from Sibling Sarah Olsen


The emotional circumstances surrounding the passing of someone such as a child or a sibling doesn’t seem to ever be something that goes away. I say circumstances because with time, we feel less pain and shock and anger surrounding the event. However, at circumstantial moments these emotions come back to us.


Last week I suffered the loss of a woman who I had known since I was a teenager. I came to her for therapy on my own volition at 15, but into college and adulthood she remained a close friend and support. When I was in my first year of college, she suggested to her daughter that she hire me to dance in a production at the local theatre company (my first paid dancing job). After the show was finished I stayed on to intern in the office, spurring my career in arts administration. After my sister died, she was the first person outside of family I called, and she supported every member of my family through the difficult time. Her passing wasn’t a great shock in terms of the facts: She was 90 with cancer. But she was the kind of woman who seemed like she was going to live forever. Even after her diagnosis she continued to see patients for her therapy practice. Therefore, when my mother called me to deliver the news that she had passed away in her sleep, I felt shocked. And through the course of the next several days I felt the exhaustion and hopelessness that I had felt in my sisters passing return to me.


The feelings of hopelessness, despair and anger that continues to occur after the passing of someone like a child or a sibling is natural. The trauma of losing my sister lives skin deep, and can be triggered by anything. Losing someone is hard enough, but when that occurs while someone is recovering from the trauma of another loss, emotions run high and deep. With the recent loss, I just found myself swimming in the pain, reflecting on the loss of my sister as well. When a friend told me to ‘hang in there’ I wanted to scream at them that I have ‘been hanging in there for over a year now and I’m tired of hanging in there.’ It almost felt like I was reliving the loss of my sister. In spite of the pain and feelings of reliving the trauma, I have pushed through the week, trying to embrace the aspects of my life that have fundamentally allowed me to enjoy the people that I have both lost and those that are still around me. Though the pain is overwhelming, I cherish the opportunities I have had to learn and grow and love. The loss of my sister and the more recent loss have reminded me of the importance of living a fulfilling life. And though at times I feel like I am tired of bending and want to break and no longer want to ‘hang in there’, I can always remember the vivaciousness of my sister and the kindness of my friend and move forward.


So despite the fact that pain of loss reoccurs, at any time from any situation, it is natural to feel this way and to embrace the memory of the loved ones. Whenever I get especially frustrated, I can’t help but remember how every time I left my friend, she would give me a hug and reach up and pat my cheek, telling me to ‘Take care of yourself, nice lady’. It reminds me that she would still want me to do just that, even more so while enduring the inevitable pain accompanying loss.