My first experience dealing with death was when my close friend Adyti died.
I remember getting the call from her boyfriend. He was barely audible and mumbling. I pressed my ear hard against the phone until I eventually heard him say, “Adyti died.”
“What? How? This can’t be possible. We were just talking to each other yesterday.” I hung up the phone and called her. After a few rings, it went to her voicemail: “You’ve reached Adyti…” Her voice sounded cheerful. How could this happen? How could she go from cheerful to no longer existing? I was devastated and had no idea how to cope with it. I couldn’t bring myself to face her family; I just had no idea what to say to them.
About a year after Adyti died, I saw her sister on the train. We locked eyes for a moment, and both looked away. She looked sad standing there, holding onto the railing near the door. I wanted to go over, hug her, and ask her if she was doing okay. Instead, without saying anything, I quickly got off at the next stop. I was too afraid that I’d say something to upset her.
I still regret that moment, but I just had no idea how to deal with it at the time. I wouldn’t understand until seven years later when my sister Elizabeth died.
I remember wanting so badly to meet someone who had gone through something similar. I thought of Adyti’s sister and tried to reach out to her. I wanted to apologize for that day on the train and ask her how she coped with her sister’s death, but I couldn’t find her.
I finally understood how isolating it was when people were too afraid to say the wrong thing, so they said nothing at all.
I finally found a way to connect with others who had lost someone they love: I started writing. I created a blog for Elizabeth to provide a space where people could share their experiences, be honest about what hurts, and find solace in their suffering.
When Elizabeth died, I found what gave me the most comfort was when people gave me space just to be. My friends who got me through the worst stages were the ones who just told me they were there for me and asked what they could do, the ones who would come over and listen while I cried, who didn’t try to fix me or sugarcoat the situation.
As it turns out, saying something like “I don’t know what to say” or “I’m just so sad to hear this” is better than saying nothing at all.
It’s been four years since my sister died, and I still cry about her. I still get angry that she left us. I still see something hilarious and wish I could share it with her. These things are just a part of my life now, but I’ve finally found some peace with it.
The hardest part now is seeing the pain in my parents’ eyes. Watching them suffer puts me straight into superhero mode—diving in to save the day, desperately looking for anything to stop the bleeding. But now, instead of going insane trying to take away their pain, I’ve learned to give them space to just be.
I recently learned about the concept of post-traumatic growth—the experience of emerging from hardships stronger and more appreciative of the beauty of life than we were before. I believe this is what happened to me; the most horrible experience of my life blossomed into the most beautiful. Since losing Elizabeth, I squeeze so much more out of life. I love harder and don’t let a moment of beauty pass by unnoticed.
Coping with the death of someone we love can feel unbearable. There are days when we feel like a tiny sailboat in the midst of a tsunami, and it seems like we will never get through the pain. But we do, little by little, day by day. It takes small steps and tiny victories, but I do believe we can mend our wounds and meet our pain with gratitude and hope.
Author: Kimberly Hetherington
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Brooke Breazeale
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Emily Bartran