In Memory of My Sister, on the 5th Anniversary of Her Death

My sister, Shannon, and I at ages 3 and 4. I miss and love her dearly every day.

My sister, Shannon, and I at ages 3 and 4. I miss and love her dearly every day.

I love this picture of my sister, Shannon, and me. I have it in a frame in my living room. Only 16 months apart, we spent more time together than I’ve probably spent with anyone in my life. And this picture somehow captures the essence of our relationship–the push and pull that bond sisters so tightly.

October 17, 2007 Shannon, died. It was sudden, unexpected, and the biggest trauma of my life. I’d already lost my youngest sister to cancer (at age eight) when I was 18; but, hard as that was, it was nothing compared to this. See, a big part of the trauma was that my brother-in-law, Rob, (Shannon’s husband), had died just two months prior from melanoma, and they left behind their 6 and 10 year old sons, my nephews. The first words out of my mouth when my husband, OJ, finally told me she had died were: “Do you realize we just inherited two kids?”

 

That’s how I became a mom of 6. Ten days after her death, we took in our nephews forever, and three weeks after that I gave birth to our fourth baby. We had three kids. And then we had six. So, the anniversary of Shannon’s death is really the anniversary of when life changed forever–when our family’s lives changed forever. And because of that, it’s taken years for me to process Shannon’s death–not in the sense of how it changed my family or kids forever, but to recognize what I lost that day and what it means to me. (I write about these experiences in my award-winning memoir, This is How We Grow.)

 

 

“Just Another Day”

I once heard someone say that the anniversary of a loved one’s death is really “just another day.” I’ve wanted it to be just another day for four October 17th’s now. The first year doesn’t count because I knew that was going to be rough and I also knew I needed to just “show up” and “take it” (and I did). But the other three years I’ve tried–tried to “get it all out” before the date so it would be easier when the 17th came; tried to escape by being on vacation with friends; tried to really focus on it so it wouldn’t take me by surprise.

 

Even this year I found myself hoping that, since I finally feel “healed,” it might just come and go without my mind, body, or spirit paying much attention. But somehow it’s always taken me by surprise–with a building irritability and tension in my mind and muscles that starts weeks before (hence my last blog post) and peaks in a deep outpouring of emotion (that I thought I’d already worked through) on the day of the 17th.

 

 

Today

So, today I just wanted to be where I am–to not underplay or overplay anything; to not “try” to be or feel or do something that’s not real; to just let myself feel what I feel and be where I amAnd that’s exactly what I did, which involved:

  • A brisk walk, first thing, from stars into sunrise–expressing gratitude to my Creator for all He has helped me (and my family) to become
  • An”escape” at the best escape place I know: Target
  • A text to my parents and living siblings to let them know they’re on my mind and in my heart today
  • A long soak in a hot epsom-salt bath to let it draw the tension from my muscles, and the emotion from my heart
  • A long talk with a dear friend, who helped me remember that it really is a good thing to just be wherever we are
  • A loving conversation with my husband, OJ–sighing over all we’ve been through these past 5 years and filling with gratitude over where we are today
  • A deep, gentle cry as the emotion finally expressed itself–a mix of exhaustion, reminiscence, residual pain that stops the breath…and love
  • A short school day for both my girls, complete with a successful parent-teacher conference, toenail painting (including my own), and a fashion show
  • An afternoon escape courtesy of dark chocolate and Project Runway (DVR)
  • A homemade dinner with all 8 of us together
  • A tribute from here to heaven at sunset–each of us taking a moment to ponder our message to Shannon before the balloons carried them away
  • And right now? Writing it all out in this blog post–my favorite coping tool put to good use

 

 

Today is Just a Day–a Grateful Day

Because today really is “just a day,” like any other day. Like any day, today means what it means because of the meaning I give to today. And the meaning of today–my fifth October 17th–is a sense of gratitude.

Gratitude for each morning I can walk into a sunrise.

Gratitude for each moment with my family.

Gratitude for where I am now.

Gratitude that our children are where they are now.

Gratitude that, 5 years later, we feel like a real family with a “normal” life again.

Gratitude that today really was really just a “normal” day. Because, 5 years later, the pain is less. 5 years later, the joy is greater. 5 years later, life is “normal”. And “normal” is terrific. Trust me, it is.

 

 

I would love to hear from you–anything you’d like to say; I’d love to hear it. Leave a comment below.

 

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About Dr. Christina Hibbert

Clinical Psychologist, Mom of 6, Postpartum Couples DVD Producer, Non-Profit Founder, and expert on Parenting, Women’s Emotions, Pregnancy & Postpartum, and Grief & Loss, Dr. Christina Hibbert loves songwriting, learning, and teaching what she learns. She really hopes you’ll join the Personal Growth Group and choose to grow together!

Comments

  1. Julie Brinton says:

    Christi this is beautiful and you are amazing! (let OJ know he is amazing too!) Our family grew by 3 in a year and that was hard. I can’t imagine family dynamics changing like that within weeks. This Sunday is the one year anniversary of the sudden death of my father in law. It kinda feels like the entire month of October is punching us in the stomach. One year has felt like 3 months. Does 5 years go by just as fast? Thanks for sharing your day with us!

    • Thank you so for that, Julie. I know you and I have a lot in common as far as how our families have grown. I respect and admire what you have been able to do through your challenges very much. The one-year anniversary is usually by far the hardest, so it’s no wonder you’re feeling “punched” this month. Just show up and take the punches and eventually it will get a little easier to breathe. OJ and I were just saying today, “I can’t believe it’s already been 5 years.” I can only imagine that, soon enough, you and your family will be saying the same. All my best and a big hug too!:)

  2. Anne Bennett says:

    I love this post. It is those who have loved and lost, that understand its not just a day. For the past 7 years since my dad has past away each December 13th gets my heart aching. Except the December 13th that I had a risky surgery, kind of easier to be unconscious on operation table than to be awake and feeling. December 13th will never just be a day. It will be a day that I lost my daddy. The day that my future husband and children will never know their grandfather and father. Thank-You for teaching us how to grieve instead of hide away true feelings. Or just have another day instead remember, loving and feeling for a loved one.

    • Hello Anne. Yes, you are right–December 13th will forever be the day you lost your daddy. And that’s a good thing, because it helps you remember your daddy and keep him “alive” with you. I appreciate you sharing your insights and experience here with us too. You certainly do understand loss and I commend you for showing up each year to remember your dad, even if your heart is aching. Hugs to you!!

  3. Touching and heartfelt. Sounds like your sister knew how much you loved her. Its got to be hard to lose a loved one you are so close to. Thanks for sharing how you continue to honor her, while caring for yourself and that wonderful family!

  4. Beautiful story Christina. Sending hugs to you today

  5. I came across your site today from Twitter and I am glad I stopped by to visit your site, your story is very touching. I understand the loss of a loved one is not just another day, I lost my father 7 years ago when he was at the age of 55. This wasn’t a normal relationship that I had always wished for as a child since my mother and father divorced when I was 2 and my father kept a very long distance relationship which pretty much ended when I was 18.

    I had always wanted that close relationship with my father it just never developed since he kept his distance, that was until a year before his passing. He called me one day out of the blue and said sometimes you do things you regret and from that point forward he stayed in very close contact. Then one night, about a year later, while I was camping with my son I got a call that I needed to go to Florida and he was in the Hospital and wasn’t going to make it, I dropped everything and not matter what I stayed with him. there was only day I was able communicate with him and he realized I had come to see him, I know he was very thankful since I am on the only child .

    I continued to hope he would pull through and I cared for my father for several weeks in the hospital till he passed. I had hoped for the relationship to build into a father and son bond but it slipped away just as fast as it started to develop, I don’t regret or hold any bad feelings. He is my father and I keep his memory with me and the thoughts he knew that I was there for him no matter what and that he had realized what he missed out on and that is enough for me to call our relationship repaired.

    Thank you for sharing –
    Ed

    • I am very happy you found my site and even happier you shared some of your story here with us. Losing your father so suddenly is quite a loss, especially considering your hopes for the future. And yet you sound like you’ve been able to take away the good parts–that he recognized his mistakes and the two of you had beed reconciled–and are able to make peace with your relationship. That takes great insight and courage, and I commend you. Thanks so much for your thoughtful words.

  6. So beautifully written. Thank you for the gentle reminder of gratitude for life. I love the picture of you and Shannon. I still can’t believe all that your sweet family has been through. What a blessing it is for the boys to have you and OJ and for all of us to have your wonderful example. I love it that you are out in the world making a difference. Keep up the conversation!!! Love you.

    • Hello dear Denet! I am so grateful you stopped by to take a look at my article. Thank you for your words of support and encouragement–they mean more than you know. You and your family have always been a great strength to me–you’ve always loved and supported us through every trial we have faced. I am sending love and hugs to you and your family as you go through your trials too. Family is a true blessing–something I hope to never take for granted. Love you too!!

  7. My sweet friend, you are truly amazing. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. It says so very much about you and how you continue to evolve into the inspiring person you are. I am so grateful to know you, share your inspiration and call you a friend. Sending you big love as you mark two important anniversaries, and every day. Cherish each one, and thank you for reminding me to do the same. Gratitude and love, always.

    • Elisa, dear, thank you for your very touching words. I am deeply grateful to call you my friend too and look forward to each time we get to connect. You inspire me and all of the 30secondmoms, and I sincerely appreciate your support and love. Congratulations on your big 1 year anniversary too! Wish I could be there to give you a big hug in person. Love to you!

  8. I have experienced much of what you write about in this post and several others that I’ve read so far. You speak to my heart. I’m so glad I found your blog!

    My husband and I experienced the loss of his parents unexpectedly within five days of each other in the week before Christmas two months ago. I am still in the midst of pretty intense waves of grief. I’m in graduate school, working an internship, beginning research for the Capstone project, and doing homework every night. In the mix are bipolar and the great sensitivity to the hormonal shifts that you write about. And to top it all off, I’m in the perimenopause stage-of-life. Yeah, life is challenging!

    I have found that putting myself and my needs first are the key to remaining mentally healthy. Unlike you, my four kids are grown and when my two, sweet, little grandsons come, they go home after awhile. I have put most of my friends and other activities on the back burner as I complete grad school. It’s important to me to sleep at least 7 hours, eat mostly healthy, take time for yoga and meditation, and have lots of silence to reduce stress and stimulation. I’m very sensitive not only to hormone shifts but also change in seasons, moon phases, and barometric pressure. It takes lots of time to recover from anything out of the routine and I have to make choices knowing that when I deviate.

    Acceptance and Gratitude are the keys to my sanity. Being grateful for all things and accepting things as they are and has helped me release some of the attachment to emotions and expectations.

    Once again thank you. God directs me to people that feed me and enhance my life!

    • Very beautifully said, Shelly. How grateful I am for your words! You show us how important it is to care for ourselves in order to keep at our strongest, and that it’s ok and even good to slow down and to accept where we are. I am very sorry for your recent losses and know well how long and difficult grief can be. It certainly takes time, and then some more time. So, I send you hugs and warm wishes in taking whatever time you and your husband need to heal, and in continuing to do so well at caring for your own needs. All my best to you!

  9. My baby sister died suddenly aug, 10,2013 she was 49. I miss her so much I talk to her and cry myself to sleep and wake up crying missing her. She died of a pulmonary Embolus she wasn’t even sick . I am so broken hearted she was my best friend, we are RNs and we work at the same hospital.i miss her so much we were so close. People keep telling me it will get better i don’t think it will.My whole family is shocked my mom cries for her baby . I haven’t been able to even do anything we did together like play a online game we played. She was a new grandma to identical twin girls . I feel numb and I am a wreck. I pray to God every night to give us strength to go through it. I never married and take care of our mom. Her husband is doing the best he can , I do have a brother but he lives out of state . My niece and nephew have their own lives but miss their mom . We are all a bunch of lost souls we just go through our lives to just get through it. Thank you for taking the time to read my post. My heart is so broken I can barely write.

    • Oh, dear Bethany. My heart aches for you and your family. I am so very sorry for your dear loss. I know it feels like you’ll never be well again, and for now, that’s exactly how it should feel. It shows how much you love your sister. It’s been such a short while too. Give it time. Lots of time. More time than you think you will need. Let yourself feel what you feel. Share your grief with your family as they will allow. And, thank you so very much for sharing memories and emotions with us here. You’ve already begun healing by reaching out. But, it takes a very, very long time. You will always have a hole where your sister once was. Now you just learn to live with the hole. Sending love and prayers to you.

      • thank you for your kind words and prayers. i miss my sister so much more everyday. i cry so much and can’t believe she is gone, i keep seeing her when she was alive , her smile and blue eyes, i miss her so much. it’s been 3 weeks and i am lost . i look at the presents she gave me in the past and i just cry i would give anything to have her back. here i am a 52 year old woman bawling like a baby for my sister. i miss herand still stunned she is dead. i had a dream we were at work and i said to someome that i was working with ” wait till my sister hears this” , i woke up and realized i had no sister and i just cried . she and i were inseprable , we even look so much alike people mixed us up . i will never get over her death and i don’t want to . i am so lost without my Gerilyn thank you so much for listening and reading my posts.

        • My pleasure. I am so grateful you feel comfortable sharing your memories of and feelings about your sister here. Dreams are very common, and you will find as time goes by, they can be very helpful in healing, showing you things you otherwise can’t see. My memoir, This is How We Grow, is coming out in a couple of months, in which I share my own pain and dreams and how I got through my sister’s death. It’s the hardest thing ever. Give yourself lots and lots of time. Sending hugs.

  10. I’m glad you can bring a positive spin on a horrible loss. Your family will be in my prayers over the next few days. Kiddos are pretty lucky to have an aunt to take them in as one of her own, it takes a pretty awesome person to stand up like that…

  11. I was so very close to my little sister, Dana who also passed away suddenly.Her birthday was October 17,1988.she passed away November 5th 2010 and we celebrate her birthday but the date of her death always held such sadness.this past November I gave birth to my first Daughter, Madison on November 5th 2013 of all days.I’m unsure of exactly how I’ll feel that day but I know just being able to hold my daughter will help soothe away a bit of the heartache of missing my sister.

    • I certainly hope that is exactly what Nov 5 will be like for you, Amanda. So many mixed emotions. My sister, ironically, died on
      Oct 17, so we have that date in common. Sending best wishes and hugs to you. Thank you for your comment. xo

  12. Lea Faubert says:

    Hi, I’ m glad I found your site as I’ve been googling the stages of grief so a few weeks now. I lost my partner of 24 years 6 weeks ago to cancer and am finding myself lost at times. Because she died in March this year, I decided to have her memorial later on because the weather this spring was awful and she so loved the sun! I do find though that with the memorial coming this weekend, that maybe I jumped the gun a bit… I am filled with every emotion under the sun anticipating the day when I have to be in the Church…. perhaps I should have had the memorial within the first week when I was still numb ….I am not numb anymore and the stress to get through that day is unbearable… I need some advice on how to get through that day …..

    • I am so sorry it’s taken so long to reply, Lea, and I don’t know if my words can help at this point or not. I am very sorry for your loss. It’s especially difficult to lose a beloved partner, and it’s completely understandable you feel lost at times. It takes a very long time to adjust to not having her there, and I hope you will give yourself all the time you need. Let yourself cry as it comes. Talk about and remember her with friends or family. I hope you will find the memorial is not so much unbearable as it is a challenge, but that once the challenge is over you will find a sense of closure and peace. I encourage deep breathing, feeling what you feel as it comes, relying upon others for help or strength in any way you can, and truly giving yourself a break if things start to feel too overwhelming. Usually, sitting with the feelings and talking them out can help relieve the tension. Or, a good night’s sleep can help, too. Warmest wishes to you as you navigate the complex challenges of grief. You are definitely not alone. xoxo

  13. Karen Kirkpatrick says:

    Hi Christina, I came across your blog today whilst researching grief articles for a newsletter I compile for my work for bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings. I am sorry to hear of your losses, you are an inspiration to many people and thank you for sharing your story and writing you blogs. I could relate to you quite a lot when reading your Siblings & Grief article as I am a bereaved sibling also. I have lost both of my siblings and have now had to adjust to being an only child. I still struggle with this at times as bereaved siblings know we lose our past and future. It saddens me that I will not have a sibling to reminisce about our childhood or past memories. My brother Mark, died suddenly on the 2nd September 1993 when I was 14 years old and five years ago my sister Tanya, died of cancer leaving behind her two precious children, a 6 year old and an 11 year old. I was like a second mum to her kids and still am, I keep her memory alive and we forever talk about her. My children talk of their uncle and aunty as if they are still here with us. Not one day goes by that I don’t think of my brother or sister, as you never “get over” their loss but we do learn to live with our grief. The pain does get a little easier as time passes and we slowly learn to accept our life as the new normal. Our grief journey can certainly be a roller coaster at times and my message to other bereaved siblings too is “that we are not alone and we need not to walk this journey alone”.
    My sister would have turned 41 tomorrow so we will be having a quiet family dinner, lighting a candle in her memory and reminiscing about the fun times we all had. When you wrote the following in your article I thought it was so accurate and it is exactly what I believe too, except my loss being my brother and sisters death; “These two experiences have given me unique insight into sibling grief. I’ve experienced how the death of two different siblings, at two different times of my life, and in two unique sets of circumstances has impacted my family and me. These two death experiences were completely different. My understanding and the impact these deaths, based on my age when they died, was completely different. But, both of my sisters’ deaths had a profound impact on my life”
    Thanks again Christina for your informative articles and your encouraging blogs.
    With kind and caring thoughts, Karen

    • I am sorry for your incredible losses, Karen, and grateful for your message. I’m only sorry it’s taken so long to reply. I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you’ve found some solace in this article. Sibling grief is too often minimized, but it follows us as we grow, just as our siblings would have had they survived. I love that you are honoring your sister’s memory for yourself and for her children. She will always be with you, as will your brother, as you honor and remember them. Sending big hugs for you on your journey through grief and life beyond it. xo

  14. Hi Christina. I came across your article when I was looking online for sibling bereavement articles. I lost my sister (Christine) a year and a half ago. She was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer and only lived 6 months after her diagnosis. We were very close and only 18 months apart. I can relate to what you said when you said losing your sister, Shannon, was the biggest trauma of your life. I feel the same about the loss of my sister. I think about her every day and I still cry and even though I am married I feel really lonely without her. I have an older brother too who I love very much but there is just something unique about the sister-sister relationship. I told my mom that I am so sad that I have to live the rest of my life without her. She was married also and we each had our own lives but just knowing that we were always there for each other meant alot. I don’t feel the pain as intensely as I did when she first died but there are times I still cry and feel sad and depressed. I went through a grief support group a few months after she died and it helped. I may take the class again (it is held at a nearby church) and really do the work in the workbook that goes with the class. I don’t know if that would be “detrimental” to take the class again. I have tried to encourage my brother-in-law to get into a support group but for some reason he did not want to.
    I read your instructions for doing the work for grief. I think writing down what I am feeling would be helpful as well.

    I don’t mean to ramble on – I just saw your blog and it just reminded me of my situation and confirmed to me how deep grief over the loss of a sibling can get. It is a pain unlike anything I have ever experienced.

    May God bless you. I plan to subscibe to your blog.

    Claire

    • Hello dear Claire. I am so sorry for the loss of your beloved sister. Everything you said struck me, and it is so true, “There’s just something unique about the sister-sister relationship.” I am grateful you gained something from my article and appreciate your kind words. I’m also grateful you’ve found some support, and I don’t think it would be detrimental to do the group again if you feel it helps you heal. I hope the suggestions I offered help you, too. I’ve found great healing through writing and actively working through my grief, and I hope the same for you. Thank you again and God bless you, too. xo

  15. Hi Christina. So much of what you said strikes a chord with me. We are coming up on the 6th anniversary of my older sister’s death, my only sibling. She was born with a rare genetic disorder that severely affected her heart and we spent a great deal of our childhood in hospitals for surgeries and emergency hospitalizations. We were only 19months apart and very close but still great at fighting with each other. We had an interesting dynamic, I was quiet and shy a lot of the time and she had the quickest wit and mind and had the best comebacks so she would talk for me when I couldn’t and I was her strength when she physically couldn’t go on. I have pictures of her on my shoulders giving her a piggyback ride when she was too tired to walk anymore. She had her last open heart surgery a week before she died but had severe complications and passed away on Christmas day in the hospital when she was 16, I was 14. What frustrated me for so very long was how everyone would always ask me first how my parents were doing, and maybe ask as an afterthought how I was doing helping to dismiss the grief I was enduring. I never had that great of a relationship with my parents as they had to take care of my sister so I grew up taking care of myself and unfortunately that continued as I embarked on a journey of my grief on my own, my best friend no longer beside me. Christmas was always my sister and my’s favorite time of year (the whole atmosphere of that time of year, our own special traditions just the two of us) but now coming home for Christmas is hard because my family has a difficult time even though I know my sister, Erin, wouldn’t want it that way. What I do for the anniversary is I go outside, shut out the commotions Christmas always brings and take a walk after the sun has gone down and the air is crisp and everything is quiet and peaceful, lights on in each house as families celebrate together, and I thank her for the love that she gave to me and her unwavering encouragement. I am able to use the courage and strength she gave to me to speak for myself now. And for me this day can be hard but it is more about gratitude like you said. Gratitude that I knew the unwavering love and support of an amazingly beautiful soul I got to call my sister. That even from the short years she lived on this Earth I was able to learn the most valuable lessons and traits that I will take with me forever and be able to tell stories of to the ones I will love in the years to come. I thank you for writing and reminding me that grief can be felt in your own time for however long you need but that it truly is gratitude that has stuck with me when it all comes down to it. I would not be the person I am if I had not experienced what I have, if I had not known my sister for the time that she was here. Thank you for reminding me as her 22nd birthday soon approaches near Thanksgiving with Christmas following shortly.

  16. Hey Christina,
    The sister bond is strong, so strong, stronger than I realized. I just lost my sister, 10/16/2014, on my birthday. Breast cancer that she first fought at 33, then 40, then finally at 45. By the time we realized it was stage 4, we had 1 month. So fast.

    We had such an awesome, open relationship. Few regrets. Many honest talks, many fun trips, laughs, apologies, and just doing life together. To say I miss her is an understatement. And yet. My heart is broken open. I am leaning into all the pain, and to my surprise it is not killing me. In fact, it is transforming me, and I even notice that joy, beauty and gratitude are more intense also.

    Autumn is a beautiful season. Transitional. The leaves are beautiful, I am reminded, precisely because they are dying. I was able, through our faith, to find beauty even in death. I find myself strangely emboldened. I have faced the worst thing of my life, thus far. Whom or what else shall I fear?

    This is where I am today, on this path called grief. It is a process and a journey. Thanks for your insight. It helps along the way.

    Blessings. Eileen

  17. How do you manage to be so positive? I lost my sister, brother in-law and my brother in a car accident 5 years ago, that was so hard to deal with and still is and then 8 months ago we lost my nephew who was my sister and brother in-laws son, and that death to was sudden and an accident that you would never hear of someone dying from, my nephew banged on a window to stop his dog from fighting with another dog and his arm went through the window cutting a major artery , he was on life support for two days and as he had no parents it was up to his siblings to make the call to turn off the life support. It felt like losing them all over again, how do people deal with things like this happening as I don’t feel like I have dealt with the other deaths yet now there is another one. I go on with life and think I’m ok then something happens that makes me realise I am not ok. Like today I had to drive past a car accident and that made me shake and feel sick, how long will this take?????How long before life is ok again???

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