The holidays are especially difficult for those who have lost a loved one, especially within the past year. Back in March I experienced a loss that I’ve never experienced before–the loss of one of my siblings.
Last October was my sister Pam’s birthday, and she would have been 60 years old. I’ve missed her a lot lately, because it’s hard to move on like nothing really changed. In fact it seems disrespectful. And besides, now we’re in the Holidays.
Our parents are deceased, so she and I owned the two old family homes where we grew up. She owned our grandparent’s home, where our Dad was born; and I owned our childhood home, which he built next door. Since we both married and moved away years ago, we rented out the houses.
Every once in a while, though, we talked about getting old and moving back there beside each other–the possibility of two old widows growing older together. We laughed at the thought. We fought as kids so we expected nothing less later in life.
Back in October, though, I visited our Grandmother Hamrick’s two surviving sisters. They were the babies in their family of ten children. Today, they are two widows, 90 and 88, living across the street from each other in Port St. Lucie, Florida. They fight like no get out.
Pam and I would have been just like them, but now it will never happen. We will never grow old together. We will never move back to the old homes, either.
Pam died last spring. She was 59 years young. She became very sick almost over night, and she didn’t make it. You can read about what happened here.
Since then, it has been a slow seven months; and looking back I realize I’m a classic example of the Five Stages of Loss and Grief that people react to under such circumstances. You can read about it below.
Denial, Numbness and Shock
I think I went through some of this first stage while Pam was still sick. Her sickness was so sudden and so devastating that her life was in great danger, but I just didn’t accept it. Never for a minute did I think that she might not make it. She was so strong and healthy before, and I just knew she would beat the illness. I was shocked and numb when she didn’t.
All of us coasted through those days immediately afterward. It was easier when there were people to receive, a funeral to attend, and goodbyes to be said. They say that the numbness is there to help you cope. All I know is I began to wonder what was wrong with me. I wondered why I didn’t cry more.
Chuck and I took a quick trip into the North Carolina mountains for a day between her death and the funeral. I just needed to grieve by myself. I think I was just too numb to be there to help plan her funeral. We drove to Chimney Rock, spent the night, and returned the next day.
And there have been other emotions.
Since she died last Spring, I find myself waking up in the middle of the night playing out different scenarios. I know now that I’ve been bargaining with myself. The scenarios center around Pam’s problems with delirium while she was in the hospital.
You see, a patient who is unconscious for a long time becomes very confused. Pam was on a ventilator for over three weeks; but she had family with her around the clock. Each day Chuck and I took over right after noon to relieve her husband, and we stayed until her son and his wife took over for the evening. All of us did this for the time that she was in the hospital.
Pam was unconscious almost the entire three weeks. Early on they had her in a drug-induced coma, but later they kept trying to wake her and that was a problem in and of itself. She fought the tubes down her throat, and her oxygen levels plummeted every time. Delirium was the issue; and we the family had no idea what it was, let alone the role it played in her possible recovery.
Since then, I read up on it; and now I wake up playing tapes in my head–that maybe If I kept her hospital room brightly lit during each and every day or if I kept talking to her non-stop while I was there.
Delirium happens when the patient becomes confused for many reasons, such as how night and day becomes one and the same to the patient, adding to their confusion.
What if, what if. I can’t get those tapes out of my head now. Thankfully, it isn’t every night, so I keep taking it one day or in this case one night at a time.
This stage for me came really, really early. I’m afraid I lashed out in anger at Pam’s ex-husband. They divorced over a decade ago, and Pam finally moved on and recently married. I was mad that they had been married only less than a year–that she didn’t have this new wonderful life very long. I just wanted her to be finally happy.
Of course, what I was really angry at was losing Pam. And losing her to a hideous myth about taking flu shots. Within a week or two after her death I wrote a blog post taking out all my anger on her ex and “When A Myth Can Cost A Life“. I guess I got it off my chest really quickly, because the anger is gone now. There is sadness now.
There are two more steps in the grieving process–depression and acceptance. I haven’t experienced the former, and I believe I’m getting closer to the latter. There is still a general numbness from time to time, but I’m no longer angry. I’m obviously still subconsciously bargaining, or I wouldn’t be waking up at night playing the “what if” scenarios. Thank goodness, I haven’t been depressed.
But there may be another step.
I had two episodes that don’t seem to fit any of the five steps.
The night Pam died, I stepped out into the hallway because I just couldn’t stand to see Pam’s nine-month’s pregnant daughter crying or Pam’s husband of less than a year weeping.
I stepped around the corner when a totally unexpected feeling swept over me. I felt like I had let my parents down. I was the older one and always taught to look after my little sister Pam.
Pam and I were two and a half years apart, so she was my little sister for over twelve years before our littlest sister Linda was born. I felt this immense feeling that I didn’t do enough to protect Pam–that I somehow failed her. I felt responsible. For a brief moment that night I felt I was to blame.
As I stepped into the hallway, I swooned. Thank goodness, I was alone. The wall held me up; and I composed myself before Pam’s kids saw it. They needed strength to lean on not someone collapsing herself. I think I swept the guilt aside, worrying more about Pam’s kids.
I haven’t felt this again since that night. Thankfully, my mind quickly let it go; but I feel now this was simply ‘guilt’.
A week later after Pam died, her little granddaughter was born. Our other sister Linda was there to take Pam’s place. She spent a week with Pam’s daughter, son-in-law, and new grandbaby doing what Pam had planned to do.
Several weeks after that, I finally held little Courtney in my arms for the first time, And I felt that it was all wrong. I felt guilty that I got the pleasure of touching that precious little child when Pam could not. It just wasn’t fair, and I was totally unprepared for how I felt.
I can’t seem to place these two emotions in any of the five steps of grieving, so I believe another step may be ‘guilt’.
A Plan For Overcoming Loss and Grief
While I researched the different steps of grief, I found a “Nine Step Action Plan for Overcoming Grief and Loss” by Dr. Phil. I found it helpful, and I found where I unknowingly used several of these steps to help me deal with my loss.
Chuck feels that our bodies and minds are wired due to evolution–wired to survive, to cope with whatever comes our way. He thinks that is why I unknowingly followed some of Dr. Phil’s nine-step action plan, that some of us are hard wired to handle grief better than others.
Daytime is Easier Because I Keep Busy
I try not to dwell on what happened, and I keep busy which isn’t too hard for me to do. Dr. Phil thinks this is an important part of not letting myself get stuck. If anything, my husband always encourages me to slow down and smell the roses more. But still I have to sleep, and that’s when my unconscious thought takes over.
So I try to take one day at a time. I try to stay out of my head. I know that I just need more time, and I try to stay busy. Grief is hard work.
Still, though, it bothers me that she’s gone; and I’m still here. You see? Pam passed out of turn. I’m the older one, and I should have been next.
And there’s that guilt thing again.