5 Lessons Learned From a Sister's Love

by: Ganel-Lyn Condie

I recently experienced a great loss when my beautiful 40-year-old little sister took her own life. She was strong, loving, and sensitive. She dealt with depression, anxiety, learning disabilities and the scars of trauma.

With her death I have experienced suffocating grief and pain. That surprised me. When someone we love struggles with mental illness and depression, the fear of suicide lingers in the back of our minds. So I strangely believed I could prepare for what unfortunately did happen.

LESSON ONE: You cannot prepare for a loss ahead of time. With any loss — divorce, accidents, illness or death — you can’t PREPARE AHEAD for the grief. There is no way to prepare for the emotions and sadness that comes with hurt.

First comes shock. Then comes grief. In the days that followed my sister’s death, I tried to plan a funeral, take care of my children and still breathe. It is interesting to live through a life changing event like death or divorce. Life still keeps happening. There is a strange feeling you have when going into the grocery store after your world has just changed. Everyone else seems to be living normally and yet nothing inside of you feels normal. But, sometimes, it is in those simple acts of living that you start to experience the first glimmer of HOPE. I call it the chopping wood carrying water phase. It can feel like survival mode. Sometimes doing the simple and normal activities of life can bring some sense of predictability.

LESSON TWO: When grieving, it is OK to just chop wood and carry water for a time. Eliminating the extra meetings and unnecessary projects gives you the space to do what has to be done. Do only the necessary tasks of life to care for yourself and your children. In the aftermath of a loss, there seems to be many decisions to be made and details to manage. Make sure your to- do list includes only the most essential and important action items.

I tend to like control. Most people like to have control of their lives. Grief doesn’t feel controlled and yet it is a natural part of loss and living. I am learning to flow with grief. It creeps up at unscheduled times — like as you are just about to walk into the store with all the “normal people.”  What triggers our emotions may not be in our control; but I am learning that if I FLOW with grief it doesn’t knock me over. When swimming in the ocean and the waves come crashing on top of you, it all depends in what direction you are headed. When you flow with the waves of grief, they will wash over you but not knock you down or drown you.

LESSON THREE:  Flow with your grief, don’t fight it. When you fight against a wave, you get knocked over. Instead, try being a surfer and use those waves of grief to move you forward. Don’t judge your grief. Instead observe so you can learn in the loss. I have been surprised, after the death of my sister, to realize what I thought would be hard sometimes was easy and what I thought would be easy oftentimes brought me to my knees. So try and observe and ride the waves instead of getting knocked over in your judgement and fear of the flow.

I have been told that it will take time to feel normal. When you lose a loved one, a job, marriage or your health it can feel like you are mourning the loss of your old life. The previous normal is gone but the new normal hasn’t materialized yet. So in that space of change and transition all we can do is trust. Another word for trust is HOPE. I place my trust and hope in God. I know that he is always working for my ultimate happiness even when it looks like pain.

One principle I trust is that as low as our pain can be we can also experience equal intensity of joy. I felt it at the end of my sister's funeral. We went to the cemetery, celebrated with a memorial service and shared a family meal. My sister loved to dance, especially at weddings. So we asked for a DJ to come and have a dance party. In the previous days I had felt such extreme sadness. But in that moment of dancing — with all my sisters and both my mothers — I felt so much love and gratitude. I had been a big sister to this incredible woman for over 40 years. I knew God had her in his care, and I also felt her dancing with all of us.

LESSON FOUR: Love is always more powerful than hurt. I watched it as my mother and stepmother danced and hugged. In our loss, we decided to come together to love. Here were two women that could be irritated or frustrated with each other, the way many ex-wives are. Instead, they were doing what they have done so many times in my life — they were sharing love instead of hurt. I wouldn’t have given up the love I felt in that room for anything, but it came after the pain. The promise God gives all of us is that if we trust him and keep trying — our pain will someday be our joy. Time won’t change a bad thing into good, but it will change us into something better so we have even more capacity to love and feel joy.

In the days and hours following the death of my sister, I was overwhelmed by those that came to help or called to comfort. I have seen angels on earth and felt heavenly angels nearby. I was grateful for the small gestures or text messages sent. It is interesting to see how people respond when someone they care about experiences trauma. Some people say nothing and avoid the person altogether. They feel inadequate to know how to communicate or help so they do nothing. Then others just do something. They show up, even if they weren’t really close to the person that is grieving. No one can fix a divorce or restore a lost job but people that care make a difference.

LESSON FIVE: The gift from my sister’s death is that I will never again hold back from trying to just do something for someone in pain. I can send a message. I can call. I can send a card. I can hug. I can listen. I can’t fix what hurts others, but I can show up. I don’t have to be perfect to be enough comfort.

These 5 LESSONS of grief have really been GIFTS. Moving through the 5 stages of grief can feel messy at times. I am learning to flow with those waves of grief and loss. I am noticing and observing a new normal that has started to creep in dressed up as more moments of love and joy. I am trying to live more because of, not in spite of, death.

* * * * *

If you are experiencing a death or grief of any kind (job loss, cancer, divorce) remember that you can and will experience eventual healing and hope. It may take time.

Try and observe instead of judge yourself.

Simplify life a bit more so you can take care of what matters most.

And give yourself time.

Make more time to dance, love and learn.

Give God the chance and time to heal your heart. He can fill in the spaces left by your loss. He will. This I know, because I have felt it, one day and one hour at a time.


Ganel-Lyn is dedicated to inspiring others to live a healthy, balanced life. She is a professional writer, public speaker, and organizational consultant. She has healed from a major chronic illness and is the mother to two miracle children. Ganel-Lyn lives with an open heart and feels passionate about sharing organizational tools, health principles and personal spiritual practices that will empower others to also live balanced and joyful lives by eliminating chatter and clutter in their homes, minds, spirits, and schedules.

Ganel-Lyn is a former magazine editor and award winning journalist. She is a 200 hour certified yoga instructor and has a degree in Elementary Education and Psychology. Ganel-Lyn just completed her first book. She has also worked extensively in public relations and marketing as a former partner of G&S Consulting. She believes that a life of LEARNING is a life of LOVE. Ganel-Lyn is a contributing expert at HopeAfterDivorce.org, DivorceSupportCenter.com, and FamilyShare.com. Follow her on Twitter @GanelLyn, and visit her site at:www.ganellyn.com 



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