Sisters by the DanubeThere is a word for it. There is actually a “technical” term that I have come across on the various websites about grief and mourning and bereavement that I read. It is a recognized psychological phenomenon, this unexpected and sudden feeling of disorientation, when something triggers a feeling of grief completely out of the blue, often long after you think you have learned to come to terms with loss. I can’t think of the word right now, though, because that is what I experienced this morning.

Even though I really ought to be at the alternative 1st May demo today, at some point I decided I just need a day off, and a public holiday in the middle of the week seemed like a good excuse. Feeling unusually unpressured when I got up, while I was making coffee I started absent-mindedly scrolling through Twitter, and a link that someone had posted caught my attention. It was a link to a beautiful series of photos of four sisters, taken every year from 1975 to 2010. Actually, I love to see sisters together, whether in pictures or in person. That always has a kind of bitter-sweet feeling to it, because it makes me miss my sister, but at the same time there is something tremendously comforting about seeing that other sisters can still be together. I love to see my mother-in-law with her sister: it invariably brings tears to my eyes as it reminds me that my sister and I will never be old women together, but at the same time it gives me great pleasure to watch the two of them turning into young girls again together, as they quickly fall into patterns of behavior from the course of their whole lifetime.

Perhaps it was the time frame of this photo series, perhaps it’s just this time of year or the fact that I have been thinking so much of Amy lately, but this morning it suddenly hit me, an inconsolable sense of loss and grief. Instead of doing any of the other things I had planned to do today at home, I found myself pouring over old pictures of Amy and me together. Sisters.

As it is the first day of May, I am reminded of that May four years ago, six months after Amy’s death, when it first really started sinking in that she really was dead, and I would never see her or hear from her or hug her again – a feeling I found most aptly expressed on yet another website:

by Donald Hall
Somewhere in California

You think that their
dying is the worst
thing that could happen.

Then they stay dead.

I have also been thinking so much of her since I heard the good news that my godson and goddaughter-in-law are expecting a baby in early November, which means that around her 47th birthday this year, my sister would have become a grandmother. Since Amy is no longer here to welcome this first grandchild, I fully intend to do my best to stand in for her, which means I have a lot of work to do in order to be able to afford to go to Michigan by late October. I was with her when her son was born, and when Christopher was born she came to Austria, a determined young single mother on her own with a very small child and a very large suitcase. Then the two of us set out together with a two-year-old and a newborn to have fun doing tourist things, joining forces to pretend to ignore the appalled looks and disapproving comments from older women along the way. So no matter what it takes, I have to go to Michigan.

Big sister, little sisterSisters. Amy was my little sister. I loved her from the day she was born to the day she died, and I love her still in my heart. As ever, mourning for Amy allows the ghost of regret to escape that has haunted me since she died: I should have gone to stay with her when I realized what a hard time she was going through. Perhaps one of the hardest things about grieving is learning to accept that we cannot change the past, and it has taken me tremendous effort to learn to keep that particular ghost at bay. Of course it returned this morning, but it feels encouraging that this ghost no longer has the power to hurt me as it once did. I didn’t go to Michigan then – for so many different reasons – but blaming myself for not being able to help her would be disrespectful to Amy. That’s not what I promised her when I stood there stroking the arm of her lifeless body in the funeral home.

We cannot change the past, but neither can it be taken from us. I had a sister, and that was good. There will never be another picture taken of the two of us together, but I can still enjoy looking at pictures of other sisters together and being reminded of my sister and our past together.Amy and me

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2 Antworten zu Sisters

  1. Dear Donald Hall
    I read your comment on and on your blog. I myself lost my father 11 months ago. The wound is still fresh but I am learning to cope with it. When the ones we love die, parts of us die with them; but the memory of them is our ultimate consolation.
    I read many stories of people who lost their siblings and it inspires me to write a novel about this particular loss. The title of the book is Lemon Twist and here is a brief description of what it is:


    Aaron, a 10-year-old boy, loses his older brother to cancer. The cutting grief breaks the stability of his family and the wholeness that defines who he is. He realizes that he has no one to live up to besides himself, his childish dreams, and his own potential. This awareness fills him with a bitter indignation and loathing towards life and his parents. At the age of seventeen, he runs away and promises himself that he’ll never return.


    As the years pass, the trauma of his long-buried grief haunts him into adulthood. As he searches for hope and peace, his world turns into a wild journey full of unforeseen incidents that leave him wondering what will happen next. The things he sees, the people he meets, and the stories he hears leave him with an ambivalent attitude towards the reality of life and death. Will he grow through his pain and reconcile with life? Or will he live unhinged by the vulnerability to loss?

    * * *
    This novel speaks to the heart. It appeals to readers who have suffered from the loss of a sibling, parent, relative or close friend. Lemon Twist has many elements irresistible to readers: grief, injustice, loneliness, self-discovery, abandonment, despair, separation, religion, addiction, women exploitation, romance, and chronic illness.

    I hope that it may give some consolation to you and to others who may have encounter the same loss.

    We love our dearests and they’ll live in us and with us as long as we live.

    Be happy



  2. Aileen sagt:

    I’m afraid there seems to be some confusion here. Donald Hall is the author of the beautiful Haiku quoted in this post, but I am the author of this blog. Nevertheless, thank you for your comment. If you are also following the endless stream of comments on the post „Grieving the Death of a Sibling“ on, I’m sure you must be equally aware of how important it is to share these kinds of experiences with others. This is one of the many reasons why I find Death Cafes so important. You might like to take a look at the website to see if there is one near you. I have been hosting a Death Cafe for three years now, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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