A blog about travel, books and navigating your twenties in one piece

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

A Year Without You


Yesterday was the first anniversary of my sister Tai's death. A year since the worst news I have ever received. Do you know what it's like to find out that your sister has been tragically killed in a completely preventable death caused by a drunk driver and then to have to catch a plane? I was in Vietnam on the day she died and Liam and I were meant to fly from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh that evening. It was horrific. All I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and sleep. Forever. It felt like the world couldn't ever be right again in a way I think you can only understand if you have lost a loved one like that.

I remember sobbing in the airport surrounded by hundreds of Vietnamese people who must have been wondering what on earth could have happened. The next few days while my family in the UK and New Zealand were all together, I was in Ho Chi Minh, an amazing but chaotic city. What I can't believe is that I tried to carry on doing touristy things. That was such a mistake. I felt Tai would have wanted me to still enjoy it, but there was no joy to be had with her gone. The world needed to stop, or so I felt, and I had no energy trying to contemplate that she was gone.

You never think about what it's going to feel like to watch your brother-in-law, Dad, Uncle and other family carry your sister's body in a coffin on their shoulders. You don't think you will ever have to face that with no warning living in the first world when your family is healthy. Nothing could prepare me for it and the searing pain you feel at the injustice of it all. To go in to see her body and to know that she was gone. A woman so full of life, with so much left to do, just gone.

Tai was there on the day I was born. She was 18 and yet to train to be a midwife and she was there. She was there to create one of my favourite Christmases, when I was around 8 or 9, which was fun just because of her nature, even when it was just me, her and my Dad there for it. She was there to be the first person to get me wine-drunk when I was 14, to reassure me about 'boy trouble', and when I finally made it out to New Zealand nearly 10 years after she had moved there, she cried picking me up at the airport, saying "I always knew that you would come when you were ready". There were continents between us after she moved, and when she had her two beautiful girls it wasn't easy to stay in touch. But it never mattered with Tai because when we did catch up, it felt like no time had passed at all. She was meant to always be there.

You never think about what it's going to be like to hold your sister's ashes in your hands until you're doing it. We scattered some of her ashes in a river in Yorkshire near where she got married on her birthday in October. We took flowers and her favourite wine, Riesling. But nothing can prepare you for that sensation, that realisation, and how disgustingly wrong it feels to think, this was Tai. This was our beautiful, wonderful Tai and I'm now holding her in my hands. The pain of that is indescribable.

When I think of my grief over the past year it's funny what things come to mind of it. It's the inside of hotel rooms in Vietnam and then Cambodia which I holed myself up in until I flew back to New Zealand for her funeral. It's the little tupperware of leftover breakfast I took into work almost every day when I was back in the UK because I hadn't been able to finish it all when I tried at home, my appetite so reduced. It's the weight lost without realising, one of my best friends noticing it even in my face. It's the panic attack and the not being able to sleep and being scared to dream of Tai but also desperately wanting to at the same time. It's the missing my nieces and wishing I could see them more and thinking of how much they deserved Tai to be there to help them grow up every day. It's everything and it's nothing because I had to carry on.

But I only realise having lost Tai that you can carry on but things will never be the same. It doesn't get better, it gets different. Nothing will ever fix this. I just have to do the best I can without her. That's all any of us can do. And I know my brother-in-law is doing an incredible job with my nieces and they will know how much Tai loved them, and how special she was. That is my only source of comfort in this grief.

A year without you, a lifetime of sadness within it.

"No grief ever felt right because no grief ever felt like you." - Jonah Freud
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