I include the question mark because so many people struggle this time of year. For me, issues with deep grief and ritualistic trauma frequently permeate the lighter side of the season. This year I have made a concerted effort to participate, rather than hide myself away somewhere. I have gone Christmas shopping and made plans for both Christmas and Chanukah celebrations. This has helped, to some extent, but I find my agita spiralling as the holidays near.
My sister’s death from suicide on 7 December 2000 is the most painful thing I’ve ever been through, and its sting is still just as sharp as it was that day. I have had quite a few other losses, and they all still sting. My sister’s death, however, still drops me to my knees sometimes. She was my second self. We were rarely separated, and I still hold myself partially at fault for not seeing the signs in her. That day was just as painful as ever this year, and it started my mind down the spiral of grief and fear. I’m trying to bring it back up.
If you are struggling this month, please hold on. Somewhere out there, someone needs you more than you know.
In the UK & Ireland: Contact the Samaritans 116 123
In the US: 1-800-784-2433; TTY: 1-800-799-4889
Apparently, this significant anniversary of my sister’s death is going to be more problematic than typical years. It’s been two weeks, and things aren’t improving. The nightmares are still happening, the flashbacks are still interrupting my day, and the desperation is still a constant thought. I will bring this to my therapist tomorrow, but tonight it’s overwhelming me. I’m not sure what to do with the intensity of the emotions, and I’m not sure how to deal with the fact that they are lasting this long. The black and white answer is that I simply endure. One foot in front of the other, as I told a very depressed friend recently. Easier said than done.
With this tip of the scale, my sister’s death seems more significant than her life. She lived twelve years; she has been dead for thirteen. It’s like my worst fear realised– her death has been a fact longer than her life. She feels so far away. It’s like her existence is fading. Like her energy has dissipated beyond existence. I don’t know what happens after we die, but I’ve always hoped that at least *some* version of ourselves lives on. But for how long? When is that essence gone? Does it even exist in the first place? While the scale was tipped in the ‘positive’ side, I seemed to retain some hope in my sister’s life. Now, it feels like she is lost forever in every form possible. It’s like she went from an entity to an apparition, all with one slide of a balance.
I just want to hold on to some part of her, but that feels impossible now. Perhaps it’s false hope finally breaking. Whatever it is, though, I just hope it leaves some small piece of her behind. Right now, it feels like I’m losing her all over again, and I don’t think I can take that loss. Twelve years was so very short, and thirteen so very long.
Memories of trauma are very painful, but happy memories hurt sometimes, too. Just differently. Yesterday, I made my best friend a traditional English custard tart. Gas marks changed to degrees Fahrenheit, and cooking time changed from 40 minutes to 60. Other than that, though, it was the exact same recipe I’d made loads of times before. But as I cooked, I felt ghosts of memories dancing about me. Painful happy memories. I saw my family devouring a freshly-made tart, not even bothering to let it chill even though they all preferred it that way. I saw my sister as a very small child eyeing the oven with anticipation. Laughter, love, family. Things were chaotic and violently dangerous at times, yes, but they were my family, and that was our home. I really miss them.
Feelings toward abusers can be complicated. I don’t mean in the formal Stockholm Syndrome way, but rather in the just human way. When my father died, my brother-of-choice told me he knew my father did Really Bad Things but recognised, as well, that he had been my father. That has stuck with me some nine years later. It was a profound statement, really, and encapsulates the point of this post. Sometimes people assume that survivors will feel happy, relieved, or any number of ‘positive’ emotions when their abusers die. That’s often not the case. Most of us *knew* our abusers quite well. I didn’t develop attachment to trainers or abusers in the organised cult group, but I did love my parents as parents. I felt their losses just as any other child would have done.
Looking back on happier times is, in my opinion, very necessary. It’s a lovely thing to remind me that my past isn’t *all* bad, and it keeps me semi-sane. However, it’s also a reminder of what was lost. Grief is, paradoxically, a consequence of deep love, and I’m fortunate to have had that kind of love in my life. Still, reminders of those losses can cut through to the centre of me, and they sometimes come at the most unexpected of times. A custard tart and a hundred happy memories of a family that has gone. I keep them with me and tell the good parts of their stories whenever I get the chance. The old adage that ‘love never dies’ gives a bit of false hope. Love might not die, but it certainly transforms into something a little sadder than before. Happy memories couched in pain. Reminders of not only what was lost but also what made those people important in the first place.