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

In Memory of My Sister,

on the 5th Anniversary of Her Death

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.

“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.


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.


[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]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. Learn and Grow with Dr. Hibbert and her community of really great people![/author_info] [/author]


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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!


  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 -

    • 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…

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