Writing has been incredibly difficult for me since my second sister committed suicide. That’s right, my family is no stranger to suicide. My only other sibling committed suicide in 2011, just two weeks after I started my first big girl job in NYC. Then my second sister committed suicide just one year ago, during the holidays, in a very public way that made national news headlines.
And the moment she did that, my life changed in a way I could not even comprehend. I spent the whole night saying that it wasn’t true, and uncontrollably sobbing, like my husband, best friend, cousins, parents tried everything they could do to calm me down.
And then I woke up the next morning and I was blocked. I did not want to write. I did not want to talk about it. I just wanted to go back to work, back to our home— I wanted to go back. So we drove the 14 hours back to Mama’s house, close to ours. And she tried to console me, while I felt an obligation to console her. Because when suicide happens in a family, the parents are not in a place to help the siblings through it, they are going through the same trauma, if not worse.
I used to travel 80 percent of the time for work and became terrified of flying after an incident that happened in the air as we tried to land at La Guardia one time. I prayed to God, finding comfort in the fact that he would not take another child from my mom.
But he did.
Talk about all trust just shattered into pieces, any sense of stability gone.
And then I got COVID 13 days later, on my birthday.
To say my relationship with God was tested last year isn’t strong enough.
There is an odd sense of loneliness when you are the last sibling standing. I am no longer the baby. I am no longer a sister. My identity has completely shifted. I am exposed, vulnerable to the world as I become an only child in an instant.
I feel exposed and more vulnerable without my identity of being the youngest child, one-third of a triple threat of ambitious Type A girls, the girly one that stands out against her tomboy sisters.
This shift in identity comes at a time that new identities are also being added to my life. I am now a wife, soon to be a mother. I am a sister-in-law. I am a new homeowner. I am a VP.
For all of the trauma in my life, there has also been a lot of fortune.
I enter this new year as a woman with many more identities, an adventure ahead of finding what each of those identities looks like moving forward.
I enter this year with everything I wished for as a little daydreaming girl, something I thank God for every single day and never take for granted.
I enter this year writing again, regardless of the pain that still lives so deep within me that it is completely unreachable. I want to go there, crave to go there, but it’s too unimaginable— it’s too much terror for one person’s life.
What am I going to tell my child? How do I answer the question of how many siblings I have? How do I go on living a life with two-thirds of my history gone in a second?
Acceptance— which ironically is the word that I chose a couple of years ago as my word going into the new year. I was struggling so hard to accept a painful realization that my three-year relationship was not the right one for me, struggling to break someone’s heart, struggling to break my own heart. So i just got on a plane back to NYC, days earlier than planned, and wrote a post on the plane to help myself deal with the fact that there was an excruciatingly hard fact that I needed to accept. You can read it here.
I am fighting the hard fact that both of my siblings committed suicide because accepting it means that I have to see all of my childhood photos and accept that two of us decided on severely different, permanent paths than I did.
I am the survivor.
I was going to be an aunt, visiting Boston as often as possible from my apartment in NYC. We were going to have time to laugh about our stupid fights as teenagers and repair broken parts of our relationships. We would be close. We would be family.
It’s just my family. Just grandparents (which I am incredibly grateful for). No nieces, no nephews, no cousins for my children. to play with during Christmas.
Is that even possible to accept?
But it’s going to take time, and my Type A personality needs to understand that it’s not a linear, graded path that I can get an A+ on.
I can share what has been helpful for me, in case you are in a grieving period of your life. Let me tell you, COVID brings grieving right to the top. While it is not death, you could grieve your old life— the nights out with friends, the traveling, the maskless face.
So here it goes. While this has not led to quite a full acceptance for me, these things have been incredibly constructive in my survival of horrible trauma:
Light Up the Sky
Okay, maybe more like your room. Light spaces are a huge mood boost for me. As we build our dream house, I’ve made sure that we have floor-to-ceiling windows and bright white paint on the walls.
Use The Do Not Disturb Sign
The “Do not disturb” button on my phone is my favorite button. I use it mostly when I am meditating and doing yoga, but it’s also helpful if I want a Saturday to myself. My husband and parents know if they call twice, they will negate the buttons so I can see they are calling, just in case there is an emergency.
Turn this button on and just take some time to explore what you are feeling and crash into some soft pillows with a glass of wine, or a martini— no judgment here.
I got very sick, to the point that I was bedridden for six months, and my doctor was scared that I might get depressed with how sick and isolated I was. He told me to watch only funny movies and TV shows. I’ve kept this piece of advice in mind for nearly twenty years. When I went through chemo, I only watched funny shows, and it actually helped quite a bit.
You might not believe it, but what you watch affects your mood and thoughts. As I have been swimming and drowning through the grief of my sisters’ suicides, I’ve found some great fun shows to keep me laughing. Laughter puts me in a completely different mindset, one where I am positive that I can survive the insurmountable grief.
Stock Up on Vick’s Vapor Rub
Crazy, I know, but I got COVID right after I learned of my second sister’s death, and my sister-in-law suggested that my husband get me some Vick’s Vapor Rub. I thought I would hate it, but it actually was incredible in resolving my most annoying symptoms.
Not only did it help with COVID, but I felt it to be a relaxing balm to use when I felt overwhelmed by grief. It would calm me down, and help me relax into sleep.
Create a Positive Playlist
This one’s a tough one for me because I relish emo and sad orchestra music, especially if I’m writing. I knew music would affect my mood, though, just like TV and movies. So I reluctantly put a playlist together, full of the EDM music I loved while going to college in Miami.
My gosh, that playlist can get me out of any mood and put me back at Space Club in downtown Miami. It is truly incredible how much music can affect how you feel.
Dig into your Faith
My Christianity is incredibly important to my healing journey. Believe me, I was pissed at God for a good amount of time when my second sister died. Like, WTH, God? How could you do this to my mom? To my entire family?
Then I dug into The Way and found my way back to a healthy relationship with God. I admit this is a work in progress, but reading excerpts from Psalm, Galatians, Ecclesiastes, has framed my sisters’ death and my grief in a different light.
I don’t care who or what you believe in— MEDITATE. This has saved me through both of my sisters’ deaths. I started meditation six months before my first sister’s suicide, and I have always felt that God nudged me to start meditation so I could process E’s death.
Meditation separates you from the trauma that is happening and brings you to a strong mindset that can handle anything.
Oh, hey, Amazon!
I should not encourage you to spend money, but there are some finds on Amazon that have helped my grief journey be a bit more survivable:
Yogi Kava Stress Relief Tea— Amazing! This is the most relaxing tea. When I lived in NYC, I would make a huge cup with two bags every night. I’d add some raw honey to make it even more healthy. **Kava can be dangerous, so consult with your doc before taking it.
Pilot Precise V5 Pens– I love how these pens write and the pink ink makes writing even more fun.
CraveBox Care Package– I love this mix of healthy and super unhealthy snacks! My husband and I got this box when we were renting an Airbnb for the weekend. It was the perfect mix of comforting nostalgia treats and healthy snacks.
Light is the New Black– I love this book because it is light and airy while making you think about your purpose in life and where you are going from here.
Prayer Journal– As a writer, I find all types of journals incredibly helpful. This particular prayer journal is perfect for thinking through all of the different types of prayer and being intentional about asking God to resolve your pain.
Plant Therapy Essential Oils Blend– This oil set is gold. I use the oils mostly on my skin and in a small diffuser that I take with me to each room. I have no clue if oils really work, but I like to believe that they do, and this set is one of the best sets I have found.
XL Heating Pad– Warmth just makes everything better. I have owned many heating pads, and this is the best I have found so far. I love its XL size. I usually put it around my waist, but it also works on the back and anywhere else you are feeling stress from your grief.
Join a Support Group
It is incredibly helpful to speak with someone who has been through what you’ve been through. No one can understand what you’re going through, but the closet you’re going to get is someone who has experienced something similar.
Not gonna lie, this has been a tough step for me as I did not lose just one sibling, but both of my siblings. If you know anyone who has been through this, I would LOVE to talk to them!
Ha! It took me a year, but here I am writing. I have written a lot privately, trying to make sense of something that will never make sense.
I write about what life now looks like. Who I am now with these two critical pieces missing from my life. Who am I when I am not a sister? When I am not a prospective aunt? When I am no longer the youngest?
I once read that it helps to plan a vacation in the future, even if you have no intentions of ever going on it. Planning something in the future gives you something to look forward to. My husband and I are currently building our dream home and going through IVF, which is a lot of future I invest my thoughts in.
I also am planning a trip to see my friends in Miami, which is becoming a trip I never go on thanks to COVID. But it’s healing to speak with my best friends who still live in our college town and dream of having a martini with them at that little open-air place we found on Pompano Beach.
When it’s not below zero, my husband and I walk our two pups every day for 2-3 miles in the morning before work. The endorphins released are exponential. I crave our walks and time to be outside and just with our little family. The fresh air clears my head and puts me in a great headspace to start the day.
When it is super cold out, I resort to cardio dance workouts that I find on YouTube. They are a great way to take back a part of myself and listen to great music while releasing endorphins.
Well, that’s all I’ve got for now. A year later, I still feel like I am going to burn to death if I touch the reality of E AND L committing suicide. It lives in a place in my soul where I also buried my chemo and mandatory hysterectomy.
But I am slowly recognizing my new identities. The more I become a wife, soon-to-be mother, sister-in-law, VP, and the devastating only child, the more I become who I am now— the more I become Marjorie Sherman Dupuis, the woman that God intended for me to be.
The more I work to turn the pain into a positive impact, the more my heart settles and releases a bit of the pain that I hide in that vault somewhere in my body.
Because here’s the thing— I refuse for my sisters’ traumatic choices to also end my life.
I have fought chemo, a mandatory hysterectomy at 30, an abusive marriage (first one! not this one 🙂 ), and more to be here. I want to be HERE. I want to be ALIVE.
And that means I cannot escape into the pain and lead a life hidden in the very comfortable, welcoming shadows of grief. It means that I need to be strong enough to say that this pain is not going to kill me.
I am alone. I am the last one. Family and family friends worry that since suicide happens in threes, I am next. So I am constantly battling that narrative as I try to overcome the grief.
I am not going to be the third. I am not going to be any number.
I am determined to use the excruciating pain to empower others, to prove that you can go through devastating trauma and still LIVE. You can survive anything. I do truly believe that.
We are all surviving. We are all witnesses to incredibly dark events. Those of us that survive to see the light, know that while traumatic events happen, so do miracles.
Our surrogate is a miracle. She is giving us a gift that we never ever could have had without her.
Meeting my husband two days after being out of the hospital is a miracle.
Being the last one standing is a miracle, it is a huge miracle, that is not to be wasted.
You are strong enough to get through the grief, I promise.
While I am still navigating my grieving journey, I am also still looking forwards to a very bright future.
I will get there, and you will too. I promise.
-Marji J. Sherman
**If you, or someone you know, is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Hotline. Your life is worth living. You deserve good things.
***If you, or someone you know, is in an abusive relationship, please reach out to the National Domestic Abuse Hotline.
Photos of the triple-threat: