Andrew Harmon



Coping with Death

by Margarita McKissack

We talked about the wedding. All she kept saying was how beautiful the bride looked and how much fun she had celebrating with all five of her children. I could hear the happiness in her heart as she spoke of the joys she experienced at the wedding minute by minute. “I danced, sang and ate good,” is what she said. I laughed and responded, “I know you did!” She had to go and promised to call me back once she got home and settled as she explained she was back in Philly but not home, August 20, 2013 after 5pm to be exact. A little after 8pm a hysterical voice responded via my cell phone, “Terry is gone!” Gone where? I just talked to her, I am waiting for her to call me back so where did she go. “She just died in the house, I was talking to her when it happened.” I dropped the phone and rushed to be with my sister. We were approximately 20 minutes apart, I arrived at her house in 10 minutes. I don’t know how I got there but I did and the street she lived on was lit up with flashing lights like the kind you would see at Christmas time, only it was summer. I ran in and there she was, lifeless lying on the floor. The paramedics tried to contain me but I begged them to please just give me a moment with her because I literally had just spoken to her, they did. I kneeled down and held her and all I remember saying was, “It’s all right now, it’s alright and you can stop worrying, no more, rest my Sweets.” However, my heart beats were slow and far in-between. I was breathing but my lungs felt as if they would not exhale. I had loss my sister and I had to accept that earlier that day was the last time I would ever hear her voice and this would be the last time I would physically hold her.

Devastated, my emotions were high. I felt anger for not having enough time to do and say all of the things I’ll never have the opportunity to say or do. I felt guilt for not saying or doing the things I would now never get the opportunity to say or do. I was sad with emotions crying all day every day in spurts. No one could help me. No one could help with this pain that I felt inside. I was empty and lost. Time was all I had but even then those feelings never dissipated. Time gave me what I needed to find a way to cope with what I was feelings but the hurt was still very much embedded in my body and soul.

The first year was the absolute worst. The birthday was the hardest because she would have turned 50. February 25 was her special day so when it came around, once again I broke down trying to understand how my 49 year-old sister died just a few hours after I talked to her not making it to see this day – 10 decades of life. All of the seasons and all of the holidays without my sister – death became real to me but only in my mind. We didn’t live together so it felt she was in her home and I was in mine. It was only when I completely stopped all activity in my life for a moment at a time that I accepted she wasn’t just in her home and I in mine… She was gone forever and I’d cry long and hard until I was okay again.

Now the first anniversary – I did not see and/or hear from her on any special occasions or holidays so now it became clear and precise for me – this was what I had to live with and accept. Leading up until that day, August 20, 2014, I dreaded it and conjured up emotions beforehand of how I thought I would feel and handle it. Truth is you don’t know and it was actually quite distressing internally. Yet, I had sub-consciously formulated those emotions and lived with them for weeks leading up to that first anniversary date. It was a premeditated fear of the unavoidable. actually, it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined.

My brother called me to say my uncle isn’t well and I should get to the hospital as soon as possible to see him. He explained that my uncle had been asking for me. My brother didn’t believe my uncle would survive the week. September 30, 2014 – A few days after speaking with my brother, I received a call from my daughter. She was hysterical and crying. I asked her to calm down and responded, Uncle died? She sobbed some more, I asked her to calm down, she responded it’s not your uncle it’s my uncle, your brother. My who?! “Mommy, Uncle Armand died in his sleep this morning.” I dropped the phone, how can this be happening to me AGAIN? Who dies in their sleep at 42 years of age?! My body went numb, tears streamed down my face yet I felt nothing rolling on my face. I could not move, I was stuck in motion. I felt like my sibling bonds were shattered and scattered in many tiny pieces that they became unrecognizable. My older sister and now my younger brother, I could not breathe.

Paramedics explained, describing how his head was positioned, he had died in his sleep suffering an aneurysm. I was helpless there was nothing I could do but cry. Once again I felt anger, the guilt set in and the sadness had escalated. My only comfort was knowing he was now with my sister who I knew would take care of him.

I had to accept my sister’s and my brother’s death and keep on living but how? The hardest part of death for me is having to get up, out of bed, dressed and go about my day as a normal day, but my days were no longer normal. How do I move forward with all of this hurt and despair? My answer – You don’t. It’s a process that everyone suffering a loss will have to experience.

I organized the life celebration arrangements for both of my siblings, from the announcements to their life stories. I gathered and positioned many photos, songs, poems and wrote the life stories we shared together. This produced a lot of tears, little did I know, they were healing tears. I had to be the pillar of the family because everyone was falling apart. So I masked my own feelings and kept busy.

A week after both services (a year apart) I had realized my world as I knew it to be had changed in a heartbeat and I had to adjust to it - TWICE. I battled many emotions feeling a void in my heart that I felt I could not instantaneously fill. And no one could help me, no words or actions would bring my siblings back. This was a process. One I had to endure and find my way through and I did with many tears and prayers.

How I survived it, I needed time to myself. I know many say it’s best to keep others around you but that didn’t work for me. I needed to be with self to reflect and focus my thoughts on the memories I shared with my siblings. I needed to cry to myself and talk to myself about what I was feeling. More important I needed to laugh to myself about the memories I shared. I was a bag of emotions but healing gradually with no pressure to feel I had to put a time on it. Time will never take away the heartache and void of losing someone dear to you but it will allow you to fill that hole in your heart with coping mechanisms. I personally do not believe Death gets easier to accept with time. However, what I do believe is that time allows you to learn how to cope with what you are feeling.


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