CPN | The Double Red Flags of December

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The Double Red Flags of December

Welcome back.

Now that we’re in the thick of winter, the constant 72º and partly cloudy weather here on Emotion Beach doesn’t sound too bad, does it? (When you create the analogy, they let you control the imaginary weather too.)

As a refresher, I left off in the fall with a comparison to what my experience has been like as the older brother of Lauren, who passed away from pediatric cancer in 2017 days after her 10th birthday and days before Christmas.

Given these circumstances, there’s pretty much a daily red or double red flag posted outside of Emotion Beach warning of viciously choppy waves of sadness, grief, and anger during the month of December.

While it’s expected that anniversaries and the painful memories that surround them would be difficult, there have also been plenty of unexpected difficult days that I’ve encountered along this journey.

One situation, or question rather, has stumped me more times than I’d like to admit and is a guaranteed metaphorical double red flag.

How many siblings do you have?

Before the fateful day of Lauren’s passing, the answer was glaringly simple. I have three younger sisters. Duh. Since that day however, I’ve wrestled mentally with how to answer. Do I say three, validating Lauren’s existence, but baiting myself into having to explain that she passed away and risk follow-up questions? Do I say two, making it easier and technically true, but linger with my answer internally hours after being asked?

As a way of coping, I’ve clung to literal interpretations of words surrounding how to describe Lauren’s passing. For example, to the disdain of my family, I was referring to Lauren in the past tense mere hours after her passing.

Currently, I live in a state of conflict with how to answer the sibling question. There is a side of me that wants to agree with the extremely literal interpretation. I have two younger sisters who are alive, therefore I have two younger sisters. At the same time, the other side of me knows deep down I will always have three younger sisters and Lauren will always be a part of my family regardless of her position in life or death.

This example, a single wave on Emotion Beach, illustrates the many mental hoops that I have to jump through to answer something as small as quantifying the size of my family. The size and scope of grief is immeasurable and the way I view the world and interact with it are vastly different because of it.

Witnessing Lauren fight courageously for two years, always believing she would eventually be okay, and watching life slip away from her body wildly reshaped what I view as important or worth emotional investment. Things like high school crush dramas or gossip amongst co-workers are trivial in my mind because I have seen and been through exponentially greater emotional events. I know the true meaning of grief in all its depths. The lesson was magnified even further since Lauren was the first ‘real’ experience I’ve faced with the death of an immediate family member.   

Another thing Lauren taught me without ever actually trying was the power and infectiousness of a relentlessly positive attitude. She did this through:

  • Her smile and kindness to the hospital staff and nurses in the face of a week-long chemo treatment.
  • Her inclusion of my Aunt Kathy and Uncle Jerry on our Make-A-Wish trip or my siblings and I being included in her gifted experiences because she was always thinking of someone else.
  • The seemingly impossible wisdom she held knowing the position she was in at the age she was and handling it with the grace she did.

I’ve tried taking these lessons and acts of kindness Lauren showed in her limited time and reflecting on them in my own life. The core idea is to approach any situation with a level head and an empathetic heart. And always remembering that you might not know the source of someone else’s anger and pain.

Maybe it’s something as simple as flashing your lights instead of honking when the car in front of you won’t move. Maybe it’s something bigger. That’s for you to decide. The only thing to keep in mind is that an act of kindness can open a lifetime of opportunity.