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Grief and Guilt after Loss

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You probably know the pain and grief associated with losing someone you were close to. But how do you grieve for a family member you didn’t know very well at all? Am I mourning the loss of the person’s life that ended far too soon or the relationship we’ll never have? Am I allowed to grieve even though we weren’t close? Am I being overly sensitive?

Those are the questions I’ve been asking myself the past few days.

I was scrolling through instagram a few days ago and came across a post on my half sister’s account stating she had passed away at the age of 31. We grew up on opposite ends of the country and hadn’t seen each other in almost 30 years, but the sadness, guilt, and pain came on strong and had my heart beating in slow motion. I knew she had lyme disease but she never told me about her battle with CRPS, so I didn’t know how much she was suffering. We may not have been close, but she was still my family. My little sister. I wasn’t there for her and now it’s too late.

It has been a very confusing and painful few days full of sadness over the loss of a sister I didn’t know, the relationship I wish we would have had, and guilt for not being there for her during such a painful period of her life. I gave myself that night and the following day to sit in my hotel room, cry, write, and process everything I’ve been feeling. And I ultimately made the decision to share what happened to acknowledge and honor her life and to bring awareness to chronic illnesses like Lyme disease and CRPS.

I always knew about her but wasn’t allowed to stay in touch after her mom and our dad split up and she moved with her mom to the east coast. I found her on Facebook years ago but she wasn’t ready to meet at the time which I understood and respected. A few more years passed, we talked every few months, and during our last conversation almost a year ago, she said she was feeling positive she would feel better soon and hoped we’d meet someday.

So I’m going to do what I can to honor her now–by donating to causes to help people with chronic illnesses through awareness, prevention, and research, and by doing good things for others for her. Because we may not have been close, but her kind, giving, and loving heart was felt even through text messages and our chats as we played words with friends.

The guilt I’m feeling is insurmountable and is something I’m going to need to work through. It’s so difficult to try and make sense of whether or not the way you’re grieving makes sense or is justified. We weren’t close but I still feel so sad. But that’s how grief works.

If someone you know is sick, check in and ask what you can do to help. Let them know you’re thinking of them. And if there’s someone you’ve been meaning to reach out to, don’t wait another day–or moment–to do it.

As we go into the holidays, it can be easier than ever to feel sadness or grief amidst endless happy posts across social media. We all have our struggles and some years are much, much harder to get through than others. So let’s be sensitive to one another and remember that not everyone is ok right now.

Before the day ends, send some love to someone you care about or check in on someone you think might be struggling.  And if you’re grieving a loss or struggling right now, remember that you are not alone.

Photo by my friend Emilia Jane

  • Jessica

    Danielle-
    Thank you for being so honest and real in your writing. So many bloggers are all sunshine and Nordstrom sales, which don’t get me wrong, has its time and place… but that isn’t life all the time, is it? Sometimes it’s sad and crappy and tears your heart out, and I think it’s really important to say that out loud. I lost my Mom two months ago, and we had a very long/rough history, so I feel your pain, loss and confusion over what emotion to feel. Thank you again for this, and for the reminder that none of us are alone in this messy, beautiful universe.

    • Jessica,
      I am so, so sorry you lost your mom and that you had a long/rough history, too. That has to make the grieving process feel so confusing, but it’s still such a difficult, painful loss either way. Hope you have lots of wonderful people to help you through it. I know I don’t know you, but sending you some love and good thoughts today.

      This was a really tough post to write, but in the end, felt like something I had to share, and I’m not sure I would have been comfortable publishing anything else until I got it out there. If you feeling less alone is the one thing that come from this post, then it was all worth it.

      Danielle

  • Jacqueline Carrillo

    Hi Danielle, I’m sorry to hear about your sister. I don’t think we can ever be overly sensitive when it comes to losing someone and your feelings are definitely justified. Thinking about you and hoping you find peace during this difficult time.

    • Thank you, Jacqueline. Even though we weren’t close and hadn’t seen each other since we were kids, it’s still felt like a really painful loss. Your kind words mean more than you know.

  • Carol

    Hi Danielle, I’m so sorry for your loss. I think you’re brave to talk about what can be so true and raw about grief. I’m sure your sister would be so proud that you plan to do something proactive in her memory. Lyme disease is such a mystery to so many people. You have the platform to reach people and it’s an unselfish, loving thing to memorialize her in that way. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

    • Thank you, Carol. That means so much to me. I actually updated the post when I found out she had CRPS as well–she never shared that with me. But after doing lots of research, there needs to be so much more awareness about Lyme and better treatment. I had no idea how horrible it could be.

  • Yolonda Washington

    Danielle,
    I’m sorry to hear about your loss. While you may not have had the closest bond, she is still your family and a loss of a loved one is difficult no matter what. It is my hope that you and the family find peace and joy in knowing she is no longer suffering.

    • Thank you, Yolanda. That does help, but I’m still so sad she suffered as much as she did.

  • Mimi Napleton Collins

    Danielle. So sorry about your sister. I think your post was written with much love and concern for her and also shows how fragile life is and how complicated family and relationships can be.

    • Thank you! And thanks for everything this weekend. Being in NYC with all of you helped more than you know. Such a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  • Nicole

    I am so sorry for your loss, your post is beautiful in its honesty. Grief has so many facets, thank you for sharing your life with us and honoring her life by your kind words and actions.

  • Christina Daniel

    Danielle, I’m so sorry to hear about your {half} sister. Speaking from far too much experience in the past 2 years, I understand all of the emotions you are feeling and all of the questions running through your head. The best advice I can give is to let yourself feel everything – the good and the bags – and do it at your own pace and in your own way. It is okay to cry, ask why, grieve, etc. It is true that it gets easier with time. My thoughts are with you – let me know if you need to talk about it or just need someone to listen.

    • Thank you, Christina. I’m sorry for whatever losses you had to go through the past 2 years and hope the holiday season isn’t too difficult for you. It’s really confusing and painful, and the guilt is pretty consuming right now.

  • Danielle, I am so very sorry for your loss. I don’t think we can be too overly sensitive when losing someone, especially a family member. I know when I lost my mom 7 years ago that writing really helped me with the grieving process.

    Thank you for your raw honesty in this post and I am sure it wasn’t easy to write.

    • I am so, so sorry for your loss, Tracy. It’s just confusing to navigate feeling this sad and guilty since we weren’t close and didn’t grow up together. And no, this post was not easy to share but I felt that I needed to do it. I’m sure the holidays can’t be easy for you–sending lots of love your way.

  • Estela

    ❤❤❤❤❤❤
    Have a nice trip in Denmark. Lots of love to you and your family.

  • Jossie Michel

    Hugs to you! Thank you for opening up and sharing with us readers! I lost my brother in law two years ago from cancer. I just wish he had more time and memories to build with my 7 year old son. My heart aches for my little guy who had to face loss at such a young age. When he gets up to bat he will point up to the sky in honor of his fav uncle.
    After reading your story I’m positive your sister will be that angel to you who is always with you!

    • Oh I’m so sorry, Jossie. That’s so sad, but so sweet that your son honors him. Thanks for the hugs. They are definitely needed right now.

  • Loss at the holidays can be so difficult because everyone and everything around you seems so joyful; sending warm thoughts and compassion your way and the hope you can grieve the loss in a way that allows you to heal and keeps your sister’s memory alive in your heart. I’m sure your trip to Denmark couldn’t have come at a better time; for me, travel and experiencing new joy reminds me of all the beautiful things the world has to offer. I tend to always book a trip when trying to overcome sadness or having dealt with a rough part of my year/life.

  • I know firsthand that family can be such a complicated matter. What I’ve learned about grief is that we all handle/take things differently, and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Feelings are unique to the person experiencing them. Sending you all the positive thoughts I can muster, Danielle!

  • Daryl

    Danielle, I’m so sorry to hear about this! You are absolutely, absolutely allowed to grieve someone you did not get to spend much time with – all pain and emotion is valid.

    Donating to causes battling chronic illness is such a beautiful and meaningful way to honor her.

    Wishing you well xx

  • Lauren Prado

    Danielle,

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I was taken aback to see that your sister had CRPS, as my mom has had CRPS for around the past 7 years. It’s an awful disease that hardly anyone knows about or understands. I think it is a wonderful way to honor your sister by bringing awareness to chronic illnesses. I wish so many more people understood CRPS. I would love to be a part of helping spread awareness should there ever be the opportunity.

    Sending comforting thoughts your way.

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  • Danielle, I am so sorry for your loss. I am thankful that you shared this. Loss feels like an island and it is always good to know you are not alone.

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