Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Back in the Air

So I know I haven’t posted in a while. I guess that’s for a lot of reasons.

The first and foremost is that these blog entries take a LOT of time and energy. My body has gotten into some seriously bad habits and energy is no longer something that is willingly distributed throughout more than one or two things a day. I need to learn to budget my time again. I haven’t had to in quite a while. It’ll be a welcome effort.

The second is that for the past few months, I’ve been much emotionally stable yet depressed at the same time. By that I mean I’d stopped having frequent crying fits and I was making an effort to get back into a routine, but found myself hindered by ridiculous sleeping patterns and distressingly low energy. This resulted in waking up too late to take my meds, but continuing to stay up too late to fix the problem. It’s all been a big mess.

Basically… Doing anything outside the pattern I’ve gotten myself into is still really hard.

A chart to illustrate, courtesy of Hyperbole and a Half:

There are several other reasons that I could list, but none of it really matters. Because the fact is that I need to write, whether I feel like it or not. I really appreciate certain people for reminding me of that recently.

My room is clean. I have a new job. The girl I babysit in my other job is forcing me outside almost every day. And now this post is up. Let's keep this momentum going!

So here are some upcoming posts you can look forward to:

  • A recap of our experience at the Humane Society Dedication
  • My relationship with The Little Prince
  • Jenna’s relationship with our pets
  • Guest Post from Amanda Sorensen
  • How a 9 y/o girl helped me more than any grief counselor ever could
  • Jenna and Tennis
  • Jenna and Games in general
  • Grieving and the Internet
  • Physics and Afterlife theories

Some of these are already half finished, others I’ll need your help on!

For now, I’m just going to tell you about these past few months. Get you up to speed with some emotional rambling.

We got through Christmas, then it was off to Colorado to ski with my boyfriend’s family. I must say, there were a few moments on that trip that would definitely shape the upcoming months.

The first was that I realized how hard it was to watch my boyfriend interact with his brother. I had met Pavel before and he’s a great guy. Although he’s my sister’s age and they share quite a few things in common, it was more the dynamic between him and Dashi that brought a lot of emotions to the surface.

The second was meeting a young man in the complex’s hot tub who had recently lost his brother to an abrupt death. I remember the relief I felt talking to someone who really understood what it was like to lose a sibling before they were supposed to. What struck me the most, however was how interesting it is that every time I talk to someone with no strong religious ties about death, they all seem to be converging on very similar theories about the afterlife and what our presence in this world means. More on that in a later post.

The third event was breaking down one particular evening and feeling calmed when Dashi started asking me questions about what Jenna’s sense of humor was like (there’s a point to me mentioning this, I promise).

The final event that I think really struck me the most was a very honest conversation with Dashi’s mom, Marina. I asked her if I make people uncomfortable with the way I talk about my sister. She told me, yes. Sometimes. Especially since I often still referred to my sister in the present tense. Even though it’s clear that it’s just a way of dealing with my pain, it can be off-putting to people who aren’t used to dealing with, much less talking about death.

Marina has always made efficient use of her second language, that's for sure. She doesn’t mince words, but she also has an underlying empathy that makes even the bluntest statements possible to process. Which is good. Because I needed to hear it.

People may jump to my defense saying it shouldn’t matter how those other people might feel, but it does. And I’m truly grateful to Marina for her honesty. It confirmed what I was already beginning to notice and hearing it out loud decreased my chances of rationalizing not moving forward. For the last several months, I would talk about my sister to anyone who would listen and didn’t care whether or not they felt comfortable with what I had to say, because it wasn’t about them. And that was okay. That moment, however, made me realize that I was finally at a point where I was starting to care how I affected other people again. It was bittersweet because although I felt slightly embarrassed, it also meant I was in a new phase of grief. I was becoming emotionally aware of the world around me again.

This realization played a role in the next few months.  As I began reconnecting with the rest of the world, I became more and more aware of the fact that the world was moving on. It still is. This is not to be confused with “moving forward.” Because I know those of us this loss has affected profoundly are certainly doing that. My moments of happiness have become far more frequent and my emotional outbursts (with the exception of this past month) have become far less. But it’s not the kind of thing that ever goes away. It’s not like a breakup where you can realize all the reasons you weren’t right for each other, learn from it, and find a better one. It’s not like losing someone who you know has lived a full life. There’s not really any kind of spin you can put on it to make it okay. It’s not something you would want to “get over,” even if such a thing were possible. You just have to rebuild yourself around it, and that takes time. I’m still feeling it. So it’s difficult to watch the people who are less directly connected moving further ahead than I am and even harder to feel the people who were only connected by-proxy let it go all together.

So many people are sort of “over” the whole situation.  Not in a callous way. Nobody has expected ME to really be "over it" and plenty of people are still WILLING to listen, but it’s in a, “Oh okay. We’re talking about this again,” kind of way. They will sit and listen and be there for me, but there’s no connection. No investment in what I’m saying. They’re just going through the motions. And as much as the effort is appreciated, the result is that something that used to give me relief is now causing me anxiety and frustration. So… That kind of sucks.

But it’s not anyone’s fault! As I’ve mentioned countless times before, most people simply have not suffered this kind of loss in their lives, so it doesn’t occur to them how long this process will really go on and how much I actually still need support. Time is relative. It SHOULD be irrelevant and we shouldn’t base our lives on a timeline, blahblahblah… but that’s how most people think and it’s come up more than once in various discussions during my grieving process, so I’m accepting and addressing it. And those who haven’t experienced a particular loss firsthand experience the passage of time differently. Often, it doesn’t occur just how little time has gone by when you really think about it and more importantly, what that amount of time means in relation to the loss suffered.  Even those who have experienced loss beyond a grandparent or a breakup have still experienced a different KIND of loss. So it’s still hard to understand what that person might need without being told directly or making a huge effort to imagine what their loss might feel like – Which most people simply aren’t comfortable doing. Understandably so. It’s awful.

Not to mention, everyone has their own stuff. And you can't compare the magnitude of problems or pain outside the immediate time bubble each event occurs in. A friend will do as much as they can to be there for you, but eventually, their own stuff will always catch up and overrule yours. It's NOT because they don't care. It's just life.

So I get it. I understand why, now that the shock of it all has worn off, many people I'm close to are struggling to continue offering the kind of support I want and need. But the fact that nothing's to blame doesn’t really make it suck any less. This past month leading up to the year mark has actually sparked a new wave of consideration and thoughtfulness which has been much needed and appreciated, but I don't expect it to last. I need to learn to fly on my own again. It’s just difficult to adjust your expectations of the world around you. I’m still working on it.

I want to make sure I add that there ARE a few people in my life who still DO make a conscious effort to be there and support me on my road to recovery and despite not sharing these experiences directly, have been making a conscious effort to connect to what I'm going through. Especially once I was actually able to articulate what I needed out loud. You know who you are. The gratitude I feel is… indescribable (she typed, after sitting at the computer for a solid two minutes trying to think of the right word… Haha). This is not the last time I will be mentioning you.

It’s weird when I think about it though, because as much as I talk about Jenna and what I’ve been going through, there’s an odd disconnect I feel from her. I talk about her all the time, but most of the time, there’s a wall up. I don’t feel like I’m talking about Jenna. I feel like I’m talking about… “Dead Jenna.”

Oof... I winced as I wrote that, and I had a gentler phrase all typed out, but I want to make sure that the separation is clear. For the most part, they feel like two separate entities. This is likely a coping mechanism I developed for the sake of my sanity. When I really think about the idea that they're one in the same, the depth of my loss becomes infinitely more pronounced.

During the month of April, however, the wall came down more and more often at especially inconvenient times. Like driving. That was the worst. But what really got to me was that even though these moments were still painful every time, I'm starting to get used to it. I’m starting to get used to the idea that my sister is dead (wince again). That feeling is continuing to creep up on me and makes me increasingly uncomfortable. I don’t WANT to be used to her being gone. I feel like once I’m “used to it,” it makes it okay. And it will never be okay. I know that logic is tragically flawed, but I just don’t think any amount of perspective will make me okay with reducing her to an afterthought. On the other hand, the fact that Jenna is now such an active driving force in my life enhances the feeling of the separation between the sister I had and the sister I’ve lost. Her and my relationship was always so much more subtle. It was an underlying constant. I really miss that.

That’s what it all comes down to, really. These feelings of sharp pain will balance themselves out after enough time passes. Pretty much anything broken in the body mends with enough time (though, as I’ve previously mentioned, setting the break properly and therapy is required for it to heal properly). But missing her is only going to get worse.

It’s been over a year since I’ve spoken to my sister. It’s been even longer since I’ve seen her.

And I don’t even want to think about what was going on a year ago today.

Now that I think about it, most of you shouldn’t either I shouldn’t have brought it up so STOPPIT!

Srsly. Cut it out.

Think about something else. Here's Jenna in a shark hat:

There. Was that helpful?

There’s a reason I didn’t post this blog entry on “the day.” I didn’t want it to be a thing. I don’t want that day to be commemorated. I would much rather recognize her birthday. But that's just a personal choice.

My point is that the fact that I haven’t seen or spoken to my sister in X amount of time is never going to get easier. She was a relationship that was only growing more and more positive and active. I think the moment that really sums this up is Jenna’s spring break last year. She went down to Florida with my folks. They hung out, just the three of them and went to the midnight showing of The Hunger Games together. One evening during her time down there, I called her just to chat and we ended up spending over an hour on the phone playing Draw Something and Words with Friends, not saying a word for at least two-thirds of the time, but not hanging up.  The sibling rivalry was over. The teenage angst was over. The menopausal years were over (yeah that’s right, Mom… I’m including you in this too. Poor Dad. During those years, I just imagine him like Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt strapped to that pipe at the end of Twister – Waiting for the F5 to pass over). We had grown into a family that just... genuinely enjoys each other.

Recently, a really lovely woman pulled me aside to tell me that she interviewed my sister for her job at Ruffin’ It Resort. When asked about any conflicts for the summer, Jenna mentioned how she was going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter with her family in May. The woman wanted to tell me that she was struck by how excited Jenna seemed to be at the idea of hanging out with us. She said it was really nice to see someone her age who truly enjoyed spending time with her family. That was such a nice thing to hear.

I’m grieving the loss of not only what we had, but also what I know we WOULD have had. I know my parents are experiencing the same thing. Everything had been wonderful so far, but things were just starting to get even better. 

And it’s not fair.

*sigh* I just miss her. 
So I want to talk about her.

As I write this, I realize that the discomfort or “waining interest” (I say this for lack of a better word) I seem to be encountering when I talk about this to people doesn't only apply to “the death stuff.” I realize that (with the exception of the like... last two weeks because… yeah) all I really want to do lately is not talk so much about what I’m going through or my loss. In fact, I’m actually a little tired of all that too. I just want to talk about Jenna. I want people to ask me questions about her, be interested in her. I want people to know her. But even when I share Jenna stories, the reaction I get most often is sort of a “Ha… Well I guess you had to be there” sort of reaction.

And AGAIN (imagine me getting more animated as I say this because I’m getting a bit ruffled in that way that I do), that totally makes sense! It’s nobody’s fault that I’m having difficulty getting what I want out of the rest of the world!  Most people have a difficult time connecting with stories about people they don’t really know, even without the whole “death thing.” Many of the people I'm close to in my life didn’t actually know Jenna, or only met her once or twice, or at the very least did not know her the same way I did. So it’s hard to invest themselves in a conversation with little to contextualize it. And many of the people who DID know her don’t know ME that well.

Some of these people have reached out to me or I’ve reached out to them over this past year, but it’s difficult enough to build a friendship on these kinds of circumstances without it feeling forced, never mind the fact that pretty much all of them live in a different state than I do. But as I reflect on my relationship with Dirk and how much we’ve both gotten out of it (and still are), I really hope that Jenna’s friends and I can make more of an effort to connect from now on.

Regardless, the desire to shout Jenna’s name from the rooftops and share who she was when she was alive has been growing increasingly insistent.

Just one more reason recommitting to this blog is so important.

Which brings me back to one of the events I mentioned in Colorado: Dashi asking about my sister’s sense of humor calmed me down during a particularly difficult evening. So if you didn’t really know Jenna and ever want to show your support for what I’m going through but aren’t sure what to say, just ask me a question about who she was. At this point, I really just want to talk about Jenna, not “Lost Jenna” (that’s my gentler term, though I know it sounds kind of silly). If you DO know Jenna, tell me something about her. Anything. Any time. It doesn’t even have to be a story. It can simply be a random fact or association.

One of my greatest fears associated with the idea that the rest of the world is moving on is that I missed “my window” to get the most out of this blog.  I hope it's not true. A year has gone by, but I hope that no matter how much time passes, Jenna’s friends will still care enough to read this blog and most importantly, participate in it. I seriously cannot do this without you guys.

Thank you to the people who are still reading, and especially thank you to the people who wanted to continue to do so. You reminded me. It’s difficult to force myself to do even the things that make me happy and are good for me these days. Your interest and encouragement has given me the necessary push. So here we go.

We’re back in the air.


  1. I think of Jenna often, especialy lately and what she means to all of her family and how lucky you were to have had her as part of all those years together. It does suck when people you love go away and it changes things forever.
    I love how you two were getting beyond that teenaged angst phase of life and had begun that adult part of life where you get what is really important about each other.
    Life is what happens along the way to those planned events I think you are doing it very well. And you are taking Jenna with you, in the best way you can.
    Thank you for sharing the love, the pain, the anger, the disappointment and your progress. You are a very special young woman.

  2. I am a good friend of one of Jenna's coaches. She first told me about Jenna after her death. Many things came to mind as she was speaking to me through her own disbelief of what happened, not least of which was the train wreck that would follow for the family who lost such an amazing young woman. I stumbled upon this blog and have followed it with nothing short of utter pride for you to be able to put down in words your most painful and bittersweet thoughts and memories of your sister. There are no words of comfort the rest of the world can say to you, but in reading your journey through the darkest period of your life I can only sit back in awe at the grace and dignity with which you have chosen to find a place where the pain and sadness has an outlet, instead of other choices that could have been made. You're eloquence and candor allow the rest of us to get to know Jenna in a way that is not only a tribute to her, but also a gift to the rest of us. She will always walk beside you in life, because the love you feel for your sister does not go away in death, it is only strengthened. You are an unbelievably special person. I cannot (nor do I ever want to be able to) imagine what the loss of a daughter or sister feels like, but the one thing I can say is that your parents are truly blessed to have two such incredible daughters. Even though I never met Jenna, I think about her every day (as I hold my daughter a little closer) and hope that each day the footsteps in the sand have a longer shadow as you find distance from the pain and joy from the sun.

  3. Amanda, so well done. Even though I don't know you real well, I remember you from Edgewood. I just saw your mom the other day and she is so proud of you and so proud of this blog. I wanted you to know I read it often and can not believe what a special young woman you are. Keep up the great job, you bring Jenna closer to all of us and keep her memory alive. That is a good thing dear girl to always remember and always talk about her.