My Grieving Process

Cristi Christmas.jpg
Cristi, aged 9, likely our first Christmas as a family in 1987. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

My cousin, and for sake of simplicity, we’ll include my cousin-in-law, who this directly affects, in that part, “My Cousin.” She lost her sister. Just 13 days ago. I’m able to keep light tabs on them through facebook. From what I can see, there is no reason for her sister’s death. A young 30-something female, wife and mother, who just up and died. No reason.

There was a reason Cristi died. My sister. She was shot. The reasons why she was shot to death are less clear to me.

My cousin, she posted a statement tonight on facebook, pleading to know that this grief gets better. Her sister’s death comes three and a half years after my sister’s death. About three years after I started writing about my sister’s death. My cousin’s post tonight makes me think about my grief process and how I’ve tried to make sense of the senseless.

My grief pattern has went something like this:

  1. Shock
  2. Anger
  3. A little fear
  4. Guilt
  5. Sadness
  6. Impromptu crying
  7. Inability to listen to music directly associated with my sister and/or her death
  8. Questioning
  9. Quiet
  10. Acceptance
  11. Moving on

Initially I was just in shock. The first day, the first week, the first few weeks. The first day was this overabundance of emotion and shock – flip flopping between, “What!? I can’t believe this is happening! How can this happen to our family?” to “I can’t believe she’s gone, how can she be gone?” So many tears were shed, I’m tearing up thinking about it.

We were at the airport, buying our bereavement-tickets directly from the United counter. We were able to get them for $400 a piece to fly out the next day. I was shaking so bad (later finding out I have Grave’s Disease, where one of the triggers is stress). Back and forth from borderline hyperventilation to sobs to quiet shock.

Suddenly, less than 24 hours later, we were with family. We flew into Lansing, where the in-laws picked us up and lent us a car. We had a dinner at Subway, and I could barely eat. Again, I was shaking. All I wanted was to be with my family.

And, then, we were at my brother’s house. Sadness, disbelief. Glad to see everyone, but under these circumstances? How cruel that domestic violence stole our sister/daughter/friend from this world and we have come together because of it?

We stayed in Michigan for 3 and a half weeks. We went to all the wakes, the funerals, the dinners together. We celebrated my brother’s upcoming wedding with bachelorette parties and beer by bonfires. We already had plans to head back in a little over a month. This trip was such an emotional roller-coaster, I still can’t wrap my head around it. Intense joy for seeing people, new people, new babies, old people, the same people. Celebrating new joys with upcoming weddings, new home purchases, just the joy of seeing each other. All of this under the banner of death. We were brought together prematurely because our sister was killed by someone we thought was an okay guy.

So, I think I felt a little fear. Ever hear that saying, “You never can really know anyone.” So, I started, again, looking at people with distrust and fear. Could they turn on me like Joe turned on Cristi by stealing her life away?

Wedding - 1
The last set of photos of my sister, Cristi. Taken at my wedding in December 2006. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Guilt – what could I have done? What could we have done to prevent this? Could I have made a better effort to talk to her? With time zones and business, likely not. I had just spoken to Cristi a month earlier, in June of 2007. We were just catching up. It’d been six months since we talked, the last time being my wedding. She told me she was going to be head coach of volleyball at Aquinas. She’d start in a month. I was excited for her, and especially for her to meet Levi.

She never did.

Always sadness, still, then, from the beginning intertwined. Sometimes it was a deeper darker sadness than others, but that overwhelming grief that leads to random, impromptu crying. When something reminded me or reminds me of her, and the tears come. I cannot listen to the Kenny Chesney song they overlayed on the video played at her funeral. I cannot listen to Rascall Flatts without feeling anger because that was the concert attended preceding her death. The concert attended where Joe got drunk, something he rarely did. The concert that somewhere lead to an argument that lead to him pulling out his mini gun collection, toying with it, teasing her, and drawing her into the bedroom where he shot her and himself.

Always questioning why such a bright, young, screwed up woman had to leave this world before she got to really work on herself. She did for others so much, when was her chance for others to do for her? Not at her funeral. Not a eulogy, but life. Living. 10 months before her 30th birthday. We are the oldest together of our five siblings, and now it’s me. The oldest, the only one born in 1978 left alive. I still don’t know how to answer the question of how many siblings I have. I settle with, I grew up with 5.

The grief is quieter now. Less prevalent in day-to-day life, but she’s always in the background. I’ve stopped dreaming about her, or rather she visits my dreams less and less. So, it’s a little easier to accept that she’s gone and make peace with the whole thing. Joe was screwed up, just like Cristi, and he in a poor manner enacted on his rage and control. They both could have used a lot more compassion, and individual responsibility. So, I move on with these lessons to teach Levi better boundaries and hope he can learn these lessons before something completely tragic happens.

My grief process is marked by the incident not just the loss. It has brought awareness to Domestic Violence issues. I don’t think I’d ever be able to volunteer at a shelter, but awareness of the importance of donating has because a new priority.

So, to my cousin, I have this to say: Yes, it gets better, but it never gets easy. We learn to live with the sadness life gives us, and hopefully to appreciate the joys more.

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