Yesterday was the day my sister called her 'happy day'. It was also the day that I lost my 'first sister', and started to live with an ongoing bereavement that took many years to be able to understand and talk about. It was the day she had an operation to remove a brain tumour, that would not just take away a tumour, but so much of the person that I knew her to be.
It took a good 12 years for me to understand and be ok with the fact she called it her 'happy day'. She called it that because that operation and the following treatment stopped the cancer from taking her fully away - it gave her longer with us. But for me, it just reminded me of the damage the cancer did.
For her, it was a day to be thankful for.
For me, it was a day I'd rather avoid.
It was only when I was finally able to talk about the pain and loss I had experienced in losing the sister I knew and the friendship we once had, losing the normality of our family life, time with my parents and the guilt I carried for even thinking these things, that I allowed myself to see things more clearly from her perspective too. It was only when I was able to accept the loss of the sister that I once had, that I was able to embrace the 'new' sister that she was, and start to build that relationship again.
So many siblings and parents face ongoing bereavements - big and small when a child in the family has needs that require more time and attention and resources than imagined. Lets be people that enable parents and each child in these families to have these honest conversations - acknowledge and mourning the loss of what was, to then be able to see and embrace the beauty in what is now.
Here's a poem I wrote a few years back as I processed the loss that I had lived with. I hope it can help others in similar situations process and talk about the experiences they have faced.
A Living Grieving
What do they really mean?
Isolation & loneliness
No-one truly understands.
Hurt from being misunderstood,
Closing down; not taking the risk to be vulnerable again.
Making Kate’s life better
Not making parents’ life harder
For my sister and brother too.
Searching & Yearning
Longing for my old sister back
the person she would have been
full of life, joy, energy, passion, fun, sporty, competitive, a leader.
Other’s lack of understanding
The unfairness of it all
Her ongoing medical issues
And my failings.
For wanting attention myself
For not being a ‘better’ more compassionate sister
For not doing more to help her and my parents
For being selfish
At God for letting it happen
At the cancer and treatment for all the lasting effects
At the system for leaving me out
At people who have not understood
At myself for where I have messed up, or not let go.
Not wanting to know
Too much to deal with
Only could handle my own struggles.
What does it mean?
To accept myself – faults & all
To let go of my frustration, anger & guilt
to acknowledge I felt them and that is ok
to work out why I did,
then let them melt away.
To be thankful for all that my sister and I had
Those 8 years of life
formative & fun
To realise that that’s gone & that it’s ok
I have a new sister
She’s been her 15 years
But been growing and becoming,
just as I have been too.
To get to know the person Kate has become
be thankful for who God’s given us –
for the Katie that Katie is now.
(L Bryson, 2009)