October 13th: Commemorating the Day Elizabeth Died

The family in Nova Scotia | Kimberly Hetherington | Art Therapy with Kimberly

It’s common now for people to assume I’m an only child.

I never speak of having any siblings so people tend to assume. But the thing is I desperately want people to know I have a sister. It’s just that it leaves me in a vulnerable predicament:

Do I say I have a sister and answer the inevitable follow-up questions and then have to reveal that she died? Or do I disrespect Elizabeth’s life and not bring her up?

It’s a hard choice. If I mention I have a sister, most of the time I’m just not in the mood to say anything more about it. Maybe the timing is wrong, or the mood is too light and cheerful for something dark like “oh she died!” Some days I just don’t feel like being vulnerable. But at the time, I still want my sister’s life to be acknowledged.

Each year when October 13th rolls around, I want to commemorate the day she died but I can’t seem to think of anything that would be meaningful, connected or ease the pain of loss. How do you honor the life of someone you wished were still alive? I just feel like calling her and saying, “Alright, so how do we do this? Mum and Dad are really upset, how do we cheer them up?” Then we could sit together somewhere and work out a way to make everyone happy again and we’d all end up laughing and make it a big inside joke.

I’ve tried to google ideas on how to honor the death of a loved one but none of the suggestions resonate. A common one is lighting a candle in your loved one’s honor. I bought a candle, but lighting it for her just feels empty, it does nothing for me. I feel like Elizabeth would just look down at me from Heaven and go, “um… really? A candle?”

I just feel like sitting down and having a conversation with her. I just want to know what’s new? How are things wherever you are? I have so much to tell you. I live in a new place now, it’s amazing and it’s right by the water like I always wanted. There’s also a navy base right next door and whenever I see people dressed in their military uniforms I think of you. I remember when you were in the Army in Ottawa, and how you had to wear that green camouflage uniform and a beret. I think of those days when you started in the army and we’d see you marching down the street near our house. Mum and I would drive past honking and waving at you, you’d smile back proudly. I wish you could come to visit me. We even have a spare room you could stay in.

There’s so much happening and you aren’t here for it. I like to imagine you are following along with us and absorbing all this information about our lives in a different, weird, heaven kind-of-way. In some supernatural way that crosses through energy and time zones.

When thoughts of you come to mind I try to remind myself that we all die at some point, you just left us a little earlier than expected. The good thing is you won’t have to deal with growing older and experiencing arthritis or losing your mind to dementia. You’ll never have to deal with the pain of watching mum and dad get old. But then, you’ll also miss the good things. Like being here to see my new apartment. Or watching me get married. I was sort of hoping to you’d be around for these things…

It’s just so weird to think that this whole thing called life could end anytime, that our time here is actually limited. Yet so many of us go through years of our life worrying and frustrating ourselves over trivial, meaningless things. Having someone you love die feels like suddenly getting yanked by the collar of your shirt and being dragged at breakneck speed up through the clouds and then gently being released into the atmosphere. When you finally get a moment to catch your breath you realize there is no sound, there is no gravity, and you are completely alone. You stay still, floating in space, looking down at your feet as they dangle above a tiny little Earth that continues to turn even without you in it. It’s a strangely numbing feeling to feel your entire sense of self, your place in the world, shatter into the vastness.

We’re all just here for a brief moment in the grand scheme of it all. I don’t know what else to say. I miss you, Elizabeth. We all miss you. I don’t know how to honor the day you died. I don’t know how to commemorate it. Life is different without you here.

“You’re in the arms of an angel, may you find some comfort there…”


  1. If u allow me, [[[Kimberly]]].
    I struggle with the whole concept of “celebrating” one’s day of death. I was just looking for a much better this weekend when I was making a post about Wm Tyndale’s murder. I ended up with “remembrance”. But I don’t like that word either.
    Ja, lighting a candle does seem so “quaint” or maybe better put as “lame”. With my wife’s parents having passed away, we do something that they each like/appreciated on their days. Her dad was a lover of ice cream LOL and reading. Her mom, well we are still trying to figure that one out.

  2. I feel the pain in your words. I haven’t ever lost a sibling, but I’ve lost my father. I don’t celebrate his death date either.. there is no celebration of it. It’s a dark day for me and my family. I do celebrate his life every day, reminding myself of things he did, or how he’d do something, what he’d say, and sharing stories about him with others. A friend once told me in sharing our stories of our loved ones that are gone too soon, we share a piece of them with others and they live on in that. I like that.. knowing that my dad lives on in every story I tell to someone as they get to experience him too.

  3. Kimberly, I lost my dad 50 years ago, you cannot “celebrate” what will always be a dark day, but you can take the day to remember the smiles, laughter, and love that she gave you.
    I often feel my dads hand in the things I do, so in a way he is with me.
    As for what to say when people assume you are an only child, Tell them you are one of two daughters, and that your sister is now an angel that sits on your shoulder, and is always with you…. Its a hard thing to lose someone that is so much a part of us but maybe thats really it… they are always a part of us whether we talk about them or not.
    Love to you and your parents..

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