My little sister and only sibling died in a car accident. What’s more is that she was driving my car. It was a windy morning in January as she drove to her high school exam. She lost control on a patch of blowing snow and slid into oncoming traffic.
From then on, time seemed different. People seemed different. It was as though many of the things I valued didn’t matter anymore. I wanted to feel some semblance of my past life, where I could spend time with friends and joke away an evening, but my life flowed differently as the changes from my loss began to emerge.
Heading out in a car packed with people one night, I began to feel distant. While looking out the window, tears began to crawl down my cheeks. One friend noticed and yelled at the driver to turn off the song. I didn’t want it off, even though it was making me a little sad. I didn’t want to feel singled out either. All of a sudden, unwanted attention was on me during that moment of sadness.
My friends couldn’t comfort me. They weren’t prepared for this. All that resulted from that moment was awkward silence when all I wanted, and all anyone else wanted, was to laugh the night away at a bar.
In that moment, I began to feel the isolation from my grief. I felt alone, sad, and distant, despite having four childhood friends surrounding me. Little did I know that this treatment would persist for a long time, with each relationship I had changed by the weight of my loss and the inability to cope or understand my distress.
I began to turn increasingly inward, striving to stoically carry my burden inside so that others would treat me the same way as always. It only resulted in an unhealthy pattern of destructive behaviour. I didn’t feel like participating in anything anymore. School wasn’t interesting. Going out with friends was an emotional chore. I couldn’t stand to look at their smiling faces as they would dance and act belligerent. After all, I wasn’t feeling cheerful at all, and as a result, I felt like an unwanted downer on any night of fun.
Turning more inward, I attempted to distract myself by burying my attention in anything that could hold it. I’d go on tv watching binges, play video games, or read, as they required all of my attention, allowing myself to feel, something other than grief, even if it were for only the briefest of moments. As soon as I turned the power off, or closed the book, I went right back to feeling unhappy.
My friendships were failing due to the lack of effort I’d put in them. Some stuck by me, but many ended up leaving my life due to the pervading sadness I dragged into every interaction.
As another year passed, I felt sick and tired of my feelings. I was done with my sadness, my grief, and my pain. I began to take interest in changing the way I felt. I’d read articles on depression and the biological processes contributing to it.
I decided that I’d try some of the results I’d read about. I began trying to eat healthier, and exercising on occasion too. The happiness was temporary, but at least it was a break from the every day. I even tried spending more time in sunlight since I read that direct sunlight had a positive affect on one’s mood.
These things didn’t really work for me. They were temporary solutions to what was amounting to be a permanent problem. I decided to seek the professional help of a school counsellor. As I introduced my loss to him, I felt a kindred connection. He began to explain the losses in his life, how they affected him, and what he’s done and doing for them. This took away my inhibitions and I was able to open up more having heard his story. The walls I built up around my aching heart began to erode and crumble a bit more each time I saw him.
Eventually, I was able to speak freely about my feelings, not just those associated to my loss, but to the other hurts in my life. He taught me about grief, about how it compounds with other instances of sadness, about its tendency to come back in the future due to unrelated things. I began to understand my triggers and how to manage them better.
In a complete reversal of desire, I no longer felt the need to bear my grief alone, but instead began to feel comfortable sharing it. I didn’t want to stay up late distracting myself either, instead choosing to get up at decent hours to start my days. In those months of fighting my grief, I found the weight lighten, and grief’s stranglehold on my happiness finally start to subside.
I persevered, no longer wanting to feel sad, no longer feeling so sad. My days became more active, and my relationships began improving. I’d go out and socialize with friends. I wouldn’t get drunk to numb the pain, but because I wanted to have fun. I even got up on the dance floor on occasion, something I didn’t do even before my sister’s passing.
One night, I had a vivid dream. In that dream, my sister begins to talk to me, though not with words. It’s as though she’s speaking into my very soul. She tells me that it was OK that I didn’t get to say goodbye to her even though she knows how sad that made me. “We can say goodbye now.” she tells me. And we do.
I wake up in my bed and for the first time in what seems like a painful eternity, I have a happy feeling about her without the ever-accompanying sadness.