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Surviving This Day

 

It sometimes doesn’t make sense that one date can mean so much. The sun rises and the sun sets just like any other, yet because it is assigned to a particular spot on a calendar, it suddenly has a precise meaning.

Someone celebrates their birthday. A couple says “I do” and cements that particular day in their history.

And for others, it represents death.

The date then looms darkly on the calendar and as it creeps closer, the burden of it expands. Painful memories resurface of the exact moment you found out, of the emotional aftermath, of the large hole still recognizable in your life.

I’m not sure that this ever lessens with time. It has been five years since my sister’s passing, and while the pain may not be as poignant, it is always demanding.

 

****

 

I still have a hard time using any “D” words. Nicole isn’t dead. My sister didn’t die. There was no death. She has only passed. Somehow, that is better.

I also find it hard to believe that in a world of 7 billion people, on an earth of over 510 million square kilometers, she no longer occupies a single inch of it. She is no longer here to breath her share of air, to make impressions of her feet on the ground, or of her words in my mind.

The world shrunk in on me on That Day. And it keeps getting smaller as I travel. Is that part of my motive to roam, the disbelief that there is nowhere on this earth that she doesn’t take up space?

Perhaps.

 

*****

 

I flipped through my iPod of thousands of songs, every playlist roared out at me with thoughts of Nicole. Songs she loved, songs I know she would have loved, songs we saw performed live together. I found myself building a soundtrack akin to the music used in any Grey’s Anatomy episode – songs that escalate towards a devastating emotional crash, recklessly jerking heartstrings in all directions. I kept my head turned to the window such that my tears would go unnoticed.

I had banished Pete to the other side of the bus, claiming it was too hot for us to be sitting together. In five years this aspect of my grieving had not changed one bit – I needed my space. I needed to do it alone.

We were headed to the mountains to face a long hike. And I can’t even tell you why I chose to be hiking on This Day, the anniversary of her passing. Nicole wasn’t much of a nature lover. She sometimes pretended to be, but deep down, she was definitely too glamorous to enjoy spending multiple sweaty hours deep in the wilderness. But I just needed to be out there, close to nature, punishing my feet, feeling alive.

Creek Slovenia

 

On one of our first stops in our walk, we paused along a small creek for Pete to take photos. Rays of sun danced rapidly across the surface, the cool breeze shifted their focus through thin tree limbs. Water gently trickled over scattered stones.

I sat on a smooth river rock and pulled out my book – a collection of Nicole’s writing. My sister was a blogger before I knew what a blog was. As usual, she was ahead of the pack.

 

“This morning when my dog and I were out for a morning walk, it was so quiet, and then the geese started overhead. It reminded me of all the things I love about fall and I stopped and watched their V-formation and thought of home. Home is a funny word for something I no longer know, but there it is, and it left me feeling rather sedate.

And then, while standing out in the middle of nowhere, one single solitary big fat raindrop landed square in the middle of my forehead. There was nothing for condensation to drip off of, it wasn’t raining. Just this one drop, right on my head.

I felt baptized. I’m not sure for what yet, but I’m listening.”

 

“Are you OK?” Pete asked as we resumed our trek.

“Can you please not ask me that today? Please?” I responded, not meaning to belittle him, although I guess I probably did. I just didn’t want to be coddled, or have to answer that question.

I wasn’t okay, but I was determined not to complain. My nights of sleeplessness leading up to This Day were taking their toll, as was the plaguing headache and the flaring ankle injury. But I refused to give my trivial impediments a voice.

We kept moving. So much of our hike was in the shade of overgrown trees, following a small canyon as it twisted and turned on a steady uphill track into the mountains. The humidity was thick, the napkin I had to wipe away my sweat was saturated and useless.

The markers directing our path were hard to find, and we often found ourselves questioning where to go next. We tripped over rocks and roots, stepped around slick sections of black mud. We found ourselves cursing often.

Yet somehow, I felt my mood improving with each step.

Something was becoming very clear to me. As it is often said that ‘funerals are for the living’, I also believed it to be true of This Day. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t doing something that would directly remind me of Nicole. I didn’t need to watch the old movie Girls Just Wanna Have Fun for the umpteenth time, or indulge in a couple of pitchers of sangria, remembering the last time I saw her and the gossip we shared over Mexican food. All that mattered is that I was doing something to make me feel better. To make new memories that included her, even if she wasn’t physically there.

 

“I believe…

- In karma for the most part. I also believe that sometimes life is just random and cruel for no reason at all.

- That simply being courteous can go really, really far.

- That sometimes doing all you can is still not good enough. Though that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t good, or your very best.

- Pain doesn’t always mean growth.

- I have a lot to learn.”

 

Cottage Julian Alps Slovenia

 

Through a bright green field we strolled on a rocky road past small cottages, many of their owners steadily working outside. Cutting grass, raking grass, hauling grass away. I waved at an older lady standing idly with her rake, the front of her white tank top was soaked with sweat. She smiled and waved back.

We arrived at the end of our path moments later.

Waterfall Slovenia

 

“Well, that’s kind of a shitty waterfall,” I said. Our end point turned out to be anything but climactic. Considering the effort expended to get there, it was actually a bit laughable.

Then why was I crying?

I stood fixed for several minutes, occupying the one good vantage point available as other hikers walked up behind me, shuffled around me, and then went. I couldn’t bring myself to give up the space, and I just stared, stared, stared. Tears and sweat poured down my face, the taste of salt was on my lips. Pete squeezed my shoulder and I finally turned away.

I felt sad yet uplifted. Heartbroken yet inspired. And entirely appreciative.

 

I was grateful for This Day….

For a blue sky and fluffy clouds which always makes Pete happy when he has his camera.

For my two feet that moved beneath me. Even though one pained at the spot where I cracked a bone many years ago, and the other heel ached from my recovering achilles tear – the point is that they were still moving.

That I could still hear my sister’s voice clearly singing whenever I listen to “Jenny” by Stellastar. Especially at the “wah ah ah ow ah ah oh ohhhhhh oh” part.

That I was in the Julian Alps in a corner of Slovenia, thousands of miles from my childhood home, and living a life far beyond the imagination and dreams of my youth. I could hear her voice praising that, too.

That It was soon over. That I had survived It again. That I had learned something.

 

*****

 

The bus raced back towards Ljubljana, the golden rays of the fading sun sparkled in our rear view. This Day was coming to an end.

I opened Nicole’s book and flipped through the pages to find my favorite passage. It was her recording of advice given from a friend during a difficult time.

And now, once again, she was giving it to me. And me to you.

 

“Breath…
and in each moment, just breath.
and go have fun this weekend.
and be whiney if you wanna be whiney.
and have fun if you’re having fun.
and be spontaneous if you’re spontaneous.
and miss people when you want to miss them.
and feel like a loser when you feel like a loser.
and be happy when you feel happy.
and maybe just maybe you can have fun grieving or being whiney.
have fun with that too….”

 

Sunshine Slovenia

 

68 Comments (Add Yours)

  1. Thank you for sharing the sorrow and the beauty, Dalene. I cannot fully comprehend the gaping hole of losing a brother or a sister; your words are a haunting and true testimony to the sweet goodness of Nicole’s life, and I’m touched to read about the way you cherish the memories. Hugs to you.

  2. Wonderfully written piece. I can’t begin to understand what this is like, having never lost anyone this close. But thanks for sharing! Ps, not that this helps, but I can understand Pete’s cloud obsession ;)
    Laurence recently posted..The dark secret of Fitou Castle, southern France

    • Thank you Laurence, as always, for your sweet comment.

      (It’s funny how, now, we both go outside and look at blank blue skies and wish for big fluffy clouds. It makes any day of photography so much more fun!)

  3. Touching post…thank you for sharing. And for what it’s worth…I think that’s a pretty spectacular waterfall:)

  4. What a wonderful, achingly melancholic tribute. It always seems more tragic to me when a person dies young (both my godsister and my ex-wife’s best friend died in the their mid-20s), because it leaves you to wonder what their life might have been. Sorry that you had such an emotional day, but glad that you had your sister’s words there to help carry you through it.
    Bret @ Green Global Travel recently posted..How To Be Happier: 5 Secrets To Improvising Your Life

    • Of course it is more tragic because of her youth – she had so much to offer. I wish I could share all of her wonderful words on my own blog as she was such a prolific writer in so many ways. I’m so grateful that I still have them – reading her book is like sharing a few hours with her…

  5. This post just punched me in the gut. I read your blog often, but have never commented. I also have a “This Day”, September 19. My mom died that day when I was 14, and 12 years later I’m still reliving it, struggling to accept it. The five year mark was unbearable; the ten year mark knocked me down much harder than 8 or 9. Everyone grieves differently, but I will say that one day you may get through This Day without crying. You may even have fun just remembering her, knowing she would want it that way. The day came for me where I no longer needed my space, and where I could finally take that date and spend it not in mourning, but celebrating a too-short life that left such an impact on so many. It never gets easy, but it does get easier. I know I’m a stranger, but I just wanted to post and say that I know what you’re going through, and I’m thinking of you and your family today.

    • Jessica, thank you SO much for your comment, sharing your story and your words of encouragement. As hard as it was for me to write this post, it’s harder to put it out there and wait for reaction. It is your comment that reminds me why sharing is important.

      Most of the time I live in grand celebration of her life, but it’s just that stupid date on the calendar that changes everything. It always surprises me how adversely I am affected by that one date. Just when I think I have a handle on it, that anniversary rolls around. I expect it will get easier, but the pain is also a reminder to continue doing what I love, that life is too awfully short.

      Thanks again Jessica. :)

  6. Wow. Just wow. You had me right along with you…tear on my cheek wishing I could have met her too. Glad that you had her. I know she is glad she had you!

    Well shared, my friend, well shared!

  7. thanks for sharing with us, though i also cannot yet relate to losing a sibling there have been losses in my life. The Lord stands with me through all of life’s ups and downs, goods and bads…(i know this isn’t proper english…) so i pray this completeness for you also. i love following your blog.

  8. Your sister Nicole was as beautiful writer as you are, Dalene. I’m an only child and I can’t begin to fathom what it is like to feel the emptiness in your heart. I am sure Nicole is looking down and smiling upon you.
    Jennifer recently posted..10,000 Floating Candles and Fireworks at Bled

  9. Your an amazing and beautiful person, cut from the same cloth as your sister. What a wonderfully moving post, leaving more than a solitary rain drop on my keyboard.

  10. Thank you for sharing this sweet and so so honest piece. I love that you and your sister share the talent for writing. What a beautiful way to stay connected to her. Big hugs!

  11. Once again Dalene, you’ve made me cry… your story published, on this day, has too many parallel themes from my life. However, no matter how many tears we shed, please keep writing with honesty
    and openess; for one selfish reason – l just love it! You make me remember what it means to be loved and give love.
    Many thanks,
    Anthea

  12. Your other readers are right. You will always be connected to your sister through your beautiful writing. I am sure Nicole has enjoyed trekking the world with Pete and you. I love how you carry her writings with you.

  13. :) I miss her too! What a great post! Thank you for sharing your feelings in such an intimate way! Sending you both love from afar!
    The B man recently posted..Oxford, NC and a little country fun!!

  14. Hmm. Every so often I dip into your blog when I remember to or when something catches my eye. Today I’m glad I did. Beautiful is an understatement for this post and has made me reflect deeply on events in my life.
    The first picture at the top is stunning too! I would love a post with photography tips, you guys really do take some great shots.

    – Amy

  15. Beautiful, Dade. Just beautiful. xoxoxo

  16. Your writing and openness moves me to tears yet again Dalene. It’s wonderful that you remember your sister in this way.

  17. What a beautiful post. Thanks for sharing your feelings and thoughts. The anniversary of my dad’s death was yesterday and although he died 13 years ago I remember the pain vividly. It does get better with time, though, honestly.

    • Yes, with time it has gotten better for me also, although I don’t know that it’s a wound that can ever really heal. I’m so sorry for losing your father, another unthinkable tragedy, I am sure. Thanks for your comment Sabina. :)

  18. Dalene…as always, I’m speechless, crying, and grateful.

    Thank you for sharing. We all know that you are making her proud!! So so so proud because you’re not waiting for life, you’re going out and finding it!

    She’s calling down always and saying “See?!! I TOLD you they are THE COOLEST couple ever!” …and I know I for one, am totally agreeing!

    <3

  19. What a post, felt teary eyed reading it. Your love for your sister is just something which feels eternal. It must feel such a loss to lose your siblings with whom you spend your childhood playing and having all the fun. Your emotions were beautifully expressed.
    Arti recently posted..Ancient Tungareshwar Shiva Temple in Vasai, Mumbai during Shravan

  20. Beautiful tribute to your sister and thoughtful for those of us who also grieve no matter how long it’s been since we lost a loved one. Those dates can be so hard. I love the advice your sister’s friend had given her — thanks for sharing.

  21. I remember hearing Nate Burkus talking about losing his partner in the asian tsunami. He said something very profound; something that Kent and I try to remember on anniversaries – especially potentially painful ones. He said that the day holds no power. We found this especially profound. In our minds, placing too much importance on a day (be it a positive or painful anniversary) almost diminishes the importance of the initial event or the memory of that person. That doesn’t mean that we no longer honor those days, just that we don’t allow them to hold too much power.

    Anyway, I thought that was a beautiful post and I hope my comment doesn’t sound preachy – I don’t intend it to.
    Caanan @ No Vacation Required recently posted..Try This Vegan Asian Salad

    • Thanks Caanan. Throughout most of the year, I can easily tell myself that. And it’s why I opened the post the way I did – any particular date SHOULDN’T hold power, I really believe that. But, that is SO much easier said than done, at least for me. As much as I tell myself to celebrate her life, my body physically doesn’t react that way. I expect that over time it will…or at least I hope so. :)

  22. Oh, Dalene. This is just so beautiful. So thoughtful. So full of love and grief and strength. I love you even more.

  23. I’m still crying as I try to comment. Beautiful post. I think it’s great that you share so much of yourself with your readers, and I hope it helps at least a little to get it out there. I can’t imagine what you go through, what it’s like to have lost someone so close. Like you said, that one date on the calendar *shouldn’t* hold so much power over you, but maybe it’s ok to have that one day when you really let yourself grieve. That even though I’m sure you think about her all the time, it’s a kind of release to have that day to let it all out and just say, F— it, this sucks!

    Yep, still crying. You certainly know how to convey strong emotions with your writing. Big hugs from me and Andy!
    Ali recently posted..Driving Easter Island – Day 2

    • ‘F–k it, this sucks.’ Oh Ali, that made me laugh, and I’m sorry I made you cry! But you are completely right, and I just never thought of it that way. The day after the anniversary I always feel better, and perhaps that is it, I just need that release. So why not have one day to do just that?

      Big hugs back at you and Andy. :)

  24. Honey, tears are driving this comment. You mentioned thinking about Nicole.. and… ahhh, did you know it’s hard to write when tears spill onto a keyboard?

    Your writing is sparse, elegant and beautiful.. and so is hers. Wish I had known her, but maybe as you said.. she lives in everywhere you go, whatever you are doing, most importantly – in you. So the next time I see you and you flash that dazzling smile, I’ll be looking at her too.

    XOXO
    Jeannie Mark recently posted..Roomorama in Paris

  25. This post just made me cry in the middle of a hostel lobby in Cartagena, Colombia (bit awkward!). I was on the Lost City trek last week on the four-year anniversary of my mum’s death and experienced some very similar emotions. I don’t think it matters whether your sister enjoyed hiking. It’s good to get out of routine and to find somewhere peaceful and quiet where you can remember her. I’m really sorry for your loss.

  26. What an incredibly brave post Dalene. The only death I’ve had recently was my grandmother and as difficult as it was, it was part of life and it was her time. I could not imagine what it would be like to deal with the death of my sister. I am happy you could make some sense of such a difficult day.
    Ayngelina recently posted..Love notes from a graffiti artist

  27. Oh lordy, tears streaming down my face! Dalene you’re an incredible writer. Your willingness to put this all out there, to share this human part of yourself, is just wonderful. Your sister sounds like someone I would have loved to have known in real life. You’re so lucky that you did.

  28. You are so brave and beautiful, just like this post.

  29. I think Caanan is right. One say should hold no more power than the other 364 each year. But, I still have a hard time breathing on certain days of the year that represent death or monumental change for me and I still see the way my mother shuts inside herself on the two days of the year she lost her parents so long ago at 18 years old.

    Don’t chastise yourself for being human. I’m thankful you are, and are willing to share your human moments with us. It is an encouragement I can’t put into words to know that none of us really suffers alone. Even when we choose to banish our partners to the other side of the bus.

    Love you D.
    Kirsten recently posted..Capture the Colour

  30. That wasn’t a post, it was a poem. That was one of the most incredible pieces of writing I have read in awhile. Thank you so much for sharing, Dalene. I hope you two have an incredible time back in Canada for awhile with your families.
    Skott – Get Up and Globe recently posted..A Travel Story We Probably Shouldn’t Tell Our Parents

  31. This is a really beautiful and brave post. My Mum died nearly three years ago, my dad eight years before, and my Nan three weeks later. Grief grips me at any moment – smells, sights, memories, and anniversary days can trigger it. Sometimes I don’t even realise what’s upsetting me – it manifests in so many ways. Thank you for sharing your experiences of these difficult times. I wrote quite a bit on this topic and I found it helped to share – but was hard nonetheless. Your sister’s writing is beautiful.
    Victoria recently posted..Capture the Colour – Travel Photo Contest

    • Thanks so much for your comment Victoria – and I am so sorry for your losses. I know what you mean – how it can also hit you in ways you can’t even imagine.

      Glad you wrote through it – I find that it is very therapeutic as well!

  32. An amazing heartbreaking piece Dalene. I feel shaky after reading that and I’m really sorry for your loss. Just want to say that this line is beautiful “living a life far beyond the imagination and dreams of my youth”

  33. This was so poignant for me. I appreciate your honesty. I lost my brother almost 7 months ago. You’ve done a wonderful job expressing a lot of feelings I have experienced as we pass the monthly anniversaries. So, thank you for writing and sharing it.

  34. Dalene, I completely went what you went through. The loss of my lovest one, my best friend, my confidant—- my father. I completely feel every aches and pains you’re going through–especially when that date comes. But you know what Dalene? It’s true what they say – that time heals. YES, TiME HEALS! It has been 22 years now, I still miss him, but the pain has been replaced with good memories that make me smile.

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