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Illustration by Mary Kirkpatrick

My life seemed perfect. Happy. Fulfilled.

I have never really been an outcast. I’ve stayed true to my close friends for many years, formed new friendships along the way, and was always included by others within my community. I have maintained a busy lifestyle full of fun activities, hard work and connection to others. Even though life events are out of our control, I tried to take ownership over anything that I felt I could control, and it always worked.

But I learned quickly this past January, that we have absolutely no control over our lives.

Although we may think that we have control – I truly believed that I did – in an instant, that belief system can be extracted from your hands and impossible to ever hold again.

In January, my sister Elaine died suddenly and tragically. We still do not know why she passed. We still do not know what happened. It can take up to a year for the coroner to inform the family about the cause of the death. Isn’t that comforting? Every day I ask myself, how is she not here? HOW is she not here? How is SHE not here? I cannot understand how a life that I felt I had so much control over became such a mess.

In addition to grieving the unimaginable loss, the life I am now trying to rebuild, and control has become much more complicated. Within a couple of months, I have cleaned out her house, helped organize finances, found a new house so my nephews could live with my husband, my daughter and me. I’ve worked with people from schools, doctors’ offices, camps and extracurricular activities to ensure my nephews live a full and meaningful life despite the loss of their mother. This life was not the life that any of us had planned. This life was not the life that any of us had imagined. This life no longer feels like my own life. I look around and everything looks the same, sounds the same and “seems” the same, but nothing is the same. Sometimes I feel like I am simply going through the motions of life to fix what I can, comfort those around me and “control” what I can control. Ha! Now I laugh when I think I can actually control anything.

One thing that I most certainly cannot control are the people I encounter these days. With our now dark sense of humour, my mother and I joke that we have become grieving outcasts – many of our friends, neighbours, and acquaintances seem afraid of us when they see us out and about.

It appears that many people we know stay away from us because we make them uncomfortable. I took my 1 ½-year-old daughter to a friend’s birthday party in March – this was my first real social outing since my sister’s death. Although the host of the party was one of my best friends, I wasn’t close to any of the other parents attending though certainly knew them from the community.

I was nervous and apprehensive about attending for fear that people would keep asking questions about my sister, they would ask how I was doing, and ignite a feeling of sadness in me at what should be a happy event.

But I could not have been more wrong. I have never felt more like an outcast in my entire life.

Aside from three or four people at the large party, not only did I feel the lack of support, but I was avoided like the plague. Casual friends who I would always chat with, those whose numbers I have in my phone, people I went to high school with, and colleagues I worked with, completely avoided me. Walked right by me. Not only did they not offer condolences (which I was not even looking for at that moment), but they also did not offer a “Nice to see you” or a simple “hi.” I was at my most vulnerable and now I felt like an outcast, too.

When I spoke with my grief counsellor about what happened, she was not surprised at all. She said that often people are so concerned about making me feel uncomfortable that they decide to just stay away and give me space. Unfortunately, their actions made me feel more isolated, sad, and uncomfortable than I have ever felt in my life. I felt lost. By avoiding me and not acknowledging the tragedy, it made me feel that no one cared, that my sister did not exist, and this was not a big deal.

I find it incredibly frustrating that it seems to also be my responsibility to comfort those around me, so they do not feel uncomfortable.

Well, people need to get comfortable with the discomfort. I am trying my best to fix something that cannot be fixed. And I am trying to accept a loss of control and take back the reigns where I can.

My friend and family group may have gotten smaller in these last few months, but I know that those who are in this with me do not treat me as an outcast.

I am clearly not okay, but I am also still me and not someone that should be feared. I cannot accept the huge void in my once perfect life, all I can do is adapt to the changes.

Dana Carsley lives in Montreal.

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