anymore, but we found each other again before she left. And honestly, she didn’t need me or anyone else. She came into this world on her own and left it the same. We all do, which is why it is essential we build a relationship with ourselves. My sister really got that. She conditioned her sobriety and happiness forever on making other people happy, or achieving certain goals. But that was never the way.
I truly believe my sister survived as long as she did to find her peace in sobriety. My sister’s battle was real. Addiction is the nastiest, most devastating thing I have ever encountered. Everyone you love becomes sick from it. It is infiltrating and lasting and there is no “cure”.
I also don’t think people get it. I didn’t get it for a long time. I thought my sister was selfish, dumb, and not trying. I thought she was weak for wanting a way out, and she didn’t care about any of us hurting behind her. It’s not true. The more I listen to other people speak about my sister and addiction in general, it’s a disease that lives beyond comprehension. My sister wanted people to love her, and like her, and be proud of her. She just happened to have this cloud of addiction suffocating her and holding her down. I’m sorry I didn’t understand. I’m sorry.
My sister does leave a message behind. Things get really hard and really nasty in the wake of addiction. It is understandable. However, Amanda left a lasting message of love. She taught us that there is no answer other than love. There’s only one life. She taught me that there’s no better time to forgive than now.
I do find myself getting angry still. I am angry she is gone. I am angry I didn’t get to say goodbye. I am angry when I hear people talk about pills, and drugs like it’s funny and fun. If only they understood. I hear people complain about time with their siblings. If only they understood.
And I have to say this, as a caveat: it is not cool or in no way okay to recreationally take prescription medication for fun. DRUGS AREN’T FUCKING COOL. You aren’t a badass and it isn’t fun. Stop doing that shit. I’m serious. (I do understand “stop” doesn’t work for an addiction).
That’s my anger.
I’m not sure what my grief will bring, or if it will be over ever. I don’t think you ever get over grief. Maybe things get better, but never over.
For now, I try to find happiness in the small things, because I think that’s what my sister would want. She was so excited to tell me she was going to be vegetarian like me. That was our last conversation, and I remember having a bad attitude. That’s the thing, in grief it feels like I remember everything I did wrong. There’s so much I could change and “do better.” All of that regretting and wishing is for me though, because Amanda is gone now. Wishing and regretting doesn’t fix things or make them better. It wont bring her back. I can only take what I learned and admired about my sister and embody it in my own life. That is my lasting legacy to her.
So for now I will relinquish what I cannot control and only move forward with what I can: myself. And with that, I will leave you with my sister’s lasting promise and prayer:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”