“Your pain becomes my pain just as your hope becomes my hope.”

Ali

My mum passed away just after my 14th birthday. This week I am approaching my 17th birthday and I am hopeful for the future. I used to dread birthdays, as it always reminded me of the one person who was not there to celebrate it with me. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my mum. However, I am determined to succeed in my upcoming a-levels and become a Doctor like my mother. Whilst birthdays have always compounded my sense of loss, being hopeful has enabled me to enshrine a positive mental attitude that will see me through to the future. My advice to anyone facing the loss of a loved one is to train yourself to think positively. Celebrate their life and make sure you do them proud.

Rachel

When I was fourteen years old, my best friend Sophie committed suicide in 2016 – she was missing for about twelve hours before she was found hanging from a tree in the woods on the outskirts of our town by a man walking his dog, who then called the Police. She was 13 years old. I was at school when my friend Amy phoned me and told me to sit down – she then told me that Sophie had died, less than 45 minutes after she found out herself. The teachers at my school then pulled me out of my lesson and I was taken to a room with two Police officers, who told me themselves and sent me home. It was all over the newspapers, the television, and social media, and there was no escape from the fact that she had killed herself. The next week, I returned to school, and my teachers told me that I needed to catch up from where I had been away – all of my classmates stared at me and some even asked questions, especially about how she died or if I knew that she was going to kill herself. Some vile people poked fun about the fact that she had self harmed in the past and said that it was all an attention-seeking scam.
Since Sophie died, I have been up, and I have been down. 7 months after her death, when her inquest took place, my friends, her family and I were thrown into despair when The Daily Mail wrote about her – they exaggerated the fact that she was bisexual by making it the first word in their headline, and they said that it was the fault of her friends that she killed herself. They then pinned the blame on her mum, who died when she was three, and they also said that it was her girlfriend’s fault that she went and killed herself. I don’t think anybody should receive newspaper abuse – and we, as teenagers, shouldn’t have had adults blame us for her death when we were still trying to get to grips with it all.
We had Sophie’s one year memorial in the middle of June, and we all wrote letters – I consider myself incredibly lucky that I can say that I was not only her friend or classmate, but her best friend, and I am very privileged to have memories that I will cherish forever with a beautiful and kind friend I will forever hold within my heart. I hope that she’s finally happy and that she isn’t in pain anymore, and I desperately hope that she finds her mum.

Lauren

My dad was a house husband and raised myself and my brother whilst my mum worked. He was so reliable – if I needed him he would be there without question. We had the same sense of humour and strong moral outlook on life. Whilst I was away on holiday with my boyfriend 6 months ago my dad suffered a huge unexpected heart attack and there was nothing that paramedics could do to save him. My mum was by his side when it happened and she has taught me that you have just got to focus on all of the great things in your life and all you have to be thankful for. I had 22 years of unconditional love and friendship with my amazing, caring dad (and it doesn’t just end now he’s gone)- some people can’t even say that. It is still raw and I don’t think I have fully accepted that this has happened, but I can say that the initial few weeks and months after you lose someone do ease gently and you will be able to function again. Remember that you were lucky enough to know and love the person you have lost and they will always be with you.

Kye

In early 2016, at 70 years old my Grandfather passed away. My whole life was influenced by him, my music, food, hobbies, interests and even personality is due to him. He taught me to read, write, tell the time and more recently fix a car, drive a tractor, use a jackhammer and even how to shear sheep and milk cattle and many other things. He was the most significant member, and therefore the most significant death, in my whole entire life! He has another 3 grandchildren, but always said I was the favourite because I spent more time with him and was therefore more interested in his work and so on. He was diagnosed with bowel, liver and prostate cancer and each day for him (as he said himself) was a, “last grasp for life.” He said that just simply knowing that one day his heart will stop worried him immensely, and that although he’d said all along that he will only live until 70, he never wanted to leave “his people.” Everyone admired him, and when it all became too much for him he was sent to hospital where he spent I believe a month. I visited the day before he passed away, and although he had no energy to do anything else he said that he has saved just enough to hold my hand all the time throughout that day, which is what he did. he never once let go during my 5 hours spent with him. The day later, he committed suicide and although the hospital should have been keeping an eye on him, as he had attempted before, I understood that he had seen me and decided that was the last thing on earth he wanted to see before he passed, so that he could remember my smile. I imagine his corpse in the bed with a bag on its head, and it pains me so much to know that so many other people have to go through the same thing. Just know you’re not alone.

Nicole

My mum died in August 2016. She suffered with breast cancer for about 1 and a half years. When I found out she had cancer I was really upset. I didn’t know how I would cope. She had chemotherapy and an operation to remove the lump and she was told that the cancer had gone. She went back to the hospital a few months later after feeling another lump in her breast. She was told the cancer had come back and they couldn’t save her. She died in hospital a few months later. When she died I was really upset and I had no idea how I would cope with it. I am now currently seeing a Cruse bereavement counsellor and it is really helping me cope better with the loss. At first I wouldn’t talk to anyone and i was bottling things up and I feel much better now I am able to speak about how I feel.

Rebecca

13.05.15 the day heaven gained a piece of my heart 💔 My granddad was a true gentleman.. He was my best friend, just 13 days before he died he was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour and we were told there was nothing the doctors could do.. so we brought him home and made him comfortable. Me, my mum and my nana looked after him 24/7 for his last days.. which completely broke my heart in to a million pieces. I miss and love him each and every day. People say it gets easier.. It doesn’t!! You just learn how to live with it. Fly high gromps xxx

Shannon

In March 2015, my brother got into a serious accident, involving him on a motorcycle and a woman in a car, who was carelessly driving. They had a collision and my brother suffered severe injuries, including damage to his liver from the handle bars of the motorcycle, broken ribs, fractured wrists, a broken arm and serious brain bleeds. He was rushed to hospital from the scene, where he went into surgery for his liver. When he came out of surgery he was put in a critical care unit for 2 days. He had loads of machines that kept him breathing, which doctors said would give him strength if he was still alive. They performed Brain Death Stem tests, which confirmed that he was no longer with us and was taken off the machines. The pain is still very raw, he was my best friend- the only person I have and would ever confide in. However, I know now, he is in a much better place. Everyone says the pain will fade, but it doesn’t we just learn to cope with the pain in the best way possible. If anyone has ever lost their brother, I know we all deal with things differently but I know your pain, and one day we will be able to look back on our memories and smile instead of crying helplessly.

Angela

My grandpa was called Bob, he was a really lovely old man u would of liked to meet and see him right now. I just would love if he was with me, I just would love it so much if I could just see him. When I was a little girl I was his little girl while he was living and one Christmas I would always help him with unwrapping his gifts from the family and every time I look back I just remember him just sitting there and me just standing with him and his gift on his lap. I would do anything for him to be with me right now.

I am so sorry for the people who have lost loved ones in their family and I wish I was someone with magic powers so I could bring all of their loved ones back to life. I am just sitting here thinking about all of us and just thinking ” I wish I could just see his or her face one more time”.

The death in these short stories can be figurative or literal, however, in most cases there is a physical death, or someone is concerned about dying.

Often, the effect of death on those still living is explored.

In others a character is dealing with a significant loss.

See also Murder

See also Gothic

Exchanging Glances | Christa Wolf

A family of refugees travels the German countryside at the end of WWII. They’re trying to make new lives for themselves in West Germany. The story is narrated by a young girl.

The Masque of the Red Death | Edgar Allan Poe

Prince Prospero and his nobles are gathered in an abbey to avoid a deadly plague that is decimating the general population. The prince holds a masquerade party to entertain his guests and pass the time.

Read here

The Story of an Hour | Kate Chopin

A woman receives the news that her husband has been killed in a train accident. She processes the news over the next hour, experiencing a range of emotions.

Read here

The Lame Shall Enter First | Flannery O’Connor

A boy is in mourning over the death of his mother while his father is focused on helping others. He takes a special interest in a certain troubled child, inviting the boy to stay in their home.

Read “The Lame Shall Enter First” (PDF page 450)

The Garden-Party | Katherine Mansfield

The Sheridans, an upper-class family, are making preparations for a garden party. Before it starts, they hear that a working-class neighbor has just died.

Read here

A Shocking Accident | Graham Greene

Jerome, a nine-year-old boy, is called to the office at school and learns of his father’s death. He was killed in the street when a pig fell on him.

Read here

Dancing to the Shipping Forecast | Dan Powell

The narrator is in a seaside house waiting for someone to come home. Neither the narrator nor the man’s family has heard from him since he left.

Read “Dancing to the Shipping Forecast” (Page 20; free trial sign-up for full story)

Last Night | James Salter

Marit, a woman dying of cancer, asks her husband, Walter, to help her die quickly. He agrees to give her an overdose of her medication. They have one last night out with a family friend, and then prepare for the end.

A Dead Woman’s Secret | Guy De Maupassant

A dead woman’s adult children, a judge and a nun, sit vigil and read her old letters which reveal a secret from her past.

Read here

The Sisters | James Joyce

A young boy learns of the death of a priest, Father Flynn, who had been a mentor to him.

Read here

Resurrection of a Life | William Saroyan

The narrator remembers his life as a paperboy. It was during WWII, so he yelled out the headlines to passersby. His family was poor and he stopped going to school early on.

Read here

The Boarded Window | Ambrose Bierce

A man who lives in the wilderness prepares his wife’s body for burial. There is an incident that night, which the narrator claims explains the mystery of why his cabin had a boarded window.

Read here

A Rose for Emily | William Faulkner

A Southern spinster, Emily Grierson, has died. She had been a recluse, so the townspeople are curious about her and her house. The narrator recounts episodes from her life.

Read here

The Death of Ivan Ilyich | Leo Tolstoy

Ivan Ilyich lives simply, focusing on making advancement at work as he’s not eager to be around his family. One day while hanging curtains, he falls and hurts his side. When he gets it checked out, the doctor has bad news.

This story is a novella.

Read “The Death of Ivan Ilych”

Odour of Chrysanthemums | D. H. Lawrence

The Bates’s live in a mining town, and Mr. Bates works at the mine. Mr. Bates is late for supper one evening, so his wife assumes he’s drunk and they start without him. After some time passes and he still hasn’t come home, she goes looking for him.

Read here

Laura | Saki

Laura, who expects to die soon, believes she will be reincarnated as something suitable to her behavior and personality, probably an otter.

Read here

The English Pupil | Andrea Barrett

A famous botanist, Carl Linnaeus, is old and suffering the effects of several strokes. He thinks back on his family, his life, and his students.

Death | Dorothy Richardson

An old woman thinks about her life and experiences pain while on her deathbed.

The Wives of the Dead | Nathaniel Hawthorne

Two women, married to two brothers, receive the news that their husbands have been killed on consecutive days.

Read “The Wives of the Dead”

An Angel in Disguise | T. S. Arthur

A woman with a bad reputation in her town dies in a drunken fit. The townspeople all begin to wonder what will be done with her three children.

Read here

The Dead Man | Horacio Quiroga

A man is out working in his banana plantation when he falls on his machete.

The Stone Boy | Gina Berriault

Early one morning, nine-year-old Arnold goes out with his fifteen-year-old brother Eugie to pick peas. Arnold takes his gun with him to shoot ducks. As he passes through a fence, his gun gets stuck; he jerks it free, causing it to go off.

Read here

Redemption | John Gardner

Young Jack Hawthorn accidentally runs over and kills his brother with a tractor and cultipacker (a machine that crushes and smoothes the ground) on their farm. Each member of the family tries to come to terms with the death.

Read here

The Half-Skinned Steer | Annie Proulx

Mero Corn is informed that his brother, Rollo, has been clawed to death by an emu. Mero, a retiree, decides that he will drive from Massachusetts to Wyoming for the funeral. On the way, he thinks about his father’s girlfriend, who, years ago, had told him a disturbing story about a luckless rancher and a half-skinned steer.

Read here

In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried | Amy Hempel

The narrator visits her friend, who is dying of cancer, in a California hospital. The friend wants to talk about trivial things. They seem to have lost some of their closeness.

Read here

Lullaby | Leslie Marmon Silko

Ayah, an elderly Native American woman, reminisces about the losses she has experienced in life. She remembers getting the news that her son, Jimmie, had been killed in the war. She also remembers a tragic day involving her two youngest children.

Read here

The Snows of Kilimanjaro | Ernest Hemingway

On the African savannah, a man’s leg is rotting with gangrene. His wife tries to comfort and encourage him. As he waits for death, he thinks about his life.

Read here

The Fly | Katherine Mansfield

Old Mr. Woodifield visits his former boss at work. When Woodifield mentions their sons who were killed in World War I, the boss becomes disturbed.

Read “The Fly”

The Living | Mary Lavin

Two young boys talk about how many dead people they’ve seen. Realizing that a wake is being held in town, they decide to go and try to see the body.

The Burial | St. John Ervine

Mourners are gathering for the funeral procession of a young woman who drowned. They talk about how terrible it is and the conversation also turns to more personal, practical matters.

Read here (Page 111)

The Moths | Helena Maria Viramontes

The narrator tells the story of when she was fourteen and her grandmother, Abuelita, asked her for help when she started to deteriorate. She agrees because her grandmother often looked out for her. The narrator doesn’t feel close to her immediate family.

Read here

My Dead Brother Comes to America | Alexander Godin

An immigrant family arrives in New York at Ellis Island. The father had already come to America and he is waiting for his wife and four kids.

Read here

To Hell with Dying | Alice Walker

Mr. Sweet, an old man, is a diabetic, alcoholic, and a guitar player. When Mr. Sweet was on the brink of dying – which was often – the narrator’s family would “revive” him with love and attention.

Little Selves | Mary Lerner

Margaret O’Brien is seventy-five and on her deathbed. She receives some visitors and thinks about incidents from her life. She is concerned that the people she knew will be forgotten.

“Little Selves”

Vines | Kenneth Bernard

A man starts to notice some changes in his body—he smells worse, his feet are colder, and he doesn’t feel on top of things. He mentions it to his wife and a friend.

Read “Vines”

Teddy’s Canary | K. C. Frederick

The narrator tells a familiar, amusing story to a group of friends about Teddy, a man who has recently died.

Read “Teddy’s Canary” (Scroll down)

Corners | Sheila Barry

Mildred and Jessie look over the body of their deceased sister, Marie. Mildred is satisfied with the undertaker’s work, but Jessie gets upset.

Read “Corners” (scroll down)

The Necessary Grace to Fall | Gina Ochsner

Howard works for an insurance company, investigating claims made on behalf of the deceased. He becomes fascinated by his cases, especially the possible suicide of a woman he thinks he may have known in high school.

The Law of Life | Jack London

Koskoosh, an old man and formerly the chief of an Inuit tribe, sits by himself outside of his tribe’s camp. They are preparing to leave the area to look for better hunting grounds. Koskoosh isn’t going with them; he will wait alone for his death as nature dictates.

Read here

The School | Donald Barthelme

A teacher relates all of the experiences with death that his class has in a single school year.

Read “The School”

Letter to a Funeral Parlor | Lydia Davis

The narrator writes a letter to the funeral parlor that just assisted with the arrangements for a close family member. The representative used the word cremains to refer to the deceased.

Read “Letter to a Funeral Parlor” (About halfway down)

Twilight | Wladyslaw Reymont

Sokol, an old horse, lies dying. He is neglected, aside from an occasional visit from the hunting-dogs. Sokol is miserable and afraid as he dies alone.

Read “Twilight”

Little Memento | John Collier

Eric is out walking in the country when he is called over by a neighbor, an old man. After making conversation about their community, the old man shows Eric his museum, a collection of items that all have something in common.

Read “Little Memento” (Ctl + F the title, it’s near the top)

The Man to Send Rain Clouds | Leslie Marmon Silko

On an Indian reservation, an old man is found dead from natural causes. Two younger men prepare his body for burial according to their customs. One of their wives suggests that the local Catholic priest should be invited to take part in the ceremony.

Read “The Man to Send Rain Clouds”

Riding the Whip | Robin Hemley

The night before his sister dies, a teenager is taken to a carnival by a family friend and her niece, Rita. They have some awkward exchanges as they talk around his sister’s condition.

Read “Riding the Whip”

A Small, Good Thing | Raymond Carver

A mother and father are preparing for their son’s eighth birthday. The son gets hit by a car on his way to school one morning, but seems all right and makes his way home. Shortly after, he loses consciousness.

Read “A Small, Good Thing”

Taking Care | Joy Williams

Jones, a preacher, visits his wife in the hospital. She has a problem with her blood. He is also caring for his baby granddaughter, as his daughter has left her with him to go to Mexico to deal with her own problems. The narrative also shows the beginnings of his wife’s and daughter’s difficulties.

Read “Taking Care”

The Jjilting of Granny Weatherall | Katherine Anne Porter

Granny Weatherall is on her deathbed. She thinks about some old love letters she would like to destroy, and her mind returns to the time she was left at the altar by George.

Read “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge | Ambrose Bierce

A confederate sympathizer is sentenced to hang from Owl Creek Bridge during the American civil war.

Read “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”

The Jade Peony | Wayson Choy

The narrator, a Chinese-Canadian, remembers when his Grandmama died at 83. The family is waiting for some kind of sign, according to their tradition, that her life had ended well. He relates some experiences with her during her later years, including how they would go hunting in the neighbourhood for glass fragments and old jewelry.

Read “The Jade Peony”

What the Moon Brings | H. P. Lovecraft

The narrator has a surreal walk in his garden. The moonlight seems to be affecting his perception. Flowers that blow into the nearby stream look like dead faces.

Read “What the Moon Brings”

The Death of Elsa Baskoleit | Heinrich Böll

The narrator remembers living near a shopkeeper, Baskoleit, a cheerful man with a daughter who danced. When he moves back into town years later, things have changed.

Read “The Death of Elsa Baskoleit”

The Eye | Paul Bowles

Duncan March was a Canadian living in Tangier. He died several years ago. The narrator hears his story and decides to look into his death. Duncan rented a house. He hired a Moroccan night-watchman, dismissed the cook, and hired another cook recommended by the watchman. He soon experienced digestive problems.

Read “The Eye”

Down to a Sunless Sea | Neil Gaiman

A woman walks the docks in London as she has for a long time. You’re under an awning to get out of the rain. She sees you and starts talking about her son.

Read “Down to a Sunless Sea”

Premium Harmony | Stephen King

Ray and Mary have been married ten years. They argue now. Ray smokes and Mary has gained weight. Ray waits in the car while Mary goes into the Quik-Pik. It’s really hot.

Read “Premium Harmony”

María Concepción | Katherine Anne Porter

Maria and Juan are a young married couple. Maria works hard, is frugal, and is respected in her Mexican town. She is pregnant. Although she doesn’t believe in the remedies of the local medicine-woman, Maria feels she needs honey to prevent her child from being “marked” in some way. She goes to her place, where a young beekeeper, Maria Rosa, also lives.

Read “Maria Concepcion”

On the Shore of Chad Creek | Jack Matthews

Melvin Combs, eighty-three, wakes up to find his wife Maude, eighty-one, has died. They live alone in an isolated spot. He doesn’t want to go for help. To get Maude to his car, he has to carry her down a steep hill and over a bridge. He has a drink to prepare himself.

Read “On the Shore of Chad Creek” (Ctrl + F “Melvin Combs”)

Remembering Orchards | Barry Lopez

The narrator lived with his stepfather from twelve to seventeen, and they weren’t close. He was a highly skilled orchardist and farmer, who brought serenity to the home. The narrator talks about his stepfather and his assistant, Ramon. He appreciates his stepfather now, and knows what he’s lost.

Read “Remembering Orchards”

Seventy Thousand Assyrians | William Saroyan

An Armenian man is always on the lookout for fellow Armenians—a generous estimate says there are only two million in the world. He strikes up a conversation with a barber who is Assyrian.

Read “Seventy Thousand Assyrians”

The Signing | Stephen Dixon

The narrator’s wife dies at the hospital. He kisses her hand and leaves without handling any of the bureaucratic tasks. The hospital sends their security guard after him.

Read “The Signing” (scroll down)

The Altar of the Dead | Henry James

George Stransom, fifty-five, commemorates the death of his fiancé at his private church altar. He eventually does the same for all his departed friends. Memories of the dead dominate his thoughts. He makes the acquaintance of a woman whom he has seen at his altar.

Read “The Altar of the Dead”

The Tombstone | Ray Bradbury

Walter and Leota need a room to rest after a long trip. A landlord takes them to a room that’s perfectly good except for one thing—there’s a tombstone in the middle of it. The previous tenant was a marble-cutter who left it behind after making a mistake. Leota is superstitious and doesn’t want to stay.

Read The Tombstone (PDF Pg. 40)

See also: Fish (Family), The Pagan Rabbi (Faith), Easter Night (Grief)

I will continue adding stories about death that might be suitable for middle or high school students.

Losing a parent is always difficult, but saying goodbye to your mother or father when you’re still a child brings its own unique kind of heartache.

It’s something Prince Harry touched on this week, when he said that he regrets not talking sooner about the loss of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, who died in a car accident when he was 12.

“It’s OK to suffer, as long as you talk about it. It’s not a weakness. Weakness is having a problem and not recognising it and not solving that problem,” Harry said.

We asked our readers to share their stories of grief. Here, 6 people explain what it’s like to lose a parent in childhood.

Jonathan Turner, 48, Leeds: I felt responsible for looking after my mum and my brother

Jonathan Turner and his brother Photograph: Jonathan Turner

My dad died on Halloween 1974 and his cremation was on bonfire night. That sounds made up but it isn’t. I was six at the time. I didn’t play out for six months afterwards and I used to cry at the dinner table because I missed sitting opposite him. We’d just got a colour TV and my favourite programme was the Six Million Dollar Man. I remember writing in my exercise book at school that I wouldn’t be able to watch it with my dad any more. My mum went to pieces and I was just old enough to be aware that she was in a mess. I felt responsible for her, and I allowed her to lean on me. It might sound dramatic but I didn’t feel like I was able to be a carefree child because of this. I always felt like a crutch to mum and an auxiliary parent to my brother who was only one at the time our dad died.

At first, when my mum told me he was dead I felt numb. Although she told me that I cried after the actual day I don’t remember it. My mum had a few partners over the years, mostly who turned out to be pretty unreliable, and I never felt like any could replace my dad. One of the benefits of having a dead parent is that you can hold onto a nostalgic image of them. What I regret most is that I felt somehow responsible for my mum in a way that I needn’t have and sometimes I wish I’d just let her get on with it and had my own life.

If I could tell my younger self anything it would be to be a child. Adults have adult problems and sometimes things can go very wrong very suddenly, but it’s not up to you to clean up the mess.

Grace Mainwarin, 17, London: Be kind to those who are also grieving around you

I lost my father to terminal brain cancer when I was 15 in August 2014. It took two years between diagnosis and death for him to go, during this time he became paralysed down his left side and had a series of seizures. He died half way through my GCSEs, so it affected my relationships, mental health and just the normal way a teenager is supposed to grow up. It was devastating. I was dealing with something so serious that many people don’t have to cope with until they are much older. Something that stands out when you lose a parent as a child is how little your peers your own age can grasp what you’re going through. I felt very isolated. I was 13 when he was diagnosed so I could almost feel when I told other people my age what had happened that they were thinking of films they’d watched. Death is often so abstract for those who’ve never experienced it.

My dad was a very good person who was a hard-working lawyer and loved me and my sister so much. He was funny and kind, and I have so many fond memories of him. His courage and resilience during those two years was amazing. He kept on trying to walk, he kept on trying to adjust and adapt to his situation as much as he could, because he loved us so much.

If I could give myself advice at the time it would only to be kinder to those who were also grieving around me. I would say: “Don’t make their suffering worse. You need each other.”

Genevieve, 45, Kyneton, Australia: I have a huge reservoir of unresolved grief

Photograph: Genevieve

I was 12 when I lost my mother. I was the eldest of three and I have always felt lucky that I was able to have a few more years with her. I also felt responsible for looking after my siblings when she died, and feel I failed them because I was too young to handle this responsibility while also dealing with my own grief.

Mum and dad were divorced and my dad remarried three months after her death. We moved in with him but suddenly had a new stepmother. It was as if both my parents were taken away. What’s more, I was never encouraged to talk about my changed situation so I developed a very distant way of being.

I’m now 45 and realise that there is a huge reservoir of unresolved grief that is impacting on my relationships and has helped keep me in unhappy patterns. Talking is vital and it would be good to encourage this in children who lose their parents. I regret not talking more and wish I could be more open and trusting.

It can take a lot of effort to understand how grief impacts us years later. It is a hard road to confront these truths but probably even harder not to get help to deal with the losses that a parent’s death brings.

Rachel Martin, 40, Manchester: I regret my mum didn’t know my successes

Photograph: Rachel Martin

My mum died aged 31 when I was six years old. My sister was four years old. We were raised by my father and maternal grandparents. I remember being told that mum had died and gone to heaven. My sister told me not to cry – mum was there to have her leg made better then she would come back to us, but deep down I knew that death was final.

I have a few lovely memories of my mum but not many. I remember her singing in the kitchen, taking us to see our grandparents, and one Christmas morning when she wore a spotted navy dress for church.

I also remember her smell. After she passed away I would sit in her wardrobe smelling her clothes and handbags before my father got rid of everything. They smelled faintly of her perfume.

I remember the last time I saw her as I was being driven away from the hospital as she was waving goodbye. She was wearing a lime green dress and blue slippers.

I don’t know if I ever told my mum that I loved her. I wish I knew that.

I regret my mum didn’t see me grow up. She would never know my successes. She would never meet my wonderful husband or my wonderful son. I am so envious of my friends who have mums to share everything with.

If I could send a message to my younger self it would be: do not feel guilty or responsible for your mum’s death.

Tim, 45, Sheffield: I wish I’d told my mum how I missed my dad

My dad became ill when I was only just three, and died after a few months. It devastated my mum, but she doesn’t like to show her emotions, so it was never really discussed. Me and my younger brother were just told the facts in a very straightforward way and never asked how we felt about it. It was only much later that I discovered how badly it affected my mum, who I don’t think will ever get over losing the love of her life.

I have some sketchy memories of him coming home from work, and me being really excited to see my dad, but my strongest memories are of visiting him in hospital just before he died. It was obviously a significant event for everyone, and so stands out in my memory, although I didn’t know why at the time.

I don’t think I ever dealt with the grief, or was even aware that it was something I should feel. It was communicated to me in a very matter-of-fact way. Looking back now, I wish I had expressed myself to my mum, and told her I missed having a dad. I never said that to her because I was afraid of upsetting her.

Clive, 27, Bristol: My mum told me of her cancer over crumpets

In 1997, my mother told me of her cancer over crumpets. Needless to say, I was devastated or as much as one can be at such a young age. It’s not something I have ever really gotten over but it just becomes history. I became a shy kid as a result, although I try not to think too much about that time as it was so traumatic. I hated being the center of attention, with people asking me continuously if I was OK. They were all so kind but I just wanted to be alone. To this day I hate to be the center of attention.

My mum was lovely and softly spoken. She had red hair and wore flowery dresses and hats – I wish I could remember more but I don’t and that upsets me. My biggest regret is not going to see her when she had passed away, I just couldn’t do it, but I wish I had.

I try to stay positive, you either laugh or cry, I realise that life is too short and not to hold on too tightly to superficial things.

My (31F) best friend (29F) died in a car crash last night:( My husband (32M) was broken up about it, and so much so, he confessed they had an intense affair last year, they were both in love, but realized it was too complicated.

I can’t type much as I have to leave soon and I’m just dealing with so much hurt from all sides that honestly, I’m just numb.

My best friend for the last 10 years, Nancy died last night. Nancy is one of the sweetest, deepest and cute women I’ve ever met. She’s gorgeous and so artistic and smart, but her life has been a real tragedy from young (I won’t get into it here, but let’s just say she got into Stanford, but her childhood and teen years just ruined her and she never finished college).

She was my closest friend and many many times, she was the one person who showed how much I meant to her.

I’ll never forget how she used almost all of her first paycheck to spoil me for my birthday, elaborate vacation getaway, a drop-dead gorgeous cake, meaningful gifts

It’s no surprise I wanted my husband who I met 6 years ago (married for 3), to be close to her too. It’s odd that he’s almost a male version of her. They resemble a lot (which is weird) and often can pass for siblings. They’ve got very similar personalities too so it’s no surprise they bonded easily.

I TRUSTED THEM fully, I never saw sexual chemistry between them. Honestly, they always seem to have a sibling-like friendship.

Last year, I had to travel for work for 6 weeks and I suggested my husband and her hangout without me if they got lonely.

THAT WAS NOT ENDORSING A FUCKING AFFAIR which they ended up having.

I woke this morning to see 9 missed calls and dozens of texts. None said she passed, but I knew it was very serious. They were from my other friend and a guy who was dating Nancy saying she crashed into a lamp pole coming home. How she was upset and drunk at Paul (her boyfriend).

I was shocked, didn’t even tell or wake my husband, I called Paul who answered and was in tears so I sort of immediately suspected they worse, which i was not ready for.

I can’t type this without crying, I will never forget those words he said: “she’s gone, she’s not coming back”. I dropped my phone and sort of fainted.

I then started to scream in agony. HOW? Nance was soooo smart, so beautiful, just a wonderful and special person. HOW?

Then my husband immediately came rushing to me and I told him.

He immediately looked so distraught and took his cell phone and flung it away saying, “Fuck it’s my fault, fuck” and he broke down worse than me.

I kept asking him how is it your fault? He kept crying and avoided the question. After 30 mins or so, he calmed down.

He said, I will get mad, I will want to divorce but he has to come clean otherwise he can’t live with himself.

He said, last night Nancy and he had an argument. I don’t know the specifics, but Nancy told him she couldn’t be with Paul because she had feelings for him and Paul suspected it. He said, since I was home, he couldn’t talk to her properly, but he was texting her a lot (i do remember him frequently going to the bathroom every so often).

Apparently, Nancy wanted to come over by us and confess everything, even to me. He told her absolutely not to do that. Which led to her being abandoned by Paul and my husband.

Their last text he said was him telling her to stay at the party with Paul, instead, she took Paul’s car, left and drove for 30 mins before crashing into a lamp pole and dying hours later.

I don’t know what to feel. I don’t know if to be mad at Nancy (I can’t right now), or my husband.

I know this is messy and new. I will update you guys once things calm down.

But I’m distraught and I don’t know how to feel, I need someone to tell me, or advise me on how to move on.

I loved Nancy as much as my husband and knowing she was the one who wanted to tell the truth, it helps. But also, knowing she’s been lying for so long.

Also, my husband is a great guy, he said he was over Nancy, but she wasn’t. In my heart, I’m thinking why the fuck did you have to hurt her so badly? She was delicate and needed someone to love her fully.

TLDR;

My (31F) best friend (29F) died in a car crash last night:( My husband (32M) was broken up about it, and so much so, he confessed they had an intense affair last year, they were both in love, but realized it was too complicated. So confused on how to feel

Accidental death from auto accidents, fires, drugs, and murders are just a few of the unexpected ways people die every day. It is the element of the unexpected that makes these types of deaths difficult for friends and family. Police may be involved. An autopsy may be required by law and in extreme cases, a family member, friend, or acquaintance may be suspected of committing foul play. There may also be complicated legal issues. Survivors often feel incredibly guilty that they didn’t do enough to prevent the tragedy.

Due to the nature of accidental death, the survivors may be overwhelmed. Initial offers of help may not be accepted since they may not know where to start or what steps to take. It is also important to remember that many people may be willing to help after the death. Once the service has taken place and day-to-day activities resume, help may be needed more than ever. Remain available and willing to help.

Accidental Death: What NOT to do…

  • Don’t vanish: Be available, loving, and non-judgemental. Don’t suggest what you would do or how you would feel. You are not the issue.
  • Don’t try to take control: Your support is valued, but don’t try to take control of the situation. Loved ones need to retain control to help them work through grief. Avoid pressuring the family to clean out the deceased’s belongings since they need to do this in their own time.
  • Don’t push for details: Let survivors share the details they feel comfortable sharing. Focus on the survivor’s needs and be a good listener.
  • Don’t blame the victim: Suggesting drugs, drinking, the “wrong crowd” or other factors caused the death will not help the loved one with their grief.
  • Don’t bring up other people’s losses: Let friends and family focus on their loss. What they are feeling is unique to them and comparisons are not helpful.
  • Don’t say…
    • “The way he/she lived, something was bound to happen.”
    • “Did they find the person who did it?”
    • “Did they find the person who did it?”
    • “Forget about the trial and put it all behind you.”
    • “If this happened to me, I couldn’t go on.”
    • “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

Accidental Death: What to do…

  • Refer to the deceased by name: Acknowledge the person who has died but focus on the life–not his/her death.
  • Keep in touch with the bereaved: Many times friends and family shy away from the tragedy. Be there for them when they need you.
  • Help make arrangements or do chores: Offering assistance is good but is often declined. Instead, proactively take care of a chore such as lawn care, cooking, cleaning, or transportation. Offer assistance with children or pets. Perform undesirable tasks such as retrieving personal effects after an autopsy if you are an appropriate person to do so.
  • Encourage the family to plan a memorial: If it is appropriate, encourage the loved ones to plan a wake, funeral, or burial.
  • Send flowers with a note or offer a donation to an appropriate charity or research organization: Thoughtful acknowledgments are almost always appreciated. Below are samples of the types of sentiments you can include.
    • “It’s so tragic. I will always remember him/her.”
    • “What you’re going through must be very difficult. Let me know how I can help.”
    • “I’m saddened by your loss. We care and love you deeply.”
  • Include siblings: If younger siblings are involved, let them ask questions and express their frustrations with the anger they see around them. Understand that their mischief, during and after services, may be an expression of what they are feeling. Assure them, over and over again, that the death was not their fault. Be sensitive that children may expect another death. Calm their fears.
  • Give special attention where needed: Those close to the deceased, especially children, may need special attention. It’s wise to help them find appropriate therapy or a support group. The State’s Attorney’s office should have a victim’s assistance program to inform survivors of their rights and upcoming court dates, etc. and there are support groups and professionals in your area that can help.

The most important thing you can do to help someone who is grieving someone who died suddenly and unexpectedly is to be available, understanding, and non-judgemental. Let them know that you are thinking of them and that you are there for them. If they call, answer, if they need time alone, respect that.

Experiencing Grief: My Story of Loss and Love

This talk was presented at our 2015 “Light Up A Life” remembrance ceremony by Suzannah M. Stason, L.Ac., a licensed acupuncturist who lives in Bernal Heights, San Francisco.

Good afternoon. As many of you know, today is a day called the Day of the Dead, or All Souls Day, when we gather to remember and honor the ones we have lost. Today, I want to honor Suzanne, my dear beloved partner who died last year. She was an incredible woman who touched many people with her humor, generosity, and undying commitment to life and service. For me, Suzanne was a saint who came into my life and gave me the most amazing gifts, ones I am still uncovering as I continue forward in my life here without her.

Suzanne was an immigration defense lawyer turned Chinese medicine doctor turned Zen Buddhist priest. She was 45 years old when she died and lived a short but magnificent life. When I think about Suzanne, I remember her voice, her laugh and the way she looked at me. I remember the way we went through the world together as a team with such ease, kindness and fun. I can hear her hilarious jokes and remarks and I admittedly steal her lines sometimes and continue her humor in the world. I talk to her and ask for help when I’m really scared or unsure what to do. I think WWSD – What Would Suzanne Do – on many occasions and listen to her wisdom and guidance to help me navigate my life. I feel her love in my heart as I move forward.

I invite each of you now to think about your loved one lost and to call him or her in this room here with us. Take a moment with your loved one at your side to remember the love you shared. And take a moment to honor yourself, your story, all that you have been through.

When I think of “Light Up a Life” I think about our loved ones lost and I also think about your life and mine. I think about the light within each of us that can and will get us through this difficult and transformative time. And I think about all that we can do to honor our loved ones by honoring and loving ourselves.

I tend to talk about things that are not easy. At my partner’s funeral last March, I shared the story of her death, the beautiful sunrise that followed and poignancy of her passing. My words from the service are captured here in the back of this book, Zen Cancer Wisdom, which my partner, Suzanne Friedman, wrote during her cancer years.

My partner died last spring after three days of hospice care and four years of lung cancer. It was a most profound and life-altering experience to watch her fade and take her last few faint breaths. Being the one to make call to start hospice and orchestrate the steps that followed while on very little sleep left me weary and worn, but somehow, with the support from the Mission Hospice team, my dear friend Gary, and family and friends, I was able to get through it and help my beloved wife to die a serene and peaceful death.

Today I want to talk about grief. Your grief and mine. Grief is not easy. But for you, for your loved ones, and for me, it’s what is here today. Grief may include many things: shock, guilt, sadness, loneliness, dread, depression, fear, paralysis and perhaps even giddiness or laughter at times. For each of us it is, will be, and must be different. Your grief is your own unique experience, it’s a private journey that is rarely understood by others. But I do believe it’s an important journey to share, as I am doing with you here today.

I ask you to think for moment about what words you would use to describe YOUR grief so far. And for many of you, I know the journey has just begun and still feels quiet new.

For me, the words that most describe my grief experience in the last 20 months following Suzanne’s death are confusion, sadness and transformation.

First came confusion.
For a long time, especially early on, grief felt like being in a vast ocean of turbulent waters in a small rickety boat with no oars. Unable to tell which direction was which with no bearings, no landmarks, and no strength, I felt lost and uneasy. It was like I was floating helplessly with no sails and no course to sail. Confusion arose and stayed for what felt like days, weeks at a time. Nothing felt real. I felt I was doing everything wrong. And as soon as I started to think I had found a way, something to hold onto, the winds would shift or my boat would fill with water once again.

I recall waking up to the marathon of heart it took each day to engage with the world. For me, the mornings were the worst. The mountains of paperwork, the new responsibilities around the house, the silence and loneliness that brought painstaking tears, all with the daunting project of starting my own acupuncture practice in the midst of this loss.

I began to notice I felt in awe of grief. It surprised me at every corner. I never knew what would come next, how I might feel, if this day was going to be an okay day or not.

This brings me to my sadness.
I have never known such sadness before. I have lived a happy and fulfilling life and nothing did or could have prepared me to feel this much. And yet a huge part of my grief journey has been exactly this. To learn how to feel. To learn how to feel this much emotion.

Emotions are like powerful waves that come and go. At first, my little dingy was overwhelmed by them, but in time and with help from grief counseling, friends and meditation practice, I learned how to work with them. I sometimes saw them coming and sometimes was hit directly in the face. Either way, sadness came and I learned it was useless trying to keep it out.

Suzanne, my partner, a wise woman used to say, “Emotions are meant to be felt, not held on to.” Over the past 20 months, my sadness has been my teacher. I have learned to cry, to wail at times, to be silent and to share. I have learned that emotions are energy, and they move and shift and sort themselves out through our human experience. And I have learned to step out of the way just a little to let them run their course and to watch them with a kind and loving mind.

What else have I learned about grief? I have learned that grief is painful. It is heartbreaking and consuming. It is also extremely powerful. It has the energy to move mountains, to shake the very earth, the very ground that we have come to rely upon. For a while, I felt that the foundation of my life was gone, that I had nowhere to stand. My heart was broken. And to this day there is a piece of my heart that is still cracked and will never fully heal, but I have also learned that the story does not end here.

This brings me to my third word: transformation.
Suzanne was the love of my life and me hers. I was able to give her tremendous gifts and she gave me more strength, love and laughter than I could have ever dreamed. She is a part of who I am and how I see the world. And she always will be. I stand here before you to tell you that I am still grieving, still learning, and still growing every day from having lost Suzanne.

I look at my grief as an incredible journey that has beckoned me to open my heart and find strength and resolve at every corner. I am honest in saying that my heart bleeds, aches and hurts all the time, but I can feel it growing stronger too. There are moments, slices in time, when I know transformation is happening. It happens slowly and is almost imperceptible, but I can feel it and I believe it.

I no longer feel so vulnerable in the open waters. I have fixed up my boat and learned to put up my sails. I have gained strength and confidence to move forward with the shifting winds. I have found a course and let both my loss and love be my guides. I have learned to keep going, to be gentle with myself and to follow my heart on this path of grief.

I now have a successful acupuncture practice in San Francisco and finally feel I have a grasp on my life and responsibilities. I have slowly learned to accept and adopt my new identity as a house and pet owner and single woman living in the big city. I am dating and enjoying meeting new people. I have traveled and seen vast new worlds and done service work abroad. I am close with Suzanne’s family, niece and nephew and feel so grateful for them in my life. I miss Suzanne everyday, and I feel her close.

One last thing I will share with you today is my new year’s resolution from last year, 10 months after Suzanne died. It was, “To fall in love with the world again.”

Finding beauty in the world and in others has helped me get through the most difficult times, and this is my wish for you – to find your own unique path through your grief and to move towards beauty, goodness and growth. I know it will be difficult, and I know it can be beautiful.

I thank you each for listening and for bringing your heart and loved ones into the room and to the world. I offer you deep condolences for your loss and offer you my love – my full, open, broken-hearted love. Thank you again, Thank you Isabelle, Thank you Mission Hospice, and Thank you Suzanne.

01 Dec My Mom Died: A Story About My Struggle to Care

Posted at 19:59h in blog by Timothy Bell

My mom died recently. Well, if I’m being honest, she actually died about a month ago and her body was only recently discovered in a state of decomposition when she failed to pay rent for her apartment. They tell me she was discovered wrapped in blankets, crashed face first into the floor as if she were standing there and then just fell over. But I know differently. She died wrapped in blankets and on the floor because that’s exactly where she was sleeping. She was a frail older woman and a pack rat, and the amount of stuff in her apartment prevented her from getting to her bed so she was just sleeping on the floor. This is just the first sad and terrible part.

The second terrible part is that I knew she was living this way, and until she died, I didn’t care. I grew up in foster care because she was an appalling mother. At the age of 12, I spent an entire summer living on the streets between Portland, Olympia, and Seattle, before finally being put into foster care. While homeless and while in foster care, I spent a lot of time with a lot of different terrible people but none quite as terrible as my mom. There were people that tried to abuse me, rob me of what little I had, and take advantage of me, and still, living with mom was worse.

The third terrible part is that it took me four days to clear out her tiny one-bedroom apartment because there was just so much stuff, and it was really the first time that I’d gotten to know her. There were polaroids of naked men (some I’d met, others I hadn’t); there were written prayers for god to grant her sexual purity; there were letters from family I’ve never met telling her not to write to them ever again; and there were desperate cries for help and companionship littered on the walls, in the trash, in “Dear Abby” letters (some of which were actually responded to) and emails to the government — anyone that she thought would listen.

And the final terrible and sad part of this story is that now that she’s dead and despite what she put me through, I kind of want a relationship with her. I like to imagine that I’m not alone in this odd position. In fact, I’m willing to bet that this is a common experience for a lot of people, but especially for those that come from the foster care system. In fact, this story about trying to have a relationship with someone who we despise but can’t seem to forget is probably the rule as opposed to the exception for foster youth.

Before my mom passed away I told myself I wouldn’t care if she died. Her death, I thought, would mean as much to me as any random person on the street. It’s not that I wouldn’t care if that random person on the street died but I told myself that her death wouldn’t be any more significant than theirs to me. In some ways I was absolutely right about this and I feel monstrous for it. When I found out about her passing I didn’t know what to say but it was only because I didn’t know what to feel. In some ways it was liberating to know that I was that much closer to burying my family history forever, while in other ways I know that I’ll never get resolution to some of the greatest problems of my childhood. Mostly though, I was just confused and that made me feel nothing. If I was sad about anything, I was sad about feeling nothing.

To add to this thought, I didn’t cry once. I didn’t cry when I found out she died. I didn’t cry when I found the letters from my biological father telling her that he didn’t want me at all. I didn’t cry when I read through my VERY extensive case history that she inexplicably had every detail of from the state. I didn’t cry when I read her tortured letters to no one that all seemed to say some version of, “I’m sick, I’m bad, I’m so alone, I need help, I wish I were dead.” I didn’t cry and I felt confused, and more than anything, that made me want to cry.

Again, I know I’m not the only one for which this is true. Foster youth are victimized by their biological family all of the time — their credit stolen, their bodies bruised, emotions toyed with, they are isolated, alienated, humiliated, intimidated, starved, sold, raped — and yet many of us will still go on to try to connect with those same victimizers later in life. In my mind, it’s not totally unlike Battered Housewife Syndrome. While it’s not a one to one comparison, I think Battered Housewife Syndrome is still a helpful way to think about the foster care experience, if for no other reason than this “return behavior” doesn’t make much sense to anybody else but the one who was victimized. I think that, underneath all of the awfulness that we suffer through, we are profoundly (at times stupidly) optimistic that there was some measure of love and care from our abusers despite their behavior.

It’s easy to misread me here. I’m not saying that we should ignore victimization or that every single victim returns to their victimizer, but the dynamics of familial ties are complicated. It’s okay for people with these kinds of relationships to be confused about the role those relationships play in their lives. And even though we tend to view other people’s relationships as black and white, right and wrong, stay or go, I don’t think that foster youth should be obliged by these tendencies. This is to say again that, after my mom died, I was confused; I’m still confused, and that’s okay. My confusion is my grief. And if you want to help me or help a foster youth that you know, you have to be okay with my confusion. You have to be okay with their confusion. You have to be okay with your own confusion because the day will come when a young person from foster care tells you that they have returned home against better judgment and your choices are either to drive them away with your bafflement or take comfort in the fact that you get to be confused in this thing together.

Chiara Barzini is a young Italian writer on the up, whose stories – written in English while she was living in New York City – have attracted fulsome praise from fairly big deal American writer types like Jonathan Ames (who penned the sitcom Bored to Death) and Gary Shteyngart (author of prescient futuristic novel Super Sad True Love Story). Back in Rome now, she writes screenplays and fiction and tells us nice buoyant things about the thriving literary community over there. Chiara also specializes in one of our favourite forms: the particularly short short story, of which her debut collection Sister Stop Breathing is made up (some are only three lines long: weeeeee!). So; cheerfully carrying on with the necronautical theme that this column is developing, here are three of her dead weird, dead short, dead good little tales about the dead.

Dead Prime Minister

The news arrives: “The Prime Minister is dead.” We scramble to mourn him. As a public figure, his corpse is on display for all to say goodbye. The casket is on a stage in the chapel. Benches placed asymmetrically in front of the altar accommodate a disordered crowd. The people are puzzled by the empty casket.

Instead of resting in peace, the Prime Minister sits on the steps beneath the altar slumped over like a limp puppet. Journalists whisper about how he got caught with a transsexual prostitute, how his sweet wife had no idea he had such preferences.

He is brownish and flaccid. A trace of his stoutness remains in between the folds of his skin. Though he is dead he can still speak and move in small measures. His arm lurches forward as he raises his index finger begging to be heard.

“I am here!”

Nobody else in the room takes notice that, though he is dead, he is also partly alive.

“Excuse me,” I say to the Prime Minister, “please understand we don’t quite know how to look at you. You’re a corpse but you’re moving.”

The Prime Minister is impressed, “That’s correct! Thanks for noticing”

I rejoice over my accurate assertion, and shake him.

“Hey! I’m dead,” he says. “If you shake me I’ll be deader and will have no more words to speak.”

His voice is barely audible and he has stopped all movement except for a slight nodding of the head. His skull bares a long scar.

I hold his hand. “What happened with the transsexual prostitute?”

“I like chicks with dicks,” he admits.

The journalists in the chapel note his statement. “Finally, a real piece of news!”

“And what about your wife? There are rumors of spicy trysts with an underage girl!” someone else blurts out.

“None of that matters anymore. When you’re dead you don’t even know you’re married.”

His mother, slightly ashamed, steps forward and leads him back to his casket. The crowd sitting on the benches is ready for the ceremony to begin. The Prime Minister lies down, but his arm keeps creeping back up out of the coffin.

“Don’t worry,” says the mother. “These are the last little bursts. It’ll take years before he can move again.”

Youth Hostel

In the youth hostel, young women from all over the world take spirituality courses, Spanish lessons and the theory and history of salsa dancing. They sit in a common room eating nuts and seeds. On a blackboard, a group leader illustrates how to dance and when to pray.

The man in charge of the hostel gives tours: “Rooms are only four dollars if you enroll in the courses. Try out our grave-digging workshop: you dig your own grave and experience the feeling of burial. Coffins are not included.” I refuse to sleep in their dormitory but partake in the grave-digging workshop the following day.

Behind the hostel, a vast green cemetery expands over rolling hills. I go there with Katherine, the course leader. She is a bodybuilder from Canada who has been a permanent resident of the hostel for the last ten years. She encourages a do-it-yourself approach to the workshop. She hands me a shovel and a pair of gloves, then stands at the far end of the hole while I begin to dig. “Keep going!” she screams as if she was still in Montreal training hormonally enhanced bodybuilders. Soon enough I am deep into the earth. When I look up, Katherine’s masculine voice is muffled, “Are you dead yet?” I suppose this is the part of the workshop when one really learns something.

I stand in a perfect rectangle and put my hands on the soil around me. It is damp and covered with fragments of roots. I touch the walls looking for something, but it is earth over and over. It is the coldest place I’ve been to and the air is thick. Katherine’s voice is no longer audible. She waves a white flag that reads “Almost a corpse!” I shout back at her, “I’ll pay the full hostel price! No more workshop!” But my voice has nowhere to travel to. The sound stays trapped in my ears as if I were shutting them closed. I wonder how long it will take for me to turn into dirt or be eaten by worms, and what I could do until then. When I look up again Katherine is gone. The sun, a dot in the sky. Is this how it is for everyone who dies? Being in the earth with nothing to do?

Practice Items

The wife’s husband is dying because he has cancer. To get used to the idea, the wife collects his personal belongings and scatters them on the floor while he sleeps. How strange it will be when he is dead and she will have to dispose of his braided brown wig, or other things that are part of him—a pack of cigarettes, the purple corduroy trousers, the hat, the watch, the flute. She scatters them across the floor and leaves the house.

When she comes back an hour later, alone, and sees the objects spread out on the floor, she pretends to be surprised. If the wig is here, where is my husband? If the flute is on the floor why isn’t he playing it? If his watch is here, how will he tell the time?

It is perfect practice, she thinks. This is how it’s going to be when he’s gone. The objects on the floor conjure the death of her grandmother—the first death she can remember. She walks down the path of every single loss she’s lived through. This way when it’s his turn the pain won’t come as a surprise.

The Car Accident That Changed How I Think of January Forever

Trista Shattuck (right) with her sister Marisa (left)

Having a policeman show up at your front door unannounced never means good news. So when I saw the officer making his way up my icy sidewalk my heart caught in my throat. And I knew. Before they could even say the words “fatality” and “car accident,” I knew they were coming to tell me my sister was dead.

An hour before, I’d been on the phone with her as she drove from Wisconsin to Minnesota only to hear her gasp, “Oh my god” and the line go dead. I’d called 911 but there were many accidents on that snowy day, and it took highway patrol a while to reach her.

During that time I’d called my husband, an army officer stationed a thousand miles away, and some friends, making plans just in case I needed to go help her. As the time passed and she still didn’t call back, I pictured her stuck, waiting for help to come, or even in the hospital. But I never imagined she was gone-how could I? At just 10 months apart, I’d never known a world without her in it. Until the police came.

Five years ago, on January 12, 2012, my sister, and best friend, Marisa died. It’s still so hard for me to say that out loud. After the accident everything was a blur. I was seven months pregnant with my fourth child but instead of collapsing in a hysterical heap I buried my feelings taking care of everything for her, like I’d always done. I called our mom (there is nothing in this world harder than telling a mother her child has died), planned her funeral, contacted her friends, sorted her pictures and did the million other tiny things that come with the unexpected death of a loved one. This busyness kept me going for a while but once everything was finished, I was confronted with my grief. At first it felt like the sadness would swallow me whole. I remember breaking down in a Walgreens of all places and sobbing, “Everything I see reminds me of her and it makes me so sad. But I know that someday I’ll stop being reminded of her all the time, and that makes me even more sad.” And the worst part was I had no one to talk to about it. I’d always talked to her when I was upset and now that was gone too.

There was no escape from the huge void my sister left in my life. I hadn’t realized how many roles she’d filled for me-best friend, confidante, comforter, cheerleader, loving aunt to my children-and who would be all those things to me now? She was the yin to my yang; tender where I was tough, romantic where I was practical, funny where I was serious, all heart where I was all head. Perhaps the biggest difference between us was our life passions. She was a hair stylist who loved everything fashion, makeup, and beauty-related while I was a tough-as-nails military wife who didn’t even own a curling iron, much less know how to use one. But being polar opposites drew us together: What one of us lacked, the other had. Now, without her, I felt like half a person. Incomplete. Who would be my Marisa now? But the truth was that no one could ever take her place. Recognizing that there was no fixing, no replacing, no undoing was one of the hardest moments of the whole experience for me. I realized I had to let her go and find a way to live with the hole in my life rather than trying to fill it.

But how? My healing started with naming our baby. We’d been set on “Andreas,” but after Marisa died, I knew I wanted to name him after the aunt who loved him so much and yet he’d never know. So we named him “Marius” after Marisa with “Ronen” as his middle name, after her nickname “Roni.” But things were still so hard. I had to function for the sake of my other children, then 6, 4, and 2, but I felt like a zombie wandering through my old life.

A year later, the anniversary of her death hit-and it hit me hard. The New Year is supposed to be a time of celebration and new beginnings but as everyone around me made resolutions to lose 10 pounds or write a book or run a marathon, I couldn’t get into the resolving spirit. What good was making goals for a future that was so horribly capricious anyhow?

But then something simple happened: My daughter asked me to curl her hair. I have a short, sassy, low-maintenance haircut and Marisa, a hair stylist, had always been the one to do that kind of thing for my girls. I realized in that moment that instead of worrying about who would be my Marisa, I was going to have to be Marisa for them.

So I made a resolution then and there: I was going to channel a little bit of Marisa every day. I embraced my inner princess, painting their nails, curling their hair, and dancing with them. My daughters were thrilled and eventually it didn’t feel like a performance, it felt genuine-so much so that I didn’t even bat an eyelash at all the glitter stuck in my carpet. But the biggest change that came from shedding my tough girl image wasn’t all the sparkly pink around the house, it was the way I softened on the inside.

As part of my New Year’s resolution to be more like Marisa, I also made an effort to be more open with people, to try to connect and share feelings and all that emotional “girly” stuff I’d avoided for most of my life. Being so open was scary but as I reached out to others, I realized that I had a pretty simple choice: I could choose to be vulnerable or I could choose to be alone. I’d lost Marisa and I’d pretty much lost my mother to her own grief in the aftermath of the accident. So if I wanted to have a life filled with love, laughter, and happiness (the kind Marisa always wanted for me) then I had to make it that way by filling it with new loved ones-not to replace her but to honor her. Since then I’ve grown a lot and changed in ways I never would have had Marisa not died. I still wish every day she was here but I can look at how much I’ve become like her and appreciate that bond we still have. I don’t have any regrets-she died secure in the knowledge that I loved and adored her-but now I understand just how important it is to tell people you love and appreciate them, right then, when you feel it. And you don’t need to wait to make a New Year’s resolution to do that.

  • By By Trista Shattuck as told to Charlotte Hilton Andersen

My mother and sister had a car crash. My mother died, while my sister survived with a brain injury. How to continue?

TL;DR at the bottom.

My family owes two bakeries, about 60 kilometres from each other, so we kinda split up – me (27) and my sister (23) managed the one in the smaller town, while my father (53), mother (46), other sister (25) and brother (21) managed the one in the big city. On November 18th, my mother and sister came to visit us, like they did most Sundays. My mother woke me up but i didn’t get up right away – I had been drinking the previous night because it was my friend’s birthday and was really hungover. After a while, I managed to get up and hang out with my mom for a while, but i was just waiting for them to leave because I really wanted to get back to bed. I am probably never going to drink again.

Around 12:05PM they decided to take off. Before going, my mother started to scold me like she always did – “you need to get married, you’re 27 years old, I want grandchildren!”. I just laughed and shrugged “you’re not even 47 yet, where’s the rush?”. I Got up, hugged her and kissed her, said goodbye and went back to sleep, not realising that that was the last time I will ever talk to her. I remember my last thought before falling asleep was “what if they have an accident?”

It happened about 35 minutes later. They were 15 minutes from home. We still don’t know what really happened, only that my sister was driving and my mother was asleep. If she had been awake, she would have probably survived with some minor injuries, maybe a concussion. But it didn’t go that way.

We found out about an hour and a half after it happened. My father called to ask if they had left our place. That was the first alarm. I tried to call them both, but no one answered. Took a look at the different communication apps we used – they weren’t online since they left. That was the second alarm. Tried to call them one more time, still no answer. I’m panicking. I open up a news site, but there’s nothing on it. I open up another one and I see a picture. A picture of our car. Title: Car crash – one dead, one with heavy injuries.

I got a friend of mine to drive me and my sister to the hospital where they took my other sister because I was physically and psychologically unfit to drive. It was the first in a really long series of terribly agonising rides. We still didn’t know who died and who survived. I will probably always hate myself for wishing at that moment that it was mom that made it, even though I knew that her’s and dad’s remaining life would probably be hell. But mom died on the spot.

If only she hand’t been sleeping. If only they hadn’t drop by. If only they had taken dad’s car with all the extra security measures. If only I hadn’t been hungover and told them to stay a bit longer. If only.

My sister had a hematoma and they had to preform brain surgery. She also broke her left elbow, right wrist and a couple of fingers on her right hand, but nothing too serious. The brain surgery went extremely well and she was put into an induced coma for three days. She woke up the next day, which was a really good sign and remained in intensive care for the next two weeks, before being transfered to post-intensive neurological care, which she is finally leaving tomorrow.

She’s coming home for a week or two before her physical and psychological rehabilitation starts. She is currently really depressed after staying for so long at the hospital and having such a mess in her head. The biggest problem though? She still doesn’t know mom died. A few days ago, I asked her if she remembered all the people that came to visit her. One of the people she mentioned was mom, which got me a bit. She probably didn’t remember that well, but she just assumed that mom would come by. We are all scared to death because we don’t know how will that information affect her psychological health and that it will depress her even further. And the time for telling her is almost upon us – in a maximum of 10 hours, she will be home and she will notice that someone is missing. It’s gonna be hard. It’s gonna be painful.

I really miss my mom. I cry almost every night when I drive back home and all I can think about is her. I miss her hugs, I miss talking to her. I miss her scolding me. I miss telling her every night how much money we made that day and I miss her calling me in the morning to ask me if I’m awake. I miss her voice. I can’t look at her pictures and I hate myself for it. But the worst thing is thinking about the future that doesn’t include her. I think about all the possible good things that might happen in life – all the business successes, our family growing – and she isn’t there to share our joy. I see old couples walking on the streets and feel sad that she never got the chance to grow old. I expected her to live for at least 30 more years. Hell, sometimes I thought she will outlive me.

Life is cruel – it makes you work really hard, put in your blood, sweat and tears for the good things, but it only takes a single moment for everything to fall to pieces. Just a couple of weeks earlier, I was telling a friend of mine that I finally felt satisfied with my life. Business was good, I finally payed off a loan, I was healthier than ever and everyone was in a really good mood. I wonder why the hell I even said anything. Now the only thing stopping me from killing myself is not wanting to hurt my family even more. They just don’t deserver to have to deal with another tragedy.

Every night, when I go to sleep, i pray I somehow manage to turn back time. I wish to relive that morning and try to change things. And every morning I wake up disappointed that I failed. I might start wishing a meteor hits us so this suffering ends.

I wish I was more religious and that I believed in some form of afterlife – an afterlife where I will get the chance to see my mother again, tell her about all the stuff she missed out on, and one day introduce her to all of her grandchildren. But every inch of my body tells me that that’s not how it works and that that day was truly her end. Every single cell tells me that life is just a series of infuriatingly tragic moments that ends with an endless darkness and silence. If we’re lucky enough, our body will overload with all the different happiness hormones so our brain manages to give us the happiest thoughts right before we go back nothingness.

But God do I hope I’m wrong.

TL;DR

– mom died in car crash

– sister still doesn’t know because she suffered brain injury, even though it’s been more than a month since it happened

– life sucks

– I want to die but can’t because It would crush the rest of the family even more

– I wish I believed there was an afterlife, but I don’t

– Please someone give me a time machine or arrange a meeting with someone that will buy my soul in exchange for reverting all of this

Sorry for the inconsistent rambling, I just don’t have the strength and knowledge to try and write it somewhat better.

Sorry for all the writing mistakes, english is not my native language.

Sorry if I don’t reply right away, I need to go to sleep now because it’s getting pretty late and have to get my sister out of the hospital tomorrow.

And thank you to anyone who takes the time to read this mess. Truly, your effort is appreciated.

‘Without my sister: Lily was killed in a car accident’

SUPPLIED Summer Moore, right, lost Lily Moore in a car crash in 2016. “I am without my sister and I will never be able to explain how that feels.”

So far this year 109 people have died on New Zealand’s roads. Last year there were 380 deaths. On average, more than one person per day dies in a fatal crash in this country. Often these figures appear abstract, but the pain is as real as it is heartbreaking. Stuff talks to those who have experienced this pain first-hand.

On Christmas night in 2016 I asked my 15-year-old sister Lily to come sleep in my room with me, as that was usually the routine.

I didn’t know it was going to be the last time having those sleepovers.

The next morning at about 5am I woke up to my Dad yelling and pacing the hallway, I stayed in bed for about five minutes thinking it was work-related and then I started to hear my Mum scream. It was one of those screams you’d hear in movies when someone died.

* ‘My brother was my best mate. He died in a crash three weeks after my wedding’
* My sister’s death: ‘The majority of road deaths are preventable’
* Robbed by the road: ‘I dread travelling on public holiday weekends because of what happened’

I then realised Lily wasn’t beside me. Without knowing what was happening I went into her room to see if she was OK. She wasn’t there and then I saw the police standing in the living room with distraught faces.

From that moment I knew Lily was gone and not coming home.

I didn’t know how or what had happened, I just knew she was dead because police officers don’t come knocking on your door at 5am with good news.

Without me asking, the cop said: “Lily was killed early this morning in a car accident.”

I’ll never forget those words, they will always be with me – along with the screams and faces of my parents that morning.

Not long after, we had been told she was in a car of five kids that morning. Three of those kids weren’t going home to their families, including Lily.

The car had flown over a mound straight into a row a trees in Leeston. Somehow the driver and another passenger in the back survived.

All five of those kids made a huge mistake by hopping in that car with an unlicensed driver, speeding and not wearing seatbelts.

But I am still so, so proud to say that Lily was my sister and I am happy she was with her close friends that night.

It all comes down to choices and there are so many “what ifs” that could have stopped this crash from happening.

I hope kids have learnt from that crash, and stop to think about who they’re hopping in cars with, how fast they’re driving, and if they are obeying the rules that come with the driver’s licence.

Everyone should know by now how preventable some car crashes are, and it’s so easy to make good and safe choices – that’s if you want to live another day to see your parents and friends.

Think about them before you make your decisions.

Don’t ever think it won’t happen to you or your family, because once upon a time I thought that too and now here I am without my sister and I will never be able to explain how that feels.

– As told to Megan Gattey.

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Stories about death of a loved one

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