“You’re the strongest person I know.”
I get this “compliment” a lot, but I don’t want it. I don’t want to be the strongest person you know. I didn’t ask for my life experiences, I don’t have an operating manual to tell me how to get through it, I wasn’t prepared for any of it, but I‘m dealing with it. I’m scared that I’m jaded and numb and that I just expect the worst now, and maybe that’s how I get through it. I hope not, though; I still want to see the good in the world.
My life changed forever on May 13, 2009. My dad died. It was the worst day of my life, or so I thought. My dad had battled COPD and emphysema. My mom, sister, and I watched as he declined and his heart beat for the last time. I remember being sad and angry. I was so sad that I only had my dad in my life for twenty-three years and then he was taken from me. I was angry that he didn’t take better care of himself and these diseases took him. We did not see this coming. I never thought my dad would die at only fifty-five years old.
We cried together, we shared memories, we even found ourselves laughing together.
During this most difficult time I was so thankful to have my mom and sister by my side and go through this with them. We cried together, we shared memories, we even found ourselves laughing together. We would be with each other on important days, we would call each other on tough days, we ensured that my dad’s memory and humor lived on in us. Having each other helped us get through every day.
My life forever changed again on September 10, 2011. My mom died. It was the worst day of my life, or so I thought. My mom had survived cancer in 2006, but her health was never the same after that. I can’t say exactly how my mom died because an autopsy wasn’t done; I just know her health was declining and something wasn’t right, but the doctors didn’t figure it out in time. When my mom died, I was sad, I was angry, and I was alone. I was sad that I only had my mom in my life for twenty-five years and she was taken from me. I was angry that she didn’t take better care of herself and that unknown diseases took her. I never thought my mom would die at only fifty-eight years old. At only twenty-five years old, I no longer had my dad or my mom with me here on earth. I still had my sister here, but I really didn’t. She was gone too.
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It felt like I was the only one trying to keep my mother’s memory alive.
During this most difficult time in my life, I wish I could have leaned on my sister the way I had when our dad died. But my sister fell victim to drug addiction. Mentally she was no longer herself. I didn’t have her there to cry together, to share memories, or find ourselves laughing. We weren’t together on important days; I couldn’t call her on tough days. It felt like I was the only one trying to keep my mother’s memory alive. I was making all the final arrangements on my own and it was tough, but I did what I needed to each day and the day after because it was on me to get it done.
My life forever changed for a third time on April 24, 2012. My sister died. It was the worst day of my life. My sister battled the disease of addiction for only a short period of time and then she lost the battle and died of an accidental overdose. I was sad, angry, lonely, and numb. I was so sad that I only had my sister in my life for twenty-six years and then she was taken from me. I was angry at the disease and the world around us that took her. I was so alone because I lost my best friend, I lost my last immediate family member, and I was the only one left. I was numb. How could this happen to me, at only twenty-six years old? How could my sister die at only thirty-one? I never expected my life to take this path. It just didn’t seem real, but it was.
During the worst time of my life there was no one I could turn to who was experiencing what I was going through. No one else lost their dad, mom, and sister within three years of each other. No one else felt the weight of carrying on family history. I didn’t have anyone to share memories with who had experienced those memories with me. I had to turn to others to cry to (not with), I told stories about my family (not reminisced together), I laughed with myself. On important days I have to tell others that it is an important day and make plans to remember my family. On tough days I have to reach out to others for support and sometimes go through a list of people before I find someone to talk to.
But each day I get up and carry on. I do it because I know that they would want me to. They wouldn’t want me to be sad, they wouldn’t want me to be angry, they wouldn’t want me to feel alone or numb. They’d want me to be happy, and smile, and remember the times we shared together. The times we laughed, the times we cried, the times we supported each other, the times we were family.
I know I am who I am because of them. They live on in me.