04 Jun Finding yourself after death
June 3rd, 2001, I woke and stretched my weary bones and hauled myself out of bed. I was knackered. I was 16 and I – like most teenagers – wanted to stay in bed but I had work. I cursed under my breath for the whole hour it took me to get ready to go. We had stayed open late the night for the weekend crowd down Cardiff Bay. I loved my job and I loved it more because my sister Natalie worked four places down.
Nat had also worked into the early hours of the morning. We had a hug and kiss and the “I love you’s” around 1am, I went home, she carried on working.
I popped into her workplace on my lunch break to see her and got told she had called in sick which I thought was weird. I tried calling her mobile a few times and she didn’t answer and just thought maybe she had fallen asleep.
About an hour and a half later my entire world collapsed. My mum walked into my work along with Our neighbour in his police uniform. Their faces said it all. I knew something had happened to Natalie. I was told she was unwell and we needed to leave. We picked my brother up and I just kept thinking it would be okay. I got told what room she was in and I opened the door, and nothing could’ve prepared me for what I was faced with. Natalie wasn’t unwell, she was dead. There were no tubes, no oxygen nothing. Just my beautiful, wonderful sister with a sheet up to her neck.
I still have night terrors about walking into that room.
My 22-year-old sister got woken suddenly from a deep sleep by her phone ringing and that little jolt made her heart skip a few beats which turned into a fatal cardiac arrest. Unbeknown to us, she had an underlying heart condition. For ages I thought it was my call that killed her, the guilt gnawed at me like a beaver on wood, but it wasn’t mine she was already dead when I called.
A few months later I got diagnosed with the same heart condition that killed her and just after my 18th birthday I had my first round of heart surgery and an ICD fitted. The guilt came back with more ferocity than before and I dragged that horse around for years. I felt guilty for living through it when It took her. I got married and had babies, I’ve travelled and went to uni I have done all these things that she never got to do. Natalie was completely and utterly robbed of life, 22 is no age to not be here anymore.
Yet through losing someone that close to me at a tender age I have learned so many lessons that have got me through some tough times.
Let go of any guilt you feel – it took me a long time but when I finally let go of it I was able to accept her death. Instead of torturing myself I spun it into a positive. As much as I would much rather her here without her death. I may not have found out about my heart condition and therefore my sister saved my life.
Don’t unpack and live in your grief – No number of tears or pining will bring them back nothing will bring them back. If you could bring them back it would be like Pet Cemetery and no one wants that shit in their lives. Obviously, it is painful, and you need to let out your emotions, but you cannot stop living your life just because theirs has ended.
Write – Blind writing is some of the best self-therapy you can do. I would just get a pen and paper and write through the tears and read it back a few days later. Some of the shit that poured out was dark as fuck but as time progressed it became lighter. It helped me make sense of my feelings and decipher the millions of thoughts that were swimming around.
Eat – you need your strength. You need to keep looking after you. It is amazing how little the body can run on in desperate times, but you will burn out and you need to look after yourself.
Sing – Really loudly. You don’t need to be able to sing and I don’t mean in front of a crowd and sing to those songs that drag you down. As macabre as that sounds there is method to the madness. I’m talking about the ones that are played at the funeral the ones that remind you of them and play them all the time because one day without realising you’ll get through it without crying and that feeling of peace is worth the months of ugly crying in a car wash.
Go to the water – I don’t know what it is about water that is so therapeutic but on my dark days I feel physically unwell until I am by the water and I can hear the waves lapping. It may be a different place for you but we all have that one place where we do our thinking and you need to go there often because that is where your mind clears.
Time – Don’t ever apologise for how long it takes you to feel okay again. Everyone copes and deals with things differently. The other losses I have had since my sister have not taken as long to move forward from. That doesn’t mean that any of them mean less to me I just think I have become hardened to it to a degree.
Support – You cannot be selfish at times like this. Take some time for yourself but don’t be rude about it. I was an absolute bitch to my mum when my sister died. She was so distraught, and I could not handle it all but instead of talking to her and taking some time to help her through it which in turn would have helped me I was rude and shouty which in turn made her the same and all we did to each other for a long time was shout and be vile to each other. As hard as it is when someone is more vocal in their grief than you, you must try not to shut them out. Talking is the best thing to do.
Don’t judge – Everyone deals differently. Accept that. One person may talk and cry constantly whilst one may cry the first day then get on with it. There is no wrong or right way to grieve.
Embrace life – Take enjoyment out of everything and I mean everything. Have the same appreciation for a night out with friends as a good sandwich. Life is a crazy beautiful ride. You must keep living. You must find purpose. You are here for a reason and you need to be here for it. The simplest of things can make you feel alive like the sun on your face, the wind through your hair. A kiss from the one you so desperately want to the sound of someone laughing at a joke you made. As cheesy as it is you only live once. Grief is just another part we must get through. You can do it.
Because you are here.