6th November 1974- 28th December 2013
Every year this is it. Since 2013, I have dreaded the run up to Christmas. A time of cheer for most people.
6th November is when the build up starts. Almost two months of not knowing how I’m going to feel one day to the next.
6th November 2017 was my sisters 43rd birthday.
Except she wasn’t here to celebrate it with us. Instead, she’s permanently stuck at 39 years and a little under two months old. The age she was when she passed away on December 28th 2013. Those of you following my blog know the story. After seeing her happy and well on Christmas Day, three days later she was gone. Suddenly and without warning. This is the fourth birthday she’s not been here with us. Each year I feel the need to write something. They say that time is a healer. Time hasn’t changed the way this day makes me feel. It has however, changed the way I deal with it.
The night before, I signed off social media for 24 hours. Not only as a mark of respect, but because I couldn’t handle seeing people post birthday wishes on my sisters timeline. I didn’t want them not to post. I’m not offended by them. Its quite the opposite. I’m proud that my sister was such a loved person, that people still want to pay their respects in such a universally accepted way. So many people, all over the country, have held my beautiful sister, and myself and our family too, in their thoughts. I did read the messages, but the following day. Not on the day. Its also not because I didn’t want to cry. I cry too easily at the best of times. I didn’t want to see them because I didn’t want to see it in black and white that so many people are hurting that she’s not here. I still question how and why she had to go. My sister was a kinder, more gentle and loving soul than me. I’m no saint, my sister was. Hated conflict, not a bad bone in her body and loved hard. Probably too much. She was selfless and never put herself first even when we told her she should.
I took the day off work, as I have done every year since she went. This year however, was the first time the day hadn’t been planned out. I knew only one thing when I woke, and that was that at some point today I’d be seeing my parents.
My son going off to school woke me, and after a garbled, half asleep goodbye, I lay awake in bed for at least another hour. Eyes open, staring at the ceiling. Not happy. Not sad. Nothing. Just numb. I thought about my three gorgeous nephews. I wondered if they’d be reminded of the date. Unfortunately, family politics means I don’t see those amazing boys anywhere near as much as I want to (not a situation I’ll ever cover in a blog). I do know that they are thriving, and when I do get time with them, I cherish it. They are a credit to my sister. Grounded boys who appreciate what they have and never take anything for granted. I love them with all my heart and I wish things could be different, but I am immensely proud of them.
I got through the day, so did my parents, like we have done every year since we lost her. We have to. We have responsibilities. I have my son. I don’t have the luxury of being able to lie in bed wallowing all day. And nor do I want to. My motto now is life is too short. It really fucking is. By taking the day off work I worry I give people the impression that that’s exactly what I do wanna do, waste the day being sad and upset. The day before I had lots of messages of well wishes on Facebook, but only a couple of people contacted me on the day. Yes, I may cry when I talk about my sister on her birthday, but its OK. Its natural. Its healthy. You don’t have to feel guilty for mentioning her. I haven’t and don’t want to forget about her. I take the day off to respect her memory in my own way. I want to laugh and I want to cry. When I laugh I don’t want to feel bad about being alive and enjoying life. When I cry I don’t want people to feel its got me down. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. There’s no right or wrong way to celebrate someone’s life. Just be. Whatever I did or felt on her birthday was right for me.
I got taken out for lunch by my other half.
My son and I visited my parents after school.
Life carries on for those of us carrying the memories of her.
Nothing spectacular happened. Nor was the day wasted. It was just normal. Our normal. As normal as it can be when you can’t see your sister on her birthday.
However, as I said at the start of this post, this marks the start of the Christmas countdown. Christmas Day 2013 being the last time I saw her. And then the anniversary of her passing on 28th. These days are the hardest. These days are the ones I dread. Please also remember, just a little under a year later, my marriage broke down. My already small family was decreasing by the year. Still an act I’ll never quite forgive. Hindsight means I know the marriage was stale and no longer making me happy. However, to end it under the circumstances he did, in the run up to the year anniversary, was cowardly and nasty in equal measure. Despite that raw emotion, I know that facing and getting through that first anniversary without him showed me that the strength I had to get through losing her in the first place was all mine. He was never really there for me. I thought I needed him. I saw what I thought was support, when in reality he was already writing a story to use against me. And an accusation that I was using her death as an excuse for too long. An excuse for what, I never did find out.
Christmas day is awash with well wishers. My real emotion gets hidden by a pretty dress and perfectly applied make up. Make up that gets reapplied several times as the tears wash it off as soon as its applied. By the time I’m ready to face the world on Christmas Day, it will be blissfully unaware of the routine I’ve just put myself through. I worry that pictures I post of a happy, smiling family will be seen by the wrong people, who will snidely comment that we “look fine” and if we say otherwise, we are playing the victim again. I’m not a victim. I’m strong. And I will fight for my honour no matter how many times I’m knocked down.
I don’t claim that my life and what I’ve been through is worse than anyone else’s. I know there are people who have, and still are, dealing with worse than me. My life is OK in comparison. I just have an overactive brain that struggles to deal with so much in a short space of time. I kinda wanna talk about it over and over yet not speak any words at the same time. Verbally I can’t find the words. I guess that’s why I write.
Today I told a colleague that I wish I could remove my brain and rewire it to neutral before putting it back in. I sometimes wish I didn’t feel. I always wish I didn’t over think. I’ve been broken. I have my weak points.
I guess the point of this blog is just to explain a few things. At this time of year, I may look like I’m coping. Essentially I am. I get up, go to work, cook, eat, clean (I’ve missed out sleep on purpose. Sleep is a luxury my brain never allows me to have much of). But I’m struggling too. Silently. There’s always something going on in my head. And shall I be really, really honest with you all? Sometimes, it really cripples me. I mean physically, too. My paranoia heightens when I feel like this. I want to be out enjoying myself, making the most of every single day I’m alive. For about 90% of the time I do, but it takes effort. The other 10% of the time it completey consumes me. I lack motivation from the second I wake. I’ve wasted days doing nothing. Staring at my phone. Binge watching series on Netflix then realising I haven’t a clue what’s going on as I haven’t taken in the dialogue. I don’t want to see or speak to anyone. Yet I crave attention, a text, a message, something to remind me that I’m not burying myself in a hole to the point where noone else can see me, and they eventually forget about me and move on without me, and stop asking if I’m OK…
I get invited out to things, and I want to go, I really, really do, but sometimes the effort involved to slap on that brave face is harder than just being honest and saying “I’m not up to it”. I don’t need to lie, I’m hoping those asking understand all this anyway. When I’m feeling like this, it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to go out drinking all night. I want to feel. I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to talk about it. I just want to think. I just hope my actions don’t kill any friendships I have. Offer me coffee and cake and mindless chatter. A movie night in. Come with me to watch a live band where conversation about how I’ve been is impossible. I don’t need you to ask how I’m doing. I just need you to be there. I can’t talk about it. All this that I’m writing doesn’t come out when I speak. You’ll only get ” yeah, you know, I’m OK”.
I don’t want drunken nights out where you can’t even remember how you wasted £30. I want to make sober, new memories doing things I love with people I love. And absolutely not talk about me.
A phrase I hear a lot these days is “It’s OK to not be OK”. Mental health issues are understood a lot more these days than ever before. Again, as previously mentioned, I don’t claim to have depression or a mental health concern, but I can relate to the quote above in regards to it. We all deal with things in our own way. There is no right or wrong. After the initial numbness of the morning of 6th November, I remember laughing to the point of tears at lunchtime. That doesn’t mean I was “over” it by lunchtime. It wasn’t disrespectful to my sisters memory to laugh on that day. Anyone who saw me laughing could be mistaken for not believing that I carry such weight on my mind 24/7. My pain isn’t physical. Search and you’ll find no scar. Ask me any day of the year if I have any siblings and I will always tell you I had an older sister. “Had”. The hardest word to speak. It will never sit right with me that now, at the age of 40, and every birthday I celebrate from now on, I will be older than my older sister. That’s not something you can explain to a stranger, anyone you meet for the first time when they innocently ask. Human nature means most people feel guilt when asking a question about a partner/relative/friend to find out they are no longer with us. The automatic response is ” I’m sorry”. Don’t be sorry. I’m not sorry I had a sister. You weren’t to know when you asked. I don’t mind talking about her. I just can’t talk about how I still feel years after losing her.
So, again, my yearly reminder. You can talk to me about anything you want. I can hear you, I just may not feel very chatty with my response. Be patient with me. I’ll come for that drink when I’m up to it. There’s no need to ask me if I’m OK, I’ll only tell you that I am whether I am or not. I deal with things in my head. I just need to know you’ll still be there when my brain takes a break. I don’t need you to try and fix me. I just need you. Be there on the rare occasion I do talk, but more importantly, be there when I say nothing at all.
Finally… To all the people I’ll encounter in my job over what’s meant to be the happy, festive season:- you don’t know me. I don’t know you. I am just doing my job. Shout at me and I’ll be civil and polite and professional back to you. Just rest assured, if you push my buttons on a day where necessity means I have to slap on that brave face when I really want to be in bed staring at a screen, on one of those “10%” days, I’ll be crying in the office after.
You’ll never see it. You’ll never know.