by Rachel Gerungan
On August 12th, 2017, my little sister Gloria died in a car accident. She was only 21-years-old. I remember being in complete and utter denial when I received the call from my brother that day. I was in shock – the realization didn’t hit me until 10 minutes after. I was driving alone in rush hour traffic, hysterically crying and screaming as I made my way to the hospital.
My sister and I were closer than close; we did everything together. We were only two years apart, so she was my first friend. My family moved around so much when I was growing up that sometimes she was my only friend. She was my best friend, my singing partner, my travel buddy, my favorite dining companion – she was my everything, and no one will ever replace her.
Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult experiences that any human being can go through. It’s like taking a huge gulp of intense grief, sadness, anger, and guilt, all at once. No one prepares you for this part of life. There’s so much confusion around if you’re dealing correctly, what the process is supposed to be, and I wish I had had more answers when I was working through my despondency.
I remember my therapist saying, “Emotional pain is just like physical pain. Even though we can’t see it, we still need time to heal and recover.” Although there is no right way to deal with grief, I wanted to share some ways to cope that have been really powerful for me.
- Just let it out. I felt like I had to own the responsibility of trying to be strong for everyone else. But once I realized I didn’t have to be, I began to take time to express my sadness and anger, and being vulnerable with my close circle was really healing. Grief is a normal emotion and it’s nice to know that I don’t have to sweep it under the rug.
- Spend time with family and friends. I found that my friends and relatives were experiencing the same sadness that I was, which can be easy to forget when you are so wrapped up in your pain. It’s nice to know that we can support each other. We shared our memories and made meals together – during tough times, most people skip meals and lose sleep, so it was so important to take care of one another.
- Get back into normalcy at your own pace. I took time off from work to properly process my thoughts and feelings. At times, I felt like I needed to stay busy to distract myself from being sad, but the sadness would still come, enveloping my thoughts suddenly like a dark cloud. Looking back, I should have taken more time to heal from the comfort of home.
- Reflect on how precious life is. Gloria’s death was so sudden, and it forced me to really face the harsh truth that life is short. When someone dies, your vision for their future is still left behind. The next step is just to move on with life, and I did, with renewed focus on what is important.
- Talk to a counselor/therapist/support group. Time doesn’t heal all wounds and sometimes we need that extra help. It was immensely helpful for me to seek professional guidance as I navigated this new world of intense emotional pain.
- Find a way to hold on to their memory. A month after my sister died, I decided to get the same tattoo that she had – it says, It is well with me. I have a little piece of her with me wherever I go, and at the time, I really needed some of her strength.
My sister loved the world endlessly, even though she was dealt a rough hand – epilepsy, bullying, heartbreak, emotional abuse, and more, but she still remained strong and positive. She kept her head up and treated everyone with kindness. She was much stronger than I ever could be. She had so much potential, and that’s part of what makes her loss so bitter.
I get that everyone wants me to keep my mind on the present; to not focus on the should’ve, would’ve, could’ve’s. I have to stay positive and keep the good memories alive.
But I just can’t help it some days. Why do I get to continue to live and you don’t? It hurts to know that we’ll never see you be the amazing teacher I knew you could be. Or the most stunning, beautiful bride. Or an incredibly loving wife and mother. My kids will never get to meet their cool aunt.
The pain never goes away, but I’ve found ways to keep moving forward. I carry you with me everywhere, Glor, and I’ll never forget you.
Rachel Gerungan is a project manager for a tech company in the Bay Area. She is a fitness and makeup enthusiast from the east coast, who recently moved to Santa Cruz. Other than exploring her new home town, she loves yoga, being outdoors, trying out restaurants, and going on weekend trips.