Following the death of my sister and being in lockdown. I initially thought I didn’t need to request leave as I was working from home. I woke up early on Monday 23 March as I had done since finding out she’d died in tears. That continued for several weeks.
I messaged my manager explaining I needed time off. He replied saying I could take 5 days off as compassionate leave and to let him know if I needed more. I requested an additional 5 days at the end. I now realise I was privileged to be offered that ‘time off’, an understanding manager and working for an organisation that offers compassionate leave. I now understand that this is not ‘standard’. Also being able to continue working from home during the pandemic.
Some work places expect you to come in. Some people may not be able to afford to take the time off so continue to work. I have carried on working when some family members passed away. I was sad but was fully able to ‘function’.
Coming to terms with my sisters death has been different. My attention span was non existent. My emotions were all over the place. My mind would drift, trying to piece together every interaction we ever had. Every laugh, fight, memory good and bad.
I spent hours pouring over photos of us growing up. I realised we weren’t in many photos together as adults. Most photos were based on my comfortable position behind the camera. How I wished I had got over my head and centred myself more with her on those frames. Never fully appreciating we live on borrowed time and that our next breathe is not guaranteed. I now make a deliberate effort of being in pictures with my child and family members.
Tip: Be in those shots and videos and back up your back ups.
In the time I spent with the pictures I realised I was also trying to find the moments where the spark left her eyes. My sisters life was emotionally tough. One day I might share aspects of this where they interconnect with mine but her story is not my mine to tell.
I suggested she talk to a therapist but she never felt the need to. She prayed a lot and was a committed Christian. Sometimes I think she simply died from a broken heart. Or that God simply snatched her out of this life because of the pandemic and separation would have been too great for her to endure. This feels kinder than having no concrete explanation as to why she ‘dropped dead’.
I also started to obsessively print photos. I have thousands on my phone and laptop. I have lost many digital photos and again wish I’d printed those. Looking at old photos from our childhood gave me a sense of peace. I saw a story kiddoadventures had on Instagram about Free Prints and I downloaded the app. I spent more on the first order, but with all orders you essentially pay postage and have an ‘allowance’ of prints per month. It works easily when your photos are on your device rather than in the cloud. If that’s the case it can be infuriating. I discovered this months later when trying to print her nursery graduation book. But for printing pictures on your phone, priceless.
I printed as many digital photos as I could. These I later gave to family on my childs birthday in the thank you cards we usually give after.
Learning to continue celebrating milestones without her has been especially difficult. What was particularly bittersweet as it was the first post lockdown ‘meet’ since we all last saw each other the day she was buried.
Even though we lived in different countries she would be the first person to call or message someone on their birthday. Her sons birthday is also the day after my daughters and that was especially poignant.
I remember a cousin asked me why I did that and suggested I didn’t, as it would bring a cloud of sadness on a her birthday. I was taken aback saying we would always be thinking about her and the fact she was not sharing those events. Acknowledging her absence would be comforting. I know everyone appreciated the photos of her I put their cards.
Tip: post additional prints to family and friends around world. There is nothing like receiving a personal letter with a photo in the mail. Especially during a pandemic.
I also started creating Photobooks something I had meant to do but didn’t quite get round to. I created one for my mother as well. She loved it.
What has been especially cruel was that the next phase of her life was ‘loading’ she had been to the U.K. several times but didn’t like living here. She had finally begun steps to return and had received her new passport a week before.
I’m going to split this post in two as it will end up really long. This was never my intention. What’s important to note here is that I kept ‘busy’ coming to terms with my grief. Sitting still would have consumed me and I don’t think I’d have recovered.
That is not to say I am ‘over it’. It still hurts. Every day. My family is still broken by her death. We have learnt to live through the pain. There is no other option. We are all different, shadows of the people we were when she was alive.
It still hurts every single day. I know people say it gets easier… I’m not there yet. Don’t think I’ll find it easier. I simply learn to live with the grief a day at a time.