How Do You Explain?

How do you explain a grief that never really goes away? How do you explain to those who’ve never experienced the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one why the grief still lingers after decades?

I’ve written before about losing my sister and niece in a car crash in 1993. (In fact, I can’t believe it’s already been nearly five years since I wrote about it.) It’s an experience that has become woven into the very fabric of who I am and the anniversary of their deaths is a day to be endured even so many years later.

Yesterday would have been my sister’s 60th birthday. I always find her birthday difficult, coming soon after mine, but the significant birthdays are the hardest.

I had to work. I am lucky to work with a very caring colleague and I had wisely already discussed what was coming up. So when I disappeared into the toilets not long after arriving at work and reappeared some time later red-eyed and subdued, she was attentive and protective.

The day was exhausting. While I was teaching, things were fine. I have a lovely class and they fill me with joy every day (okay, yes, also frustration at times but that’s teaching, right?) and they gave me bright moments in my day. It was just the ‘down’ times that were hard. And so, when the music played for the end of recess, I suddenly lost it and had to pull myself together in the kitchen before the kids came in. (To be fair, they’d chosen that day to play “You Are The Reason” by Calum Scott. Seriously. Luckily, for lunchtime, they switched to “Nutbush”.)

I made it through the day but I was pretty exhausted by the end. I was fortunate to have a community singing session that night so even though I was tempted to stay home and go to bed, I went and it lifted my soul as it always does.

Today, I got to work and my colleague asked how I was after yesterday.

“Okay,” I said. “But a bit embarrassed about yesterday.”

Because here’s the thing. There’s a part of you that wonders if others think it’s ludicrous that you’ll still burst into tears at the memory of someone gone for 25 years.

How do you explain?

How do you explain that the years don’t matter?

How do you explain that the pain never goes away?

How do you explain that you never really get over it? You learn to live with it and you learn to find joy and happiness in your life again but you never, ever get over it.

How do you explain that the sudden and unexpected death of someone so young leaves a lasting scar that tears open again at every birthday, every anniversary, every family celebration (births, marriages) that highlight their missing presence?

You can’t.

I’m lucky. I work with someone who is sensitive and understanding and she made it clear that I had nothing to be embarrassed about.

I hope, if you’ve experienced the same devastating loss, that you are also surrounded by people who understand.

The grief never really goes away.

It’s hard to explain.

img061 (2)


31 thoughts on “How Do You Explain?

  1. I was looking for the hugs and love button…

    There is absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about, no explanation needed. You deeply love your sister every day and that is a love no one can or should take away from you. Go ahead and cry on her birthday, then bake a cake and fill your heart with joy for the many wonderful times you spent with her and the memories you hold close.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh Heather, first of all, I am so glad you have a colleague who was able to bring some sense of comfort through her compassion for you. I am not sure anyone can explain the pain that comes from loving someone so very deeply & losing them way too soon. To me, it speaks to the rooted place in your heart that your sister & your niece filled so fully. Please never feel embarrassed in allowing yourself to miss them, your grief is still there, longing for her to be in your life. It matters not how many years have passed, give yourself permission to shed those tears. Sending you hugs & friendship & the hope that your heart feels a little lighter today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lynn, thank you for such kind and understanding words. “…longing for her to be in your life” – yes, this is it. The older I get, the harder this becomes. There are so many things I wish I could share with her. I miss her not only as a sister but as a friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It never goes away because human connections are the most meaningful in life. And those other humans ARE our memories. We remember a beach on a summer’s day because of who we were with (even if it was just ourselves).

    Your sister sounds lovely, and I’m happy her life left you so many imprints of love. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As I approach the 3-year mark of losing my beloved father, your phrase “the years don’t matter” hit me hard. Simple and true. In writing about my grief I’ve described time’s effect as the softening of grief’s sharp edges. I’m lucky to have had my Dad in my life for a long time and that he lived a long life. It’s so hard, though, as with your sister’s accident, to not focus on the tragic end…and the why. Wishing you continued healing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So sorry to hear of the loss of your father. I feel for you in those early years of grief. I think you are right in that time does soften the edges and I can take much joy in life in having watched my nephews grow into wonderful young men and have families of their own. But the grief is always real because the edges of such an event are so sharp that they never soften completely. Thank you for reading and sharing your own experience.


  5. I can’t begin to imagine what these feelings must be like and pray that I never need to. I know we all go through the natural cycle of life and death with our parents and, knowing that it will come eventually, I dread that time, but to lose someone young and vibrant must be another thing completely. Sending a virtual hug to you.
    PS I saw the Melbourne Marathon on the news and thought of you. Did you compete this year?


    • My father died four years ago. He was 83, he’d been sick and we knew it was coming. For me, that process was much easier than what I had gone through (and still go through) with my sister and niece. I still grieved but it was a grief with an understanding that this was a part of life whereas the sudden death of someone young has no rhyme or reason and hits hard and deep.

      No, not this year. It was my birthday weekend and having given it up last year, I thought I’d have a birthday this year. 😉 Besides, been there, done that one. I do have a plan, however, to try and do all the events at the Melbourne Marathon festival so I might do the half marathon next year. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Over the last five years we lost our lovely daughter and a year later our son. Both were in their forties. You are right, the pain never goes. But we also have the good memories which we nurture and hold dear. We talk to each other about both our adult children and relive the funny and happy times we were fortunate to have enjoyed with them. But the pain never goes. It is hard. We were supposed to go first not our children.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Although I have not had the type of loss I do believe there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Clearly your sister was such an interwoven part of your life that she will forever be part of your being. My sympathy to you on this day and always. Hugs across the miles. Xo

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Explaining and understanding these kinds of feelings might be impossible…they are feeling and meant to be felt. It’s like someone’s presence means the world to us and they impact us in many good ways, you really just can’t explain…. I’ve experience loss of people close to me and you it is so hard to put a finger on why you still feel that way after so many years. Time goes on and life goes on, you pull yourself together, but the feelings always stay. And I like to think this is something very special. Best wishes, Heather.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It would have been my brother’s 70th birthday today, but he died 7 years ago. He suffered from MS so his early death was not unexpected, but still very sad, although at least he was released from all the pain and suffering he’d undergone for 20 years. I missed him a long time before his death. Is it easier when someone is so much older? Has been so ill? Is it harder when people you care about are taken away suddenly?
    I think we all grieve in different ways, there is no right or wrong. You do what you have to do. My thoughts are with you H.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sorry to hear about your brother, Jude. Losing a sibling is hard in any way. I wouldn’t dare say anyone’s death is easier or harder because it’s about relationships and it’s different for everyone. But I will say that the death of my father four years ago at the age of 83 after an illness when we knew his death was coming and we’d said our goodbyes was far easier than what I went through with my sister and niece and still continue to go through. For me, the thing particularly about a death from a car crash is that you are left with the ‘if only’s. If only she hadn’t gone there that day, if only she’d been watching the road, if only she’d had someone else with her to alert her. You never really get over the manner of their death as much as the loss.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I graduated from high-school in 1981. In November of ’82 three of my classmates were killed in a car wreck. They were just kids. We were not close friends but they were nice people. To this day some of my classmates cannot talk about it. In fact one of them changed her wedding day to November the following year in order to replace a terrible memory with a good one.

    I hope for you by writing about this terrible memory helps in some way. If it can help just a little that’s enough. Always be open about it and always share if that is what you wish.

    My heart goes out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Three young people gone all at once so tragically. It must have had a profound effect on your community. It’s horrific.

      I actually also lost a good friend in the same year as my sister and niece in another car accident. Easily the worst year of my life.

      It does always help to write and share and know you’re not alone in these things. Thank you for your comment and for sharing your story.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m reading this with the benefit of several days having passed and I imagine the rawest nerves have stopped throbbing – for now.

    The thing is – you don’t need to explain it, Heather. It just is.

    You and your family were robbed of all the memories and laughs and special occasions and small moments you were going to share together with your sister and niece.

    Those who know you and care for you understand this.
    Those who don’t understand, don’t matter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I’m simultaneously sorry that you can relate and grateful that you can relate.

      My father died in 2014. I remember, when he died, being so jealous that Keryn and Matilda would be waiting for him and he would get to see them again.


Talk to me. I love a discussion. I might learn new stuff.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s