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Where Do I Fit In?

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hi. 2 months ago my 21 yr old nephew, my sister's only child, was killed in a car accident. i was 19 when he was born. i have feelings of love for him almost as if he were my own son. i can't find others like me. i have searched a few forums and it seems there isn't a specific place for me to go. i am the aunt. not the mom or dad, not the brother or sister, not the grandma...

i am overwhelmed with fear that something will now happen to one of my kids or to my husband, or even that i might be taken from them. i realize that this is normal. also i feel so guilty. i guess it's something similar to "survivor's guilt" - ? i wonder how my sister can stand to look at me, at my 20 yr old daughter, at my 17 yr old son. i don't know how to understand why i get to keep my wonderful family and she has to give up the son she built her life around. as a mom and as her sister, i cannot stand that this has happened to her. but i am helpless.

she and i are very different. she is strong emotionally, i am not. a few times i have found myself in a situation where she was comforting me. i don't know how to handle it. yes i am heart broken, i am destroyed, but i know it can't come close to how she is feeling. it seems there is nothing i can say to her - there is nothing to say.

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Oh my dear friend, you do “fit in” right here, right now! You fit in for the same reason all the rest of us fit in here, because we all are bound by the common experience of loss. You fit in because you have experienced the death of someone you love dearly, and you are hurting in the deepest regions of your soul. There isn’t a person here who has not felt that kind of pain. So please know that you’ve come to the right place, and you are most welcome here.

You say that whatever it is you’re experiencing, it cannot come close to the loss and pain your sister is feeling – but I want to suggest to you that it is appropriate and healthy to honor your own loss of this nephew you loved so much as worthy of grief too. The worst kind of grief is the grief you are experiencing right now. Don’t compare your grief with anyone else’s, and know that, at this moment, your loss is the worst thing that could happen to anyone. Where there is great loss, there is great pain. Where there is deep love, there is deep grief. Accept that these are your feelings, that they are very real, and that you have a right to feel them. Respect your own reactions to this loss. Take time to look, listen, experience and understand them, and honor the sorrow that is yours.

Know, too, that feelings are neither right or wrong, good or bad – they just are, and we cannot always help what we feel. There isn’t a person among us who would judge you for holding your own children close and for being grateful that they are not the ones who died. And the fact that you are grateful that this horrible accident did not happen to one of your own children does not mean that you are grateful that it did happen to your sister’s child!

You say that you are overwhelmed with fear that “something will now happen to one of my kids or to my husband, or even that I might be taken from them.” As I’m sure you know, whenever we experience the sudden, unexpected death of someone we hold so dear, we come face to face with the harsh reality that life is fragile, impermanent and temporary, and that it can be taken from any one of us in a heartbeat. We live in a death-denying culture, after all, and most of us couldn’t get through an ordinary day without deluding ourselves that we are safe, we will continue to be safe, and all our loved ones will be safe at home waiting for us at the end of our busy day. Now that this death has happened, you are no longer able to hold on to the illusion that your world is safe, dependable and predictable. Your assumptive world is forever changed, and it is frightening and overwhelming to know that you must come to terms with that.

I understand your not wanting to upset your sister by something you have done or failed to do, whether at the cemetery or anywhere else, but I seriously doubt if expressing the love you had and continue to feel for her son would be “upsetting” to her. Talking with your sister about this young man you both loved so much, sharing stories about him, reminiscing together and remembering him, and finding ways to keep his memory alive can be the most precious gifts you can give to each other as you both find your way through this long and difficult journey of grief. You need not suffer this alone, and in silence, separated from each other at a time when you need each other most.

If you haven’t already done so, I hope you will visit and spend some time on my Grief Healing Web site, which offers additional information, comfort and support. See especially the articles and sites listed on the Helping Someone Who's Grieving page. I also hope you will return to this safe, compassionate place as often as you wish, and know that you "fit in" just fine with all the rest of us.

Wishing you peace and healing,

Marty T

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I came to this group to find help for my daughter and her friends. My daughter's best friend passed away, sudenly, last November. I had a hard time finding a sight where teens could talk to other teens. Anyway, as it turned out I needed help with this death as well. I didn't think I had the right to grieve her this much. She wasn't my daughter. But I realy loved that little girl. She was so good for my daughter, and my family. She always made us laugh. She and my daughter were inseperable. She was at our house, or our daughter was at theres. When they couldn't be together, they talked on the phone. I guess you get it. She was like a daughter to us for 4 years and I miss her. But there is no group for mothers of best friends. So I come here, and read, and ocasionaly I reply to some one in a similar situation. So you see, you belong more than I do, in a way. Unfortunately we all belong, we are all grieving, and we shouldn't have to do that alone. I would be every bit as grief stricken as you are, if my sister's son was taken from us. My sister and her son lived with us for his first nine months, when I was 16. I know that bond you feel. I'm now taking care of my 20 year old daughter's, daughter. They (our daughter and grand daughter) live with myself, my husband, and our two younger daughters. She has 4 mommy's. We would all be devistated without her.

Best wishes in your (grief) journey. It's a long, tough, road, but I hope it will make you stronger.


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thank you sandy. smile.gif that is so very sad about your daughter's best friend. i hope the group for teens here can provide some comfort for your daughter and her friends.

i have a daughter 20 yrs old, and a son 17. my daughter is especially sad, she and my nephew were close in age and good friends. my heart aches even more when i see her grief, and my heart goes out to your daughter - how she must be hurting over her best friend. and yes i do understand your grief as well, and you're right, there are no rules about who gets to grieve...

i am a person who communicates best in writing. i have been writing to my nephew, kind of in journal style, since 2 days after his death. not every day but whenever i feel like it. it helps me feel better, temporarily anyway. also i have been writing poems like crazy. the words seem to pour out when i'm writing and yet i can't come up with one worth while thing to say to my sister.

the stone for his grave has been ordered and will take 6-8 weeks. it is good that this decision is behind her now. i am torn - anxious to have the stone in place and yet it seems so very final, it hurts.

i cannot stand to think of how she must ache to put her arms around him again, to hear his voice and see his face. there is nothing i can do for her. when i look at my son, only a few yrs younger than my nephew was ... well i'm sure you all know where i'm going with that thought. i look at his shirts hanging on hangers and imagine that his body will never fill them again. i just framed his graduation picture but find myself having to look away sometimes, because what if ...

she wrote me an email and said that she was really missing him. i burst into tears. i don't know how we - she - will go on without him.

i still think sometimes i just can't believe it. how long does that last?

last week she received the medical report. the disappointment for me was that it did not confirm instant death. it was vague in my opinion, but there was no autopsy, so everything was determined externally. he had crush injuries to his chest, causing heart and lung damage. he had a broken jaw and a broken hip. he had head and neck lacerations, and a badly fractured skull. he was ejected from the car... it was so horrible... the police sprayed paint where his body came to rest... it was so very far from where the car landed, i just can't bear to think about how far he flew, and if he was aware, afraid, how much it hurt, even if it was just for a second, or a minute. i know he was bleeding, because i washed off his watch and his beads before my sister could see. also there was blood on his airbag. he was not transported to the hospital because he was already gone... however we were informed that many passers-by called 911. did no one try to resucitate him? he was way down the road AND across the street from his car. how many people drove past his body before emergency workers could get there to cover him up? the road was closed in both directions, we could see where the flares had been, but how long did that take?

i keep imagining all this, and so many things, about his last moments. i keep thinking of the "oof" that must have come from him when he hit the street. when did his jaw break? how did he get crush injuries? he must have been rolled on by the car but we can't figure it out - been trying to piece things together based on the looks of the car and the site of the accident, and comments from the people who were on the scene first. i need to try to find one of those people. i wish i could find someone who actually SAW the whole thing happen. i need more information. it hurts so much to know these things and yet it seems worse to wonder about it.

why are we tortured by our own minds?

coincidentally my husband ran into a woman who's stepfather lives very near the scene of the accident and was the first to call 911. we plan to try to contact him and maybe we can get some answers.

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last week she received the medical report. the disappointment for me was that it did not confirm instant death. it was vague in my opinion, but there was no autopsy, so everything was determined externally . . .  i keep imagining all this, and so many things, about his last moments . . . but we can't figure it out - been trying to piece things together based on the looks of the car and the site of the accident, and comments from the people who were on the scene first. i need to try to find one of those people. i wish i could find someone who actually SAW the whole thing happen. i need more information. it hurts so much to know these things and yet it seems worse to wonder about it.

why are we tortured by our own minds?

Dear One,

Your need to know the details of this accident reminds me so much of another post that appeared in this forum two years ago. I wrote it in response to a mother whose son was crushed under a freight train. I am re-printing it here for you, as I think it may contain some useful information, not only for you and your sister, but for others who may be reading it for the first time, too:

Like everyone else reading your tragic story, I am terribly shocked and saddened to read of the death of your precious son and the horrifying circumstances of the accident that killed him. That your son “paid for his first real mistake with his life” is beyond understanding, and I cannot begin to imagine how devastating this loss must be for you.

I am struck by your statement that no one will tell you how your son actually died, that important details are missing, and that all your questions are being met with a “wall of silence.”

I want to assure you that your need to know the details of what happened to your son is NOT “macabre”– it is a normal and legitimate response to the unanticipated and violent manner in which your son was killed. The suddenness of your son's death, the way you were notified about the accident, the fact that you had no opportunity to get to your son to spend loving time with him before he died, or to see and touch and hold his body – all these factors are complicating the grief you are experiencing now.

Getting to one’s child as soon as possible after a fatal accident is extremely important to parents – even though they may encounter considerable resistance from law enforcement officials and others in allowing them to do so. Read the words of another mother who found herself in a similar position:

Permission was finally granted for me to see Timothy on the condition that I “didn’t do anything silly.” As they watched, I presumed that meant I was not to touch him or disturb anyone. But Timothy was my child; he had not ceased to be my child. (He had not suddenly become a corpse, a body or the deceased.) I desperately needed to hold him, to look at him, to see his wounds. I needed to comfort and cuddle him, to examine and inspect him, to try to understand and most of all to hold him. Yet, I had been told “not to do anything silly.” If I did, I feared my watchers would run in, constrain me and lead me away. So I betrayed my own instincts and my son by standing there and "not doing anything silly." Our society has lost touch with our most basic instincts – the instincts we share with other mammals. We marvel at a mother cat washing her kittens. We admire the protection an elephant gives her sick calf. We are tearful and sympathize when an animal refuses to leave its dead offspring, nuzzling him and willing him to live again. That is exactly what a mother’s human instinct tells her to do. If a mother is not able to examine, hold and nuzzle her dead child, she is being denied motherhood in its extreme (Awooner-Renner, S., “I Desperately Needed to See My Son,” British Medical Journal, 32, 356.)

Family members who aren’t given time with their loved one’s body at the scene of an accident or aren’t told the truth about the body tend to imagine images far more grotesque than reality, and they commonly fill in the blanks between the bits and pieces they pick up from the media, the coroner’s office, the police investigators and others. Given only get minimal facts, their fantasies are often far worse than the reality of what actually happened.

When the time feels right to you and if you still feel a need to do so, I want to encourage you to find out exactly what happened to your son. There is nothing wrong with your wanting to seek out whoever was the final link to your dead son (the first officer on the scene, the paramedic who put him in the ambulance or the coroner who examined his body and determined the cause of death) and asking for details, including seeing whatever photographs were taken at the scene. (The organization Parents of Murdered Children has developed a very effective protocol for viewing such photographs.)

Much of the work of grieving involves remembering – but when remembering produces only traumatic images such as yours, the value of remembering is lost. Specialists who work with trauma survivors tell us that effective grief work cannot begin until the trauma is dealt with first. If you’re still experiencing anxiety, sleeplessness, intrusive images and nightmares, I want to encourage you to seek the help of a trauma specialist – a therapist who understands that trauma work must be done before you can begin the grief work that lies before you, as you come to terms with this horrible death of your son. Go to the TRAUMATIC LOSS page on my GriefHealing Web site for a list of suggested resources.

Based on what you've shared with us about your close relationship with your nephew, my dear, I think this information applies to you just as much as it applies to your sister, and I hope it will help both of you to better understand your need to know exactly what happened in that horrible, tragic accident.

Wishing you peace and healing,

Marty T

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marty thank you for this information, and for reminding me that we have these rights as parents and family members.

my sister is waiting on the accident report from the police, and then she feels she'll be ready to go to the place where the accident occured. because of where he landed, so far away, i have been so worried about this. maybe i am uneducated but the distance seems just unbelievable. in the beginning i asked her to promise not to go without me, and hopefully my husband as well.

my daughter and i went to the accident site that same day, and we saw lots of evidence there. later that day my son also wanted to go and i allowed him and his sister to go there without us. this is when my daughter saw the painted marks on the road, the ones we hadn't seen the first time. we hadn't seen them because they were so far from where the car had been. we spent that evening at my sister's home, working out the details with the funeral home director. of course my kids were crying and upset, but i didn't realize it was becuase of anything other than the obvious. when we got home my daughter broke down. she was so distraught, and confided to my husband what she had seen, and then told me. how could i let my children go there alone?

the next day i was absolutely possessed to see for myself. it couldn't be as bad as she had said. i stood looking and looking for those marks, it took maybe 5 minutes of searching with my eyes, looking further down the road, i saw nothing. she had said "yards away". i was going to call her on my cell when my eyes fell on something... across the street and way way down. i crossed the road and there was orange paint. not a solid outline like you see on tv, but more like marks where his feet, arms and the top of his head had been. on the grass there was a painted circle, and the words "left shoe" i cannot think of a time in my life when i was more horrified. i couldn't stand, i had to sit on the ground. i thought i might be sick or faint for a minute. this is why i made her promise not to go there without me. and she has kept that promise.

days later my husband and i went there again to take pictures, just to preserve the scene, because i knew someday she would probably want to see. also we photographed the car, it had been towed to a gas station nearby. she knows i have them and has mentioned maybe looking at them soon.

i don't know if the paint will still be there. it has been over 2 months, but my husband says it takes a long time to fade away. but i don't want to go there again until i go with her.

at first i hoped she'd never know any of this, but in time i realized that of course she would want to and has the right to. i know i would demand every detail of anything that ever happened to my child. it is as necessary as it is painful.

i have his side-view mirror in my glove compartment. we found it on the ground at the scene. i can't bring myself to get rid of it. i don't know what to do with it. seems so stupid...

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i spoke to my sister for a long time last night on the phone. she was calm and we talked a lot about the things i posted last. the scene,his injuries, the distance, etc. i think it's better if she is somewhat prepared before she goes, and at the same time it's hard to come out and say how awful.... i don't know maybe i have made too much of a deal out of this one detail. she says she is less concerned with the actual evidence of the accident, and more with the fact that it is the place where he died. i hope she still feels that way when she goes there to see for herself. i hope she is not affected the way i was.

she has finally been able to contact the police dept and will be picking up the accident report today. i hope it contains the information that will answer some of our questions.

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I have read the emails from "Where Do I fit in" and find that I am in a similar situation. On Mothers Day of this year , I lost my 8 year old nephew to cancer. He had been fighting a brain tumor since he was 15 months old. Losing him was probably the hardest thing my family has ever experienced. Since his death I have found myself to have both good and bad days with the bad days to consist of disbelief, crying uncontrollably, and questions of which I can find no answers. I have 7 other nieces and nephews in my family but Tyler, was the only one who when you asked him to come and spend the night with you got so excited as if it was christmas. He was a loving child, far knowledgable for his years and even tho at times he was in great pain, he always said he was ok . He would always tell you he loved you and say Aunt Vicki, I think you need a hug when he would see that I was down. When I am around his mother, who is my baby sister, I find myself trying to search for the right words to say and not upset her. Sometimes even then it is her who consoles me. Last month, I lost my black lab dog of whom Tyler and I were very close with. The death of my dog only contributed to the already pain I was still trying to deal with. I hide my crying and try to put up a happy face when I am around my family but am wondering how I can get thru the holidays. I am the oldest in my family and have always tried to be the

strong one, until now. I believe that Tyler is alright. I know thru my faith in Jesus that he is with him but it still sometimes does not console me here on this earth. I hope with time I can find the answers I need and the words to console my family as well as myself.

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hi vgbowers

i am so sorry about your nephew and i can truly say i understand how you feel. i don't have too many answers for you, i am still seeking them myself. i believe we will be asking why and wishing things could be different forever. but i would say that you should keep thinking about your faith, and that your nephew is with the One who loves him most, even more than his parents or family, i know that can seem impossible but i believe it. we will suffer from our loss but the one we've lost will not suffer, ever again. i am back and forth, some days while i still believe this it does not ease the pain in my heart, and other days it brings comfort to keep company with the pain. i think it will always be there but we can take knowledge from the experience of others and know that it will get better somehow.

being the aunt is quite the predicament. my sister has lost her child. i have so many different feelings, all mixed up in my grief. my sadness is so strong and yet i don't want to infringe upon the "ownership" of her loss. but i know it is my loss too. unlike you i am the youngest of my siblings, and most definitely not the strong one.

i am also very concerned with how we will manage thru the holidays.

you said your nephew left you on Mother's Day. that is so sad. i'm sure it seems that day will be ruined forever for your family. it will certainly never be the same. my nephew left us the day before my daughter's birthday, and next year will be her 21st, but how will we celebrate that milestone birthday properly? she is crushed over losing her favorite cousin and i don't know what we'll do or what she'll even feel like doing. it's no one's fault of course, but even on the very same day as my nephew's death my sister was expressing her concern about my daughter's bday being ruined forever. i can't let that be the case of course but it will take time...

how is your sister doing? do you have a close relationship?

i hope you'll keep coming back here, it's nice to have some "aunt" company and maybe it will be for you too. glad you posted.

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Dear Ones,

You are not alone in wondering “how we will manage through the holidays.” Getting through any given day is difficult enough when you are grieving, but coping with all those special days such as birthdays, anniversaries and holidays is especially challenging for the bereaved.

It may help you to know that many wonderful and helpful articles have been written to help those who are grieving get through those special days. I’ve assembled links to several of them on my Grief Healing Web site; just click on Coping with the Holidays ~ Articles and follow the links you'll see listed there.

In addition, many hospices offer special workshops in the months of November and December to help survivors get through the holiday season. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization maintains a database of hospices for each state in the United States. To search for a hospice in your own community, click on Find a Hospice Program.

Perhaps the best way to get through family celebrations is to find a way to include our loved ones who have died, or to do something that will honor their memory and the important role they played in our lives. It is what Elaine Stillwell calls “singing their song”:

Remembering Them

“If their song is to continue, then we must do the singing.” We have to find that special way that will allow us to sing our loved one’s song loud and clear. It could be by volunteering at our neighborhood school, delivering meals on wheels, sponsoring a canine pet, taking the handicapped on a day’s outing, working to improve the environment, teaching flower arranging at the old folks’ home, sponsoring scholarships for college, camp, music, art education, dance or sports clinics; funding special hospital equipment or library book collections, or being a hospital or nursing home volunteer.

We all answer a special need from the sacred center of our heart that connects us with our loved one. We might wish to establish a charitable foundation which services many requests for help, to fund equipment for local sports teams, to sponsor special concerts, speakers or lecture series in our community, to participate in youth, scouting, senior citizen or religious education programs. We might devote our time to working with a bereavement support group, give our energies to further the work of Cancer Care, Heart Fund, MADD, Organ Donation, Suicide Prevention, Make a Wish Foundation, or local Hot Line; or we might wish to work ardently for improving “killer roads,” a faulty court system, or melanoma awareness.

Knowing you are doing something to keep your loved one’s memory alive keeps you passionately busy, allows you to tell your sacred story, adds joys to your heart, brings an array of beautiful, loving people into your life, and rewards you with a meaningful life again. Your loud voice will echo in many hearts making sure your loved one is never erased from memory.

Source: Elaine Stillwell, in “Singing Their Song,” Grief Digest, Volume 2, Issue #4, p. 24

Wishing you peace and healing,

Marty T

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  • 1 month later...

To all you Aunt's and Uncle's.

Hang in there, you will never truly know how much just being there for us means.

Believe me when I say we think about you being so busy worrying about us that you don't have time to grieve yourself.

Without you we would be truly lost.

From a Dad.

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  • 2 weeks later...

thank you jonh b, hope you're doing ok.

i just came back to update this thread for anyone reading.

many of the things i was posting about earlier have come and gone. my sister has received the medical report detailing her son's injuries. she has obtained the police report which gives a sketch of the percieved path his car took, how and when he was ejected, as well as a written explanation. once she had the information contained in these reports, there was no more looming information about the distance he was thrown, so no more reason for me to worry about her going up there w/o me. she visited the site while the painted outline was still visible on the road, 38 feet from where his car finally came to rest after rolling twice.

she has contacted the officer who was first on the scene and asked him about her lingering questions, and his opinion about the whole thing based on his experience. there were no actual witnesses, and so we have to be satisfied with this. there are some things we will never know. which injuries were sustained when, and when did he lose consciousness? how much was he aware of? what exactly did he experience? all we can do is put together the pieces we have and make an educated guess about the rest. she has been attending counseling w a minister and it has helped her some.

my sister has gone from sitting in a lawn chair at his graveside, as she did immediately following his death, to now where she does not feel good there anymore. i am sharing this in case others are experiencing the same changes and wondering why. it seems obvious that this would be different for everyone, and will remain fluid. i feel sure it will change again... i still need to go there and i have been every couple of weeks.

thanksgiving was not as difficult as we had anticipated. of course his absence was profoundly obvious. he was and is so terribly missed. but we all took care of each other's feelings. we didn't pretend - there was no feeling of "the elephant in the room". we talked about him some, but did not make a big emotional scene at dinner. i think this was best for her.

it has been about 19 weeks. just yesterday we were finally able to go to the site of his accident and hammer a cross into the ground, marking the place where his spirit left his body. this is something she has wanted to do from the beginning but has only been able to manage just now.

and now Christmas... we will get thru it. the holidays are really just days. i miss him as much on any old day of the week as i did on thanksgiving, as i will on Christmas, and i know she does too of course. but when they come around, for me it has made everything so real. no more denial. he really is gone forever.

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  • 1 month later...
Guest jusjenny


I have come to this site because of the recent sudden loss of my father, but for some reason read your post.

My newphew was killed by a drunk driver one week after his 17th birthday and even though that was 16 years ago, I can relate so to your pain and your guilt and your fears. I too, felt like he was like my own.

I will pray for your family to be able to work together to heal. My children were rather young at the time, but they dealt with the guilt of why him and not me.

Unfortunately, the dynamics of your family will probably NEVER be same, but with time, love, and patience you all will survive. You will never get over the loss, but the excruciating pain will ease. Believe it or not at some point the memories will be comforting.

I am so sorry for your loss and your hurt.


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wow jenny, i'm so glad you posted.

i'm so sorry for your loss. i hope that time has helped you and your family. i believe that will happen for us.

we are coming up on 6 months now, and in that time we have managed to get thru my daughter's birthday, thanksgiving, Christmas, New years, and what would have been his 22nd birthday, yesterday. even so at times it still feels fresh.

thank you for your words, i truly appreciate them. :)

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  • 2 months later...

My sister has been my strength....yes she still has her children and her life...I don't want her to feel guilty for that...my son died on her birthday and they too were close...says she isn't celebrating this year...makes me feel bad...it'll be her 50th and I don't want her sad too..sometimes I do comfort her...she shares and feels my grief..maybe not quite like I do...she not only feels it from being his favorite aunt but having to deal with me too. her children have been very good to me...I so love her...I'm sure your sister feels the same way about you...no one can really do anything for us...Thank you for writing to me...I so try to go on... just be there for her..

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  • 2 months later...

hi everyone

i hope all of you are doing ok, recovering, getting by, doing whatever you need to do to heal.

this is an updaye for any who were reading along...

it has now been 46 weeks since my nephew lost his life. i have definitely made progress, although nothing about it is concrete. while things have gotten better, there are still days when i find myself crushed and shaking, heartbroken and terrified, hopeless and smothered by sorrow.

i am afraid for my sister. i believe she has spent most of the past 10 months "out running" the reality of her loss. she is determined to keep busy and stay occupied. this is something she does well, but it's obvious that there is still so much inside her that she hasn't dealt with. because as soon as she runs out of distraction she begins to have bad days and to experience the pain and grief. i completely understand why she would try to avoid it at all costs. i just feel so concerned about what's going to happen. this can't last forever. there's nothing i can do besides wait and hope and pray for her.

sometimes i look at my nephew's picture and i still think it just can't be real.

we're coming up on the 1 year anniversary - aug 2 - i'm considering a balloon release with some family and friends, but i'm not sure she'll go for it.

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