You probably know the pain and grief associated with losing someone you were close to. But how do you grieve for a family member you didn’t know very well at all? Am I mourning the loss of the person’s life that ended far too soon or the relationship we’ll never have? Is it ok to grieve even though we weren’t close? Am I being overly sensitive? Those are the questions I’ve been asking myself the past few days. I want to talk about grief and guilt after loss, when it was someone you weren’t necessarily close to.

Grief and Guilt after Loss

A shocking loss

I was scrolling through instagram a few days ago and came across a post on my half sister’s account stating she had passed away at the age of 31. We grew up on opposite ends of the country and hadn’t seen each other in almost 30 years, but the sadness, guilt, and pain came on strong and had my heart beating in slow motion. I knew she had lyme disease but she never told me about her battle with CRPS, so I didn’t know how much she was suffering. We may not have been close, but she was still my family. My little sister. I wasn’t there for her and now it’s too late.

Grieving someone you weren’t close with

It has been a very confusing and painful few days full of sadness over the loss of a sister I didn’t know, the relationship I wish we would have had, and guilt for not being there for her during such a painful period of her life. I gave myself that night and the following day to sit in my hotel room, cry, write, and process everything I’ve been feeling. And I ultimately made the decision to share what happened to acknowledge and honor her life and to bring awareness to chronic illnesses like Lyme disease and CRPS.

It’s ok to be sad

I always knew about her but wasn’t allowed to stay in touch after her mom and our dad split up and she moved with her mom to the east coast. I found her on Facebook years ago but she wasn’t ready to meet at the time which I understood and respected. A few more years passed, we talked every few months, and during our last conversation almost a year ago, she said she was feeling positive she would feel better soon and hoped we’d meet someday. So I’m going to do what I can to honor her now–by donating to causes to help people with chronic illnesses through awareness, prevention, and research, and by doing good things for others for her. Because we may not have been close, but her kind, giving, and loving heart was felt even through text messages and our chats as we played words with friends.

There was so much guilt

The guilt I’m feeling is insurmountable and is something I’m going to need to work through. It’s so difficult to try and make sense of whether or not the way you grieve makes sense. We weren’t close but I still feel so sad. But that’s how grief works. If someone you know is sick, check in and ask what you can do to help. Let them know you’re thinking of them. And if there’s someone you’ve been meaning to reach out to, don’t wait another day–or moment–to do it.

Grief around the holidays

As we go into the holidays, it can be easier than ever to feel sadness or grief amidst endless happy posts across social media. We all have our struggles and some years are much, much harder to get through than others. So let’s be sensitive to one another and remember that not everyone is ok right now.

Before the day ends, send some love to someone you care about or check in on someone you think might be struggling.  And if you’re grieving a loss or struggling right now, remember that you are not alone.

Photo by Emilia Jane