‘She was gone. ‘We have to finish the donuts.’ And that’s what we did.’: After sister’s death, woman shares family’s unique grief process, ‘We ate donuts’

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Disclaimer: This story contains mentions of mental health struggles and death that may be triggering to some.

“It is a peculiar thing, living every day, after a tragic life event you thought would surely kill you too. Death is such a profound event. Those left to mourn pick up the shattered pieces of what once was and try to put them back together into something resembling life before loss. I’ve been here before, but not quite like this. This time it was different. My big sister, my constant companion, my other half was gone. I don’t know how to live without her, and quite frankly, I didn’t want to.

When we are young, it is hard to realize how incredibly lucky we are to have siblings. Childhood with siblings, more often than not, has some rocky patches filled with angst, sibling rivalry, and the like. That holds true for my siblings and me, as well. But what happens as we grow and mature is such a beautiful thing. The bond between siblings is something like no other, and I am so lucky to have that with mine.

Sisters stand together, one wearing a cap and gown
Courtesy of Meghan Granata

My mom and dad married young. They had my older sister, Elaine, and me. While their love was pure, it was not the forever kind of love. They divorced when I was two years old. A few years later, my mother found her soulmate, Hugo. A larger-than-life, tall, dark, and handsome man with the kindest soul, who would not only fall in love with her but with my sister and me too. They married and had my brother, Christian, and my younger sister, Morgan.

Parents sit on a couch with their two daughters
Courtesy of Meghan Granata

Our home and childhood were filled with love and good memories. Though Elaine was older than me by nearly two years, the dynamic between the two of us was always me looking after her. I am a worrier. She was a free spirit. She never stopped moving. I am content to be still. She often forced me to move, and I would force her to slow down. We balanced each other. She was beautiful, endlessly kind, and much too forgiving. She was a far better person than me.

As cliche as it sounds, we were not just sisters. We were best friends. For 35 years, she was my absolute right-hand man. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for me. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for her.

A woman and her sister stand outside of a shop
Courtesy of Meghan Granata

My sister was one of the strongest people I have ever known. She battled personal demons for the entirety of her late teenage and adult years. She fought, so hard, to live. To find peace.

In 2006, she had her one and only child. A stunningly beautiful daughter who would become her whole world.

Everyone who knew my sister saw her strength, grit, and worth. The problem was, she never did. She saw the best in everyone but never showed herself that same grace.

In the weeks leading up to her death, my ‘sister’s intuition’ was telling me something was going on with her. I asked a few times, and as always, she said she was fine. She never wanted me to worry about her, though I always did anyway.

On the afternoon before she passed, I sent her a text and told her I knew something was wrong and I wanted to help. She agreed, but only with the stipulation we wait two more days until the weekend because she was scheduled to work and didn’t want to leave them shorthanded. That was Elaine. Even in her darkest hours, she was worried about others.

A woman wearing a jean jacket leans against her house
Courtesy of Meghan Granata

She didn’t make it until the weekend.

Her demons were just too big. Too strong.

When my sister died, I was the first to know. She didn’t have any family in the area but me. I don’t really believe in coincidence, so I think it was divine intervention that my very good friend was working our local 911 center when her death was called in. She knew Elaine was my sister and sent the police and medical examiner to my home.

I had actually played those moments in my mind before, as my sister had had some pretty dark days in the past. I thought, if that day ever came, I would fall to the ground, unable to stand, and be inconsolable. That’s not what happened, not at first anyway.

It was early on a rainy, cold October morning. I had left my house to take my children to the bus stop. It was, I thought, an ordinary Thursday morning. In the 10 or so minutes we were at the bus stop, an officer and the medical examiner had pulled into my driveway, which is just out of sight from the bus stop. When I pulled up, I did not immediately realize what was happening. I thought they must’ve had the wrong house. I stepped out of the car and said, ‘This is my house…’

A family stand together outside a baseball stadium
Courtesy of Meghan Granata

The Medical Examiner asked, ‘Are you Meghan?’

‘Yes…’ I replied.

In that moment, when I confirmed I was, indeed, who he was looking for, his face told me life-altering words were about to leave his mouth.

I braced for it. In a split second, the faces of everyone I loved flew through my mind. I knew someone I loved was gone, but who?

‘I am so very sorry to tell you this, but your sister, Elaine, was found deceased a short time ago. I am so sorry.’

My legs didn’t give out from under me. I didn’t melt into an inconsolable puddle, as I thought I would. I just stood there. Silent. The life we shared for the last 35 years played through my mind. Her laugh echoed in my ears. Her smile flashed in my memories. I pictured her, across the table from me, at her favorite sushi restaurant, where we shared a meal a few weeks earlier.

I somehow managed to say, ‘Are you sure it is her?’

Of course, he is sure. I don’t know why I said that…I hoped he was wrong, but I knew he wasn’t.

I asked if anyone else knew, to which he said, ‘No.’ He told me my friend at the 911 call center had let them know I was her only family in the area and the first to be notified.

‘I have to tell my parents. What about her daughter?’ I whispered, as my voice began to crack. That is when reality set in. That is when my knees became weak and my eyes overflowed with tears. Everyone who loved her needed to know, and I had to tell them.

The next few moments are somewhat of a blur. I collected some information from the officer and ME, but I knew I needed to make the 80+ mile trek to my parents’ home and fast. Social media is the first place people go when something like this happens. My sister wasn’t alone when she passed, and I worried it would show up on social media before I was able to tell my parents.

I called my other two siblings on the way to my parents’ house. I hated to tell them that sort of thing over the phone, but I needed them with me to tell our parents.

I called Morgan first then Christian. We would meet at Morgan’s and go to my parents’ home together. The drive there was a rainy, tear-filled blur. Jesus had the wheel that day because I don’t know how I made it.

Siblings stand together with arms around each other
Courtesy of Meghan Granata

I, accompanied by my younger brother and sister, pulled into my parents’ house. My brother had left work, and I didn’t belong in the area on an ordinary Thursday morning, so we knew the moment we walked in, they would know something was seriously wrong.

My brother got to the door first. It is a full-length, glass storm door so he could see right into the kitchen.

He said, ‘She’s making donuts…’

My mom is a fabulous cook and baker. Always whipping up something delicious and certainly ‘baked’ her way through quarantine.

We grabbed hands, took in a long, cold breath, and opened the door.

As we knew would happen, she and my dad looked at the three of us walking through the door, and she immediately blurted out, ‘What’s wrong? What happened! Just tell me…’

I didn’t want to tell her. If I just turned around and walked out and didn’t say the words out loud, then somehow it wouldn’t be real. I just wanted it all to go away. But that’s not how it works.

I said those sharp words, which cut like a knife into your soul anytime they are spoken:

She is gone.

A woman and her mother sit together outside
Courtesy of Meghan Granata

The following few minutes were exactly what you would imagine them to be.




And then my mom said, ‘We have to finish the donuts.’

My initial thought was ‘Forget about those donuts.’ And I said as much.

Without skipping a beat, my mom said, ‘No. Elaine loved homemade donuts. We have to finish them and eat them.’

And that’s what we did.

We took turns rolling dough, cutting them out, arranging them on trays to rise then fry…and breaking down.

In the meantime, I had notified my niece’s bonus mom and father. They had picked her up from school and broke the news to her. I’m so grateful to both of them because as hard as it was to tell my parents, telling that little girl would’ve crushed my soul beyond repair.

A woman and her daughter stand together outside
Courtesy of Meghan Granata

Over the next several hours, news of her passing spread.

Family and friends, of which we have the absolute best, showed up offering a helping hand, words of condolences, and a shoulder to cry on.

It was tragically beautiful.

We gathered together and tried to make sense of our new reality. We laughed. We cried. We shared memories.

And we ate donuts.

Some glazed.

Some sugar-coated.

Some with jelly.

We talked about Elaine’s love of cooking and baking and her definite love of homemade donuts, and then we cried some more.

I mentioned before I don’t believe in coincidences.

My mom deciding to make donuts that morning was no different.

Those donuts saved us that day. They were a tiny symbol of hope life would go on. That we could still enjoy the donuts in life, just in a different way now.

Elaine would have been so mad if we left those donuts unmade.

What a waste it would have been.

No one particularly wanted to make donuts in that moment…

And most probably wouldn’t have, but we did because we knew that’s what she would’ve wanted.

Siblings display their tattoos in memory of their deceased sister
Courtesy of Meghan Granata

Elaine was happy. Elaine was kind. Elaine wanted only good things for everyone around her. She would never want us to be sad. She would never want us to let losing her steal our joy. That’s just who she was.

I miss her. Every day I miss her. My heart hurts without her here. I talk to her. She sends me signs she is with me. I try to remember to live for her instead of focusing on the fact I’m living without her.

It’s important to never forget that. Losing someone we love is so very hard. Death is profound. It changes us. Enjoying happiness and laughter can make you feel guilty. Doing the things the person once loved to do can make you feel sad. Death leaves a void we often feel bad about filling.

Death is a part of life we all will experience. As difficult as it may be, we know our loved ones would never want us to stay sad.

Don’t let it.

Keep their memory alive.

Do their favorite things.

Go to their favorite places.

Watch their favorite movies.

Remember them.

Shed a few tears.

Live for them.

Make the donuts.”

A family stand together in front of a wall
Courtesy of Meghan Granata

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Meghan Granata. You can follow her journey on Instagram and Facebook. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories and YouTube for our best videos.

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