This post has been sitting in my drafts for a while. Every time I read through it, it makes me cry. I’ve always found it incredibly difficult to open up, even to the people who are closest to me. When I was little, I would go outside when I felt on the verge of tears and stroke my bunny so no one would see me crying. I hate feeling vulnerable, but this year I’ve learnt that vulnerability isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve deliberated over this post because it feels so scarily personal to put on the internet – it also feels like I’m somewhat violating to privacy of my sister and her boyfriend, which is why this post mostly focuses on my experiences – but I have finally decided to throw it out there and start my blog with a (hopefully uncharacteristically) sombre post.
It’s funny how many twists and turns life can take. One minute you feel like everything is falling into place and then you get sucker punched by an unexpected disaster. A break up, a failed exam, an illness.
My sucker punch was the death of my niece, Millie. My sister was 41 weeks pregnant when I got that gut-wrenching message: “There’s no heartbeat. The baby is dead.” When I read that, I didn’t believe her. I thought it was a cruel prank. This is the kind of thing that you hear about, but it never happens to you, to your family, right? I couldn’t breathe and I felt this numbness that I could never explain.
After a little while, the shock wore off and I cried the kind of tears that wouldn’t stop flowing. I was travelling back from my holiday that day so you can imagine the hot mess I was, suitcase in tow. For weeks I fell asleep crying and I woke up crying. I couldn’t think about it without crying. I couldn’t sleep because I would spend hours before bed just crying my heart out. That’s what it felt like: my heart was falling out of my body. If I weren’t in this situation myself, I would never think how the loss of a baby would affect the people who aren’t the parents. At Millie’s funeral, I saw my dad cry for the first time in 21 years.
The loss of a loved one is always a hard experience to go through. The death of a baby, a baby who hadn’t even taken her first breath yet, was difficult to understand. I remember telling my sister when she was around five months that I was going to love that baby so much when she was born. I didn’t realise how much you could love an unborn life.
It’s a strange feeling to have the most terrible thing happen to someone you love so much. I felt sad for Millie’s death itself and its impact on me was profound. More than that, I thought that however much I hurt, my sister was hurting on a level I would never be able to comprehend. The thing with sisters is that you can hate each other at times, but your love for them is unparalleled. There is nothing on this earth that I wouldn’t do for my sisters so it was, and still is, difficult to helplessly watch her suffer, unable to do anything to take away her pain.
By nature, I’m an incredibly hardy, stable person and it takes a lot to knock me. This knocked me down and it felt impossible to get up. I, for want of a better word, spiraled. My 8 or 9 hours of sleep fell to 4 or 5, at a push. I had this constant feeling in the pit of my stomach like something terrible was going to happen. I often felt overwhelmed and hopeless. I felt alone in my suffering. I didn’t want to talk to my family about it because I didn’t want them to worry about me when they already had so much to worry about. I thought that my friends wouldn’t want to stick around when I wasn’t the happy person I usually am because none of them had ever seen me sad. This was the first time that I truly struggled with my mental health. I couldn’t say that my niece’s death was the sole reason for how I felt, but it was definitely a factor. I felt like the struggles that I could ordinarily cope with were mountains that I couldn’t climb. I felt mentally fragile.
I think that part of the reason why I felt so awful is that I didn’t give myself time to process what had happened. I went back to uni the day of Millie’s funeral and I went about my life as if nothing had happened, except I was living with this crippling sadness within me. I went back home at Halloween and I visited Millie’s grave. I broke into tears as soon as I got there. The ugly, unstoppable tears that come from a place deep within you, like a pot boiling over.
This sad post has rather more happy ending. I started feeling much better after going home for the Christmas break. I started having therapy. Seeing that my sister was doing the best we could hope for in her situation gave me peace of mind. I started to open up to the people in my life and almost everyone I spoke to met my struggles with sympathy and love. Looking back, I don’t know why I didn’t expect this. I suppose I felt like I was being silly and that everyone would see how I was feeling as trivial. Knowing that I have a wonderful support system of family and friends at home comforted me.
My sister officially got engaged at Christmas and she and her boyfriend are planning for the future. I couldn’t put into words how much I respect her and admire her strength. There is a silver lining to this incredibly dark cloud. I hold my sister a little closer and I try not to take anything in life for granted.
Life takes many unexpected turns and everyone gets knocked down from time to time. It isn’t fair but you have to learn to roll with the punches.