“Nothing can prepare you for death. Absolutely nothing. Even when you know it’s coming. And let’s be honest, we all do. But when it catches you off guard, it’s debilitating. I don’t believe one person’s death is any harder or easier than another’s. You can’t compare anyone’s grief. It’s apples and oranges.
Our story starts on December 10, 1994. That was the day I got what I had been praying for my whole 10 years of existence, a baby sister! Wendi was perfect! She came home in a cute little elf stocking and she was all mine. My two brothers loved her too, but I had myself a real live baby doll. We all loved having a baby in the house again and she quickly became spoiled. She didn’t think she was ever supposed to walk anywhere, she thought she was supposed to be carried.
She grew so fast and became the most incredible person I have ever met. She had so many friends who loved her dearly and each one of their relationships were very special and unique. She absolutely lit up any room she walked into. And when she got her hands on a bow and arrows, she found her path in life. Archery was her happy place. She was a born natural and earned numerous championships and titles in the short time she had to shoot. That Matthews bow of hers was going to fund her future!
Life seemed pretty normal I guess. Every day was school, work, kids, sports and all the regular stuff. But on December 5, 2017, at 1:19 p.m. my normal forever changed. My whole entire family was oblivious to the horror we were about to be thrown into. I was at work making my schedule. My Momma, Daddy, Wendi and I were chatting in a group message. ‘Have a great first day at work, sister!,’ I told her. ‘Are you stopping by Dad’s for dinner? I’m making chicken for him and David. I can put yours in a bowl if you can’t stay,’ she replied. I said, ‘I’m not sure Punkin, let me finish my schedule and we’ll talk later.’
My later, however, didn’t go the way I had planned. My later handed me a phone call with Three. Short. Sentences.
‘Your sister was in an accident. Her car was hit by a train. She didn’t make it.’
Words don’t describe what comes next. Screams that don’t even sound like they’re coming from your own mouth. Somebody hands me my phone, my momma is on the other end screaming. Sh*t, she’s 7 hours away. What am I supposed to do? I have to get her here. My sister is HER BABY. My daddy. I’ve got to get to my daddy. Where are my brothers? Do they know? What do I do? Where am I supposed to go? Is this real? MY sister? What the actual f*ck just happened? I promise, it’s way too much for your poor little mind to absorb all at once.
The rest of that day and the days following are a complete blur. Time was irrelevant. My body had zero concept of day or night. I was awake until I would just pass out. But even then, rest was out of the question. There’s so much involved when making someone’s final plans. My momma, my daddy, my two brothers, my sister’s fiancé and me — we planned my baby sister‘s memorial service. Each and every single painful step. And God knows there are SO many steps. We had to pick out her clothes, her jewelry, the box we would lay her in, the guestbook for all of her friends and family to sign, and the urn that would hold all we were to have left of her. Then that night all of us sat together and wrote out her obituary while I watched my big brother sort through hundreds of pictures as we tried to put together the perfect tribute for our perfect baby sister. We sat in a funeral home Chapel, to remember and celebrate through many tears, that sweet little girl on December 10, 2017. Her 23rd birthday. We were supposed to have a huge bonfire with all her friends. She wanted hunch punch and she wanted to go hunting. That was our plan.
There’s no instruction book to help me learn to navigate this unending forever in which the absolute most important person in my life is gone. The night of her memorial service, I learned my fiancé of 4 years had been unfaithful. A few months later, my best friend of 12 years chose to remove me from her life. All of the sudden, my whole world collapsed. Three people I assumed I would have forever were gone from my life in an instant. Everyone was telling me to just get back to my normal routine. Seriously? That whole life is gone. Normal doesn’t exist for me anymore.
PTSD is real. And it’s not just for the military. The confusion and turmoil constantly swimming through my brain is very real. It’s nauseating. And it’s exhausting. It’s even more exhausting to pretend it isn’t there. I do not wear a cloak of shame because my sister was hit by a train and I’m having a hard time swallowing the pill. Death is Traumatic. Someone existed and now they are gone. My brain just doesn’t compute that. What do you mean she’s gone? Well, where did she go? Well, let me just call her! What do you mean I can’t? I’ve always been able to before. For 22 years and 360 days, my baby sister has always been within arm’s reach. It doesn’t just go away when your three days of bereavement-leave from work are over.
People say you have to leave it at the door. I’ll be the first to tell you I’d love to leave this grief anywhere I could. I’d love to set it down forever and never pick it up again. But we don’t have that option. People say, ‘You’re so strong, I can’t even imagine.’ No, I’m not really strong. I’m just sparing you the awkwardness of telling you what my every day is like and you wondering what it’s like to lose someone so close and so valuable to you. But it’s OK. I honestly don’t want you to know. I didn’t want to know either.
I didn’t want to know it looks like days with no shower because I have zero desire to even function. Or that it looks like trying to find some sort of numbing relief in the bottom of a bottle only to find myself puking my guts up, screaming until my throat bleeds and writhing in extreme physical pain, begging for my baby sister back. It’s having the person, who’s been your punching bag for months as you brutally let out insane amounts of rage, be the same person who picks you up off the ground, put a cold rag on your neck and never once leaves your side because he truly loves you unconditionally. It’s apologizing over and over only to be told, ‘I forget how broken you really are because you were so strong and you hid it so well.’
So I’m done. I’m done hiding. I’m done pretending. I’m done covering it up and being sorry for it. I’m not sorry. I’m broken. Beautifully broken. You can excuse me while I have my moments, but I will not apologize for them. Because it’s OK to be broken. I don’t have to be sorry for it. And for the first time since December, I’m OK with that.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kristilin Thomas, 33, of Denver, Colorado. Have you experienced loss and are working through your grief? We’d like to hear your journey. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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