Lessons from My Sister’s Death. ~ Evan Upchurch

Via on Jun 26, 2013

ej pic evan upchurch & sister

I never thought my first experience with death would be that of my own 23-year-old sister.

Gwendolyn took her life on April 30, 2013.

Upon hearing the news via Skype, I cried until my face was unrecognizable, only black and blue. I felt lost. How could she really be gone so soon? Only weeks ago I had exchanged messages with her telling her how much I loved her and now, she was dead.

“Why?” That’s what everyone asked me. Now, six weeks later, I am no longer concerned with the why—Gwendolyn’s choice brought her peace and for me, that is enough.

But this is what I do know:

My sister was a woman who, “loved with a love that was more than love,” as Edgar Allen Poe would say. Amidst a life of so much pain, she gave her heart out to others like pieces of chocolate. In her death, she proved to be a world-class teacher for me and countless others.

Here are seven lessons Gwen has taught me in her death:

1. Death is selfish.

Since I never knew anyone that died, Gwen’s death was my first experience. I realized that I was not sad for my sister’s death but rather her life; even more so I was sad for myself. I was sad that she was not going to see me graduate in a few months, come visit me in college, or have adventures with me in our adulthood. I was devastated that I couldn’t talk with her again or get that picture I never took last time I saw her.

I was sad for the things I wouldn’t have and that’s all right.

2. Your body is only a vessel.

At the funeral, I had a bit of a breakdown. Never had I been in the vicinity of a funeral home and when I walked in those chapel doors, the tears were on cue.

From a distance I could see my sister’s body lying in a coffin. I nearly dropped to the floor, hardly able to breathe. After centering myself, I slowly walked to the coffin and stood above her head. She had a Lacoste shirt on as usual and her long, flawless hair rested upon her shoulders. Again, the tears came.

This was not my sister; it was an empty body that would be cremated in a few days time. At that moment, I realized that our bodies are merely vessels for our souls. The words are beautiful to preach, but until you are looking into the face of someone so dear, it does not truly sink in.

3. Love no matter what (and most importantly, love yourself).

“Everything I have done, do or will do, comes back to love. My coordinates are love and love is my destination. Seen through the eyes of love, nothing I have done is unacceptable. Love covers all that I have done, do or will do in my life. Love is always present and love is always enough.”

That’s an excerpt of the guided meditation I led at school a day before my sister’s death. It is one thing to believe in love in our everyday lives, but believing in love when life crumbles is the ultimate test. I continued to act in the name of love, but most importantly, I remembered to love myself. I did what was necessary in order to take care of my wounded soul, whatever that entailed.

I showed myself the epitome of self-love when I truly needed it the most.

4. Our loved ones are always here.

The best part about death is that our loved ones are not really gone. Maybe the person is not there in the physical form or walking around as a ghost, but their presence does not disappear. Gwendolyn has been with me in countless ways since her death. Sometimes it’s just a feeling, at other times a dream, and when I am lucky, she uses the elements.

One day, about two weeks after her death, I was floating in the Pacific when a wave crashed over me. Instead of coming up right away, I let the wave take me and hold me under. I closed my eyes and danced with the waves. There was not a thought in my mind-only peace. She was talking to me with the waves without saying a word. When I came up, I was ecstatic because it felt like she was right there with me.

So, take my word, they’re never truly gone.

5. Be good to yourself.

Gwendolyn wrote a suicide letter. One of the many profound lines was, “Please be good to one another, not just loved ones. You all wield a power far greater than we realize. Be good to yourselves!”

Well, that’s what I intend on doing. I have been given one life and my sister showed me how easily it can slip away. After reading her words, I made a promise to myself that I will not lead a life that makes me unhappy or damages the precious vessel I’ve been given.

She wished the same for everyone.

6. Life goes on.

Six weeks later, my sister death feels like an eternity yet it feels like just yesterday. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my gorgeous sister, but the days become easier. I have to keep living because I’m still here. My vessel still has work to do on this earth. Life must go on. It can’t stop and start for others. I only have control over myself. That’s what she would want-to never forget and to keep going.

7. Shine.

I always have felt that I have an enormous amount of love and light to share. When my sister died, that love and light grew roots and discovered the meaning of depth. I feel like I can act with a greater understanding of the realities of life-the yin and yang. My sister’s light resides in my heart and I’ll forever carry it for the world to see. Keep on shining.

Thank you, Gwendolyn. You may have taken your life, but you gave mine back.

 

ej bio pic evan upchurchEvan Upchurch lives in the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica with her mother and younger brother. Yoga and meditation are a part of her daily life. She will be attending the American University of Paris this fall to pursue her passion for writing.

 

 

 

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Assistant Ed: Karla Rodas/Ed: Bryonie Wise

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27 Responses to “Lessons from My Sister’s Death. ~ Evan Upchurch”

  1. Robyn says:

    I'm so, so sorry for your loss. This story left me fighting tears at my work desk. Sending healing thoughts to you.

  2. @delabeaux says:

    Thank you for this. I found out a cousin killed himself right night. This is more than relevant.

    • evanupchurch says:

      Stay strong.

      I know for certain that we never lose the people we love, even to death. They continue to participate in every act, thought and decision we make. Their love leaves an indelible imprint in our memories. We find comfort in knowing that our lives have been enriched by having shared their love. — Leo Buscaglia

  3. Alexa GK says:

    Thank you for sharing with us, Evan. I'm so sorry for your loss. Your piece is beautifully written with a powerful message. Much love from an Elephant reader. X

  4. Kat says:

    Wow! I write this with tears streaming down my face. Commiserations and Congratulations! What a beautiful soul you are. Turning your sorrow into fuel to shine your light brighter. So beautiful xx

  5. anaguardia says:

    You are such a brave soul,thank you for sharing this.

    Love, A

  6. Lucille DePerro says:

    God Bless You Evan Upchurch. Your sister and family are in my prayers. You are a wise soul. I too believe that our loved ones never leave us and they constantly remind me with their worldly gestures. Your sister is blessed in many ways – especially having you in her life. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. You are also a gifted writer. Please continue to share your love, strength, words and feelings. May you and your family be blessed always.

    • evanupchurch says:

      Lucille, you're so kind. Thank you for keeping my family and me in your thoughts… and for taking the time to connect with this piece! Gwen is smiling down. All my love.

  7. tom gostkowski says:

    This is one of the most beautiful things I've ever read.

    I'd like to share this with you… I came to know of this word as it's the name of a good friend's sail boat.

    "Ndinombethe"
    [African proverb] (pronounced "in-day-nom-bay-tay")
    Translation: "As I go, I am wearing you." Referring to the indelible handprint we leave on the lives of others as we cross paths, whether intended or accidental.

    • evanupchurch says:

      That is quite the compliment, Tom. Thank you for sharing this word. Incredibly, sailing is one of my passions, so maybe one day my boat (that I will eventually get!) will be named this. Keep shining your light. All my love!

      • tom gostkowski says:

        Evan – I spent three weeks on this boat. Started in Tortola, cleared St. Johns, spent time in Red Hook provisioning and repairing then on to St. Criox, Culebra and Vieques. My friend would be deeply moved to know someone else named their boat as such. For him, the name is germain to a lost loved one also. Light and love to you Evan.

  8. Stacy H says:

    This was quite a synchronicity, and a very poignant article for me to stumble upon while waking up today. I love the wisdom in your words. I lost my own sister in the same way and what a bright light she was! It has been nearly 16 years, but your words are some of the same lessons I have learned over all these years. To have this insight after 6 weeks is amazing and I wish you much luck on your journey. You truly understand what loss is and it will only help you to understand others as you continue to meet people and further your education, either in college or in life school. Thank you immensely for your words they strike my heart and my compassion for you and your family. May life bless you all. Much love and respect from Arizona!

  9. Stacy H says:

    This was quite a synchronicity, and a very poignant article for me to stumble upon while waking up today. I love the wisdom in your words. I lost my own sister in the same way and what a bright light she was! It has been nearly 16 years, but your words are some of the same lessons I have learned over all these years. To have this insight after 6 weeks is amazing and I wish you much luck on your journey. You truly understand what loss is and it will only help you to understand others as you continue to meet people and further your education, either in college or in life school. Thank you immensly for your words they strike my heart and my compassion for you and your family. May life bless you all. Much love and respect from Arizona!

  10. Vera Gattaz says:

    Dear Evan,
    This text is so touching! The true value of love

  11. Janice says:

    Thank you for sharing your very powerful truth. It's odd how someone's "death" can teach us so much about life if we let it. You are honoring your sister's gift to you, the gift of illumination. Our culture struggles with talking honestly and naturally about death and grief. Blessings to you on your journey.

  12. Lynsey says:

    Dearest Evan,
    YOU, are a blessing.
    Where ever you roam, know that I am always right beside you….
    Only and Always…..
    LOVE.

  13. Dr. Joseph X Myers says:

    This is crushing. Her mother was a dear friend nearly 20 years ago. I would be grateful for any help to get in contact with Liz. Please let me know.

    • evanupchurch says:

      Hi Dr. Myers… look Gwen's mom up on Facebook. It's Elizabeth Anderson.

      • Dr. Joseph X Myers says:

        She hasn't been on since February. #'s and addresses that I found are no good. I'm worried about her.
        I knew Gwendolyn when she was 3 and 4. She took me to see Snow White. She was so precious and I am so sad for your loss.

  14. Lynn Shattuck lynnola says:

    Thank you for writing and sharing this. I too lost my sibling. The loss was brutal and forever changed me. That you can so swiftly find lessons in your sisters death is amazing. Love to you.

  15. I love you, Sweet Evan. What a gift it was to spend time with you last week. But a greater gift to read this and learn from you. You are a beautiful, soulful teacher. I will see you in this life again many times, I am sure of it. ~ Brooke

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