By Jessica Yaeger.
Hi! This is me, Jessica. I’m a rectangle. (So- I’m not talking body types here, but just random shapes for the sake of my illustration!)
This is my amazing sister Vanessa. She was a triangle (& see the V?).
This is a hole I have in me. I got it when Vanessa died of stage 4 (metastatic) breast cancer.
And now here’s my husband, Jason. He’s awesome, and he is an oval.
See what his oval can’t do?
That’s right. It simply cannot fill that triangle shaped hole.
I turned 34 on August 23rd, which was also 6 months to the day since Vanessa died. My 34th circle around the sun had sure been one intense year… exactly half with Vanessa, and half without her.
Recently I have broken out the starting steps of home projects that had fallen by the wayside as the caregiving portion of my life dominated my free time (and then some). But then, I get to the part of the project when I would want Vanessa’s advice, or approval, or passion, or support, or company…. and I am immobile again. I am unsure of myself, lacking my endless sounding board and my regular partner-in-DIY.
I’ve tried to fill the Vanessa-shaped hole with my husband, but he’s, by his very nature, Jason-shaped, so it doesn’t always work. He has never cared about paint colors or the feel of a room the way Vanessa and I could talk endlessly about, and he likely never will.
As I told Jason, in a moment of clarity as to why I had been feeling so seemingly irrationally upset at him one particular day: He is an awesome Jason, but he’s a horrible Vanessa.
But that’s not a bad thing! The bad thing was me expecting him to be that, to cover that hole I have now. It’s not fair of me to ask him to fill that for me. Without realizing it, that’s what I had been holding against him.
Plus, I like Jason how he always has been. He brings a lot to my life that is different than my sisterly relationships, and he gives me unique perspectives and his own unique joy. I have historically been totally ok that he doesn’t care about the nuances of color as they interplay with light! It’s just that before, Vanessa filled that role for me, and was a nice complement to all the things Jason is for me. But without Vanessa, I was turning to him to be her, now, too. Can he listen more and let me talk things through with him more? Sure, and he does. But would it make sense that he now somehow actually cares more now too? Nope.
I finally realized I was feeling sad at missing my sister, and not actually feeling angry with my husband. Simple, right? But not so much in the moments preceding that realization.
Something I hadn’t fully considered was that without my sister Vanessa, the dynamic of every other relationship I had would be changed and challenged, too. Jason can be an awesome supporter, a listener, a shoulder to cry on…. but he also remains himself. He would never succeed, just like EVERYONE ELSE IN THE ENTIRE WORLD, in being Vanessa in her entirety. And I really wouldn’t want him to try… because even if he somehow succeeded, then I would gain a weird pseudo-sister but then lose a husband!
This grief thing can sometimes be a tricky beast, with sadness that feels like anger, and happiness that is still just tired, and pain that that is so intense it broadcasts as numbness.
Examining my grief has taught me to notice the actual shape of my hole, in any given moment – and not try to ram people in that don’t fit. Like everyone else on earth, Vanessa was a multi-faceted person, and she had many different impacts on those whose lives crossed hers. I’ll simply never have a single replacement person for her or our relationship that I was lucky enough to enjoy for her 32 years of life.
What I can do, firstly, is make sure to not fault anyone else for not being Vanessa. And secondly, look to spread out the role Vanessa played in my life, among many different people, where it fits and they have an ability to cover.
I mean no offense to, well, everyone, but you will never be able to replace her, really; not one person or a million people could make me un-miss Vanessa or not still prefer her alive.
But yet people keep showing up, and offering what they are, and having patience with me, and being a friend in their own unique way… and for that, I am so grateful.
I have faith that one day I’ll get to something that feels like this:
Yup, that’s me again, now with many, many people helping to patch up my hole. How amazing is that?
It’ll always be still a little uncovered, a little raw, and with a little sadness leaking out. And a lot of the patching has to come from within me, and not from other people.
However, what I realize more and more is that, even though it feels lonely, I am not alone in this – most of us are walking around with holes. I bet we’re almost all missing someone, tired, struggling, worried, scared.
I’ve seen that those with leaky holes of their own are often the best at detecting who else is in need of a love band-aid.
And it’s often when we help patch someone else up that we heal a little of our own self.
We can be whole even with our holes.
Jessica Yaeger is a maker, coder, designer, writer, thinker, mother, sister, wife and ENFP (in no particular order), who embraces duality: logic/feelings, function/beauty, grief/hope. Jessica and her sister Christina Blust are the founders of the Live Sincerely Project. Together they write and speak about purposeful living and striving to be one’s best self, even as life is hard and messy and beautiful. The foundation of their approach is the Live Sincerely Pledge, which is a manifesto for living with intention, a commitment which has been made by thousands of people around the world, and the ladies’ personal testimony to their deeply-missed sister-in-the-middle Vanessa Tiemeier, who died of metastatic breast cancer at 32. You can join in the Live Sincerely Project (and take the pledge too, if you’d like!) at www.TheLiveSincerelyProject.com.
All of Jen Pastiloff’s events listed here including her two Italy retreats. Next up: South Dakota, Dallas, Aruba, Italy, NYC, Princeton, Atlanta, Chicago, London. All workshops are a combination of writing and some yoga. You don’t have to be “good” at anything. You just have to be a human with a body.
This essay made me weep, smile, laugh, and share it with everyone I know who will, too. This perfectly describes grief and hope beyond grief. Thank you for this essay!
Ah – Thank YOU for reading & feeling & sharing! 🙂
Jessica – I kept saying to myself while reading this “Oh my God yes! That’s exactly how I feel”! And I’m on my way to feeling like the you with patches. And – maybe need us bc they need to be a patch. Thank you.
OOooh, that response right there – that “yes! exactly! me too!” – well, it’s why I write words that aren’t just in my journal by my bed, and whenever I hear it, I swear a part of my hole spontaneously seals up. 🙂 As I’ve lost that reflection of myself in my sister, it so helps to still see our shared human connections reflected in others. And your comment on not just needing to be patched, but be a patch too – beautifully wise. Thank you, Mary! Here’s to getting patched up, slowly but surely.
This is such an amazing description of grief. I love this .
What beautiful images and expressions. I now have a way to picture my own losses, and how healing works. And I’m going to go call my beloved sisters now. Thank you.
important post. thankyou x
Beautiful. Thank you for sharing your sister and your experience with grief. I love your drawing too. As a culture we would be better off if we gave ourselves permission to dive into the rawness of our emotions when someone we love dies. It’s a journey…
Jessica, Beautiful. Yesterday marks the 6 month mark of my sister’s death from cancer. You express exactly how I feel, but hadn’t quite seen it that way yet.
Great analogies, thank you for writing this. Cancer has changed the landscape of my body. At first I sought the support of my husband, who was a great care giver during the worst of treatment. But when I was clear and regaining my self, he cut out and could not be present anymore. Could not support. So the grief of loss became my own, my own hole to heal, and hold. I like the idea of looking to the many supportive and loving places and friends as they are able, but not as I might hope.
I am sorry for the loss of your sister. I am glad though, that the love of her, has helped you to heal more than yourself, to become bigger and to both give and receive. Thank you.
Thank you for writing this post, Jessica – I am sorry for the loss of your Sister, losing a sibling is an experience that no words could possibly describe. My folks lost a son, his children lost a Father. I lost my brother (not in the same way) but the heaviest loss I will ever encounter. I could relate to so many of the words you wrote. I look for comfort in the “Signs” I see that I hope are signs from him. A single leaf that falls from nowhere, a Construction Truck that drives by with his Initials for the company name, a song on the radio that I have not heard in twenty years that he loved etc – I think and miss him daily – Family & Friends are have been beyond wonderful, but my brother can never be duplicated. He was unique, as I am sure your Sister was, as well. Thinking of how I will survive the next forty years without him saddens me, but I know he will always be with … In Spirit. ~Kristine
What a beautifully written blog- thank you. I lost my both parents & 4 other family members within a year – 8years ago, I still haven’t gotten ‘over’ it. This blog- AND the drawings helped put so much into perspective. Thank you. 🙂
Absolutely wonderful blog post. Thank you so much for sharing 🙂
I can completely relate to this sweet blog. Thank you so much!
You have described grief…in a way that is easily understood for others…I think so many have the feelings, but not so much the words. I want to thank you! for your words. It gives me a better understanding of myself and some of my (dumb) actions with others… My loss…like many others…can not be filled by one or two… I really like your ideas that a little piece from different people can help to fill the emptiness from the loss of a loved one and it actually softens my grief… I am sorry for the passing of your sister and I am grateful for your words.
So absolutely perfect! I have lost 2 sisters to cancer in the last 17 months, and along with the holes I have, I am also trying to cope with survivors guilt. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2005. My emotions right now are such a hot mess and you put words to exactly what I feel. Thankyou
thank you for this amazing representation of the pain left behind after a loved one passes away, my pain began when my father unexpectedly passed away, it’s not a treatable type of pain, it’s a pain that is permanent, i can’t call my dad on the phone or give him a hug, it’s a pain that forces change, it hurts and you are right, nothing can make it go away, i cherish the photographs i have and the memories in my heart, not a single day goes by that i dont miss him <3
Thank you! I lost my 28 year old sister on 7/18. Your words say exactly how I feel. Grief is such a tricky beast. Your words have helped to heal that wound. Thank you. I have shared this…if you have ever lost someone you love. .
This is my life :/
Thank you for sharing.
I lost my sister in almost three months ago. She was diagnosed of aggressive invasive breast cancer in February, the month she turned 47, and passed in March 2015 … 12 hrs before our flight to Canada which we thought would be the trip to go help her beat the monster. She spent her two last days at the hospital laying in a bed by which the doctors would stand discussing how many hours she had left. My older sister, who dedicated those two months to her, also believing she would help her through her recovery, saw the agony in her eyes each time they announced how little time she had left. Such a cruel thing to do to someone who lay there unable to do anything to save herself.
I’m still struggling to be able to live with this nightmare as I watch my mother vegetate in emotional pain and anxiety. Both my parents died inside.