I am trying to wrap my head around today. Not today itself- it was pretty ordinary one. But what today is, or was, one year ago. The fact that it has been one year is astonishing, simultaneously in how long the year felt and how quickly it went by. Today marks one year since our nephew, Cole James, took his own life. It has been one year since Jake, his cousin, best friend- a true brother- remembered childhood experiences without a tinge of sadness; one year since my parents-in-law slept without the fear of a middle of the night phone call, or looked at photographs of their grandchildren without an ache creeping up from somewhere deep; one year since my husband did not worry about his sister, or that his own son would feel the despair his beloved nephew did; and it has been one year since his mom, my sister-in-law Tracy, has been completely whole. One year since she slept through an entire night, since she made plans that included all of her children, since she smiled with anything resembling ease. One year since she walked through the world without having to remind herself that gravity will hold her, that she will not float away or fall off the earth.
Last August, 23rd, we were awakened in the night with the mind-boggling news. Within hours, I had dropped my in-laws off at the airport and packed a suitcase for our family’s flight the next morning. By the 25th, we were in Tracy’s living room. I remember hugging her, both of us crying, as I thought about how awful this must be for her. I did my best to be helpful, to say the right things, to say nothing when that seemed best. I tried to imagine what it would feel like for one of my own children to suddenly be gone…forever.
How foolish I was to think I could have even imagined it. I know that only now.
Over the years, after some ups and downs, I have come to see my sister-in-law as a true sister. I have often described her as a “lioness protecting and caring for her cubs” kind of mom. She advocates for her kids and truly loves them unconditionally. Her beautiful bond with Cole was forged from many years of single-parenthood. She was mom, dad, and friend. So many hats worn on just one head. I admire and appreciate her more than she probably realizes. As we have become closer, I have enjoyed time spent with her, and some of the great conversations we have had. In short, I love her.
That was why, last August, I truly wanted to understand and help her. I wanted to find a way to relate and connect. I want to say just the right thing, in the hope that I could ease some of her suffering, even for a moment.
I have always held myself to this “magic words” ideal. So many times, when my mom was experiencing depression, or a friend was upset, or one of my siblings was angry with me, I thought that if I said the perfect thing, I could make it all better. And sometimes, I could. Sometimes my “way with words” would do the trick. Because I meant them. But more often than not, the words sounded nice, but I had failed to give the time that was needed for actual healing to take place.
So, I thought that for Tracy, maybe time was the thing, that she would begin to feel more at peace the more time went by. I was certain that it would take a long time, years even… I could never have conceived of the way the loss of a child removes a part of you; the way you never really feel completely you again. How could I have?
It’s all different now. Now, four months and two days from my own indescribable loss, exactly one year from hers, I get it. I feel it. I know it. Tracy and I are now connected by a grief no one should be able to understand. We are truly sisters now- in our grief.