Monday, March 12, 2012

Grieving

Grief is a strange beast. It sneaks up on you. Sometimes, when you think it has weakened with the passing of the years you turn to find it just as ferocious as ever. Just when it appears that it's grown old and frail like the person you are grieving never could, it catches you unawares and leaves you struggling to breathe and see through a burning sea of tears...

Today marks thirty years since my parents laid to rest their second born daughter, Jo-Anne. She was just shy of 18 months old when she passed away and I still grieve for her fiercely, despite the fact that I don't remember her, having only being a couple of months old when she died. Many a therapist have tried to find out why I have such a strong connection to her, and they have all, after a while, shook their heads and placed me in the too hard basket.

How can you grieve for someone you didn't know? How can it hurt so much and feel like something is missing when you never really knew what it was like to have it in the first place?

I spoke to my dad about her today. Though as a family we never not spoke of her, my Dad and I have spoken more about her in the last two years than all the other times put together and I've learned more about her and who she was as a child as opposed to my previous, childhood thoughts of her just being "the dead sister".

"I've been thinking about Jo-Anne a lot lately, would you mind if I wrote about her?"

"Of course you can, baby, she was your sister. I've been thinking about her a lot lately too... you know it's been thirty years?" he says as his eyes go glossy and he swallows hard.

As my dad has marveled over each of Tricky's milestones, when we're alone there is always an underlying melancholy of "Jo-Anne never did that" (I can only assume that the experience wasn't the same when I was a baby because he was too consumed by his grief to be noticing what I was doing). He tells me, like he has before, that she never learned to walk, never really talked, and only weighed a little bit more than newborn-me when she passed away... but that she had the most beautiful, infectious giggle. 

I break down and sob on his shoulder. He hugs me tight. I'm sure though, that he likes when I ask about her, even though it always ends this way. That he finds comfort in the fact that I still think of her.

My grief has changed over the years from a selfish young girl's want to have another sister to play with, to a mother's empathy and compassion. My grief now is just as much for the loss of my sister as it is an overwhelming heartache for the loss of my parents' daughter and the loss of any chance of a normal life for them.

There are some things that I think you can't fully understand and appreciate about parenting until you become one yourself... and then there are some things, awful things like this, that become so much harder to grasp when you finally have that insider knowledge.

I cannot fathom how hard it must have been for my parents when Jo-Anne went in to heart failure when I was three days old. How difficult it would have been to leave their newborn to focus on their fragile second born and take her overseas for life saving surgery. How earth shattering it was for them to watch her die on the plane ride there and bring her home in a goddamn box in the cargo hold instead of safe in their arms.

My mind cannot cope with the thought of that much pain and suffering.

So tonight, I hug Tricky a little closer and a little longer than usual. I look past the screaming, tantrum filled evening of a child exerting his independence and testing boundaries, and take solace in this amazing gift that is a healthy, happy child, knowing full well that there are some people who would give anything, truly anything, to experience this frustration.
A very rare photo of Jo-Anne, me and Aunty Penny on my
Christening day, a week before Jo-Jo passed away
(cropped to remove people who don't wish to be blogged about)

39 comments:

  1. Oh Glow, what a tragic story.  My heartbreaks for you, for you dad and your mom, you sister Aunty Penny and everyone whose life has been touched by someone so young dying far too early.

    Hugs to you girl. 

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  2. Wow, great writing! Going to go look in on my sleeping kids, and forgive them all their annoying behaviours today. Yes, we are lucky to have never known that grief.

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  3. So sad that your parents had to go through that and sad that you and Aunty Penny lost a sister. Virtual hugs to you all on this sad anniversary x

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  4. Beautifully written Glow. I think it's beautiful and completely normal you feel such a loss for your sister. Some of these psychologists are completely daft, even if she passed before you were born you would feel the same. It certainly doesn't matter how much you know a person. At the end of the day she is your sister and you grieve what could of been, what should of been and the great loss for your family. Thank you for writing about such a sensitive subject, I know how proud your mum and dad would be of you. Xxx

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  5. So sorry that you, your family, that anyone need face this type of pain. You are right in that there are some things that only seem to take on new or renewed significance once we become parents.

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  6. It is such a hard thing to deal with - I have no idea how i would cope.

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  7. Heartbreaking. I am so sorry. Grief is so complicated at the best of times. xxx

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  8. Just because you don't remember Jo-Anne, it doesn't make your grief any less legitimate. In some ways, it puts me in mind of parents who have suffered a miscarriage. I think it's perfectly normal to grieve for the loss of what could have been. You missed out on a relationship and connection with your sister. Even though you don't remember Jo-Anne, it's obvious that you still love her very much. Go easy on yourself Glow, rhere's nothing wrong with what you are feeling and any professional who can't see that is a moron.

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  9. Kim (workingwomenaus)March 13, 2012 at 6:23 AM

    Heartbreaking Glow. Grief is a strange beast that rears its ugly head at the strangest of times

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  10. Oh Glow, my god hon. 

    Just ... beautifully, achingly written. You're allowed to grieve for her. I don't think there are rules to grief.

    Wow. Love, love love to you XXXXX

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  11. This post is beautiful even in its sorrow. Grief is indeed inexplicable. Hugs to you.

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  12. I admit I thought that too, that my grief is similar in a round about way, to the grief of a miscarriage because I'm grieving what could have been, hopes, dreams and a mental image of my family.

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  13. Thanks lovely, you can always make me smile x

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  14. I can't imagine experiencing it... my mind simply will not allow me to even think about it.

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  15. I thought of you and your little guys when I wrote this, Katherine x

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  16. Beautiful Glow. You know I will have to give an extra specially tight hug when we meet up, don't you? I love that you ask your Dad. I love that you let him see your tears. Love, love, love.

    Although, I don't believe you "didn't know" your sister at all. The way I've seen the world work before my eyes, there is every beautiful and untouchable possibility your bond is as it should be - tantalizing, always out of reach. But tangible in a way that is privately for you and her alone to know. It hits me in the stomach with an ache I can't describe, reading your words and realising my daughter will have such similar resonance as she grows older and can express herself in writing (if she so chooses). But I can't deny the deep respect I have for some sibling relationships being this way.

    Now, your parents, on the other hand...... for them I could cry thousands of sympathetic tears if I let myself..... My sincerest love to you and your parents, especially on this important anniversary year.

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  17. Martine@themodernparentMarch 13, 2012 at 5:39 PM

    I often wonder how the grief at losing their baby sister will play out with my boys as they grow. They all still talk about her and the older 3 remember her well but obviously theirs will be different to the 2 boys that followed her and never met her. And yes I am well aware that grief is a strange beast. So sorry for your loss.

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  18. Oh hun. How much I needed to hear this story today. You blow me away.
    I am so so sorry for your, and your family's loss.

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  19. I think once you are a parent you open yourself up to experiencing a small part of any other paren't grief. I still cry for Madeleine McCann, because I just cannot begin to imagine the awfulness of that situation for her and her parents. I see it through my own relationship with my own children, and the sadness is more tangible because of them. It must be even more acute when it is something which happened in your own family. Hugs (even though I don't really know you...) x

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  20. Oh Glow... xx

    You miss your sister... you miss skipping with her holding hands, of whispers under the doona, late night phone calls, and the hug you never get to give her as an adult.  You miss loving her in the way you would if she were here... you grieve the wonderful person you imagine her to be...

    She is a void in your heart because once she was there and then she wasn't.  Of course you grieve and morn her... she was, and is, important.

    Blessings to you and your family xx

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  21. You have honoured your sister and your parents so beautifully in this post. I'm sure your dad is enormously proud of you and the way you have articulated this difficult and such personal situation.  xx

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  22. Thank you for sharing this. It's important to share the sad as well as the beautiful - let's face it, the sad can sometimes be beautiful in its own way, too, right?

    I agree with what you wrote about understanding things like this when you're a parent. My father passed away suddenly when I was young. All I really understood of it during my teen years was that I had lost my father. Around the time I got married, I realised my mum had lost her husband. And when I had Ashleigh, I finally realised that my nan had lost her son. Something I just can't imagine. x

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  23. My brain won't let me think about it. I tried to, to write this, and it just won't go there.

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  24. So many things are so different through the eyes of a parent

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  25. It's funny (no funny haha obviously) that I would never ask anyone else to have rules for grief but I seem to think I should have them for myself. Hrm.

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  26. I thought of Lolly when I wrote this, you know. Her and a few other little boys I know who have lost a sibling (one a twin).
    With you guiding her, and always including Ella in the family, their connection will be strong.

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  27. I was very jealous of my eldest sister for a while, because she can remember Jo-Jo.

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  28. Thanks lovely. Hold your little ones close x

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  29. I totally agree. It's even made me look at movies differently - if there is a child who is sick or dying I am a mess. I sit there telling myself it's just a movie but I still cry my eyes out.

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  30. I always wonder what she would have been like. She looked so different to Penny and I in photos, though I'm not sure if that was because she was sick.

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  31. Thank you so much, that means a lot

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  32. Oh Emily, yes, the perspective changes so much as we move through different stages and can finally have a point of reference to grasp just how devastating it would be.

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  33. I think we've said it all, but I wanted to say thank you for sharing Jo-Anne's story, thank you for your honesty and sharing your grief so that we can join you in honouring your sister and her memory. xxx

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