Today is the one year mark of my sister Christa’s passing. In some ways, it seems hard to believe that a year has already passed. And in other ways, it seems as though it’s been an eternity since she has been here. Today on the blog, I thought I would share the answers to questions that are commonly asked surrounding my sister’s death and lessons I have learned along the way.
If you are new to the blog, my sister was diagnosed with unknown primary cancer in May of 2020. After a very short battle, she passed away on October 13, 2020. I shared this post with ten things I learned from her death last year, and it still rings true.
Like most of you that have experienced a tragic death, there are common questions asked.
Honestly, they are doing well all things considered. My niece, Jada, joined Henry and Lucy at their school and is doing very well! My sister homeschooled her up until this point, and while school was a little bit of an adjustment, she is flourishing and loving it. My BIL, Shaka, was amazing when my sister was sick. He worked from home, and took care of my sister so well. He stayed working at home from that time until Jada started school. We see them both most days of the week and are so blessed to have them living just 15 minutes away.
I was talking to a friend the other day about what would be worse – losing your mom at 16 or 6. Jada was about 6 1/2 when Christa died. And while yes, it has certainly been difficult for her, she is resilient. Honestly, my biggest sadness when it comes to Jada is my fear that she won’t remember Christa. When I think back to when I was six, I don’t remember that much. Sure, she can watch videos and look at picture, but will she remember the amazing mom that would sing to her, do her hair, read her stories, and the countless other things that moms do.
While it would be impossible to ever truly get over the loss of a child, they are both doing well. My sister’s funeral was on a Friday, and they both returned to work the following Monday. They are both teachers at a local Christian school and both said returning to work was the best way to keep them moving forward. While the pain of losing Christa is still there, we all agree that the promise of seeing her again in heaven one day is the biggest comfort.
Some days it just seems so surreal that this actually happened. I remember having the thought a few months before my sister was diagnosed with cancer, “I have never lost anyone and experienced a deep grief.” Yes, I have lost grandparents and other family members, but nothing this tragic and sudden. It’s eerie now to think that I had that thought right before my life would change forever. When my sister was nearing the end, I experienced a heaviness on my chest that I have never felt before. The heaviness continued for months after her passing. And while it has mostly subsided, the heaviness returns any time there is any type of stress in my life.
The easiest way I know how to describe it is to think of my body as a glass. Most of the time when I would experience stress or anything out of the ordinary, my stress level would rise a bit, but I could deal with it. Or in my most famous saying, “Everything was fine!” But now it feels more like the glass won’t empty completely. The levels stay elevated higher than they were before. So when stress occurs now, the tightness in my chest returns.
I have been dealing with this by meditating, spending more time in prayer and in my devotions, deep breathing, and reassuring myself that things really are going to be okay.
This is a hard one. Yes, day by day, I do not feel as if I am drowning in a giant pool of sadness like I did in the beginning. I don’t cry every single day. When someone asks how I am doing, I can honestly say, I am doing well overall with just a few moments of sadness sprinkled in here and there.
We have now experienced every holiday without Christa. But there are still many “firsts” to come that she won’t be a part of, and that hurts.
But time moves on…. and in some ways it’s encouraging to know that things will keep going, and in other ways it feels inconceivable that the world will go on like normal (okay… maybe not normal in today’s world!) without Christa.
There are moments I think, “I need to tell Christa that!” And then I am jolted back to reality. I always delete texts off my devices to save space, and I just can’t delete hers. Her phone number is still saved in my favorites on my phone.
Mostly, no. From the time she was diagnosed to the time she passed away, I helped take care of her. We spent so much time together, bonded like we never had before, and daily said “I love you”.
But I do have two things I regret not doing. I regret not having my sister write letters to my niece Jada for each of her birthdays and major milestones. I brought it up several times, but my sister truly believed she was going to beat cancer here on earth. And honestly, I felt that by bringing it up, I was not believing she would be healed. She was so strong and had the highest pain tolerance, that in some ways, we just didn’t realize HOW sick she was until the end. But I regret not having those letters to give to Jada.
I mentioned this in my previous post about my sister, but why don’t we speak what’s on our mind when it comes to the ones we love? When they look nice, or they come to our minds, or we just think or something nice to say – why are we silent?? Do the people that passed away know how much they were loved? I regret not telling my sister how much she meant to me on a more regular basis BEFORE she got sick! From what seemed like an endless line at the viewing for Christa, countless amounts of people came up and told us what a difference Christa had made in their lives. And it made me wonder, did she know how loved she was and the difference she made in the lives of so many? I think she did because she truly never knew a stranger, but I encourage you to speak your mind when it comes to kind words you are thinking.
This is a tough one. But my biggest piece of advice is to know that grief looks so different on each person. While one person may appear to “have it all together”, they may be (and probably are) still struggling even though they put on a brave face. There is no right answer when it comes to grief. Talk to your friends, counselor, pastor, or anyone that you feel comfortable with so you don’t carry the weight of grief inside of you.
Know that it does get better, but that you must choose to see the positive. I am not very far into this grieving process, but I do know that in spite of the hurt that I have felt, God is using this situation to make me a better person.
The number of messages I have gotten from you guys saying that you have been or are in the same boat as me, helps me know that sharing my story is what I am supposed to be doing.
I also believe that you should do what helps you be the best version of yourself! If speaking to a professional helps you, do it! If talking to the person who passed away out loud helps you, do it. If crying alone in your closet helps you, do it! Don’t keep things bottled up inside.
Bottom line? Be there for them. Whether that is sending flowers, a text, a letter, a card, or a meal – showing them you are there and see that they are in pain is how we show someone we care.
No one has the right words to say when it comes to helping someone that is grieving, but the simple act of showing that person that you recognize and see their grief, will mean more to them than keeping silent.
My sister and I used to watch Virgin River together. We absolutely love that show. I remember watching an episode after she passed away. Mel asks her sister, “How do you know you are done grieving?” Her sister replied, “When the memory of the person brings you more joy than pain.”
I don’t have all the answers. I will never truly understand why God wanted Christa up in heaven with him instead of here with us. But I do know that God truly does work everything together for the good even when I don’t understand.
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