Seven years ago my oldest sister died of bile duct cancer, a rare and swiftly-moving cancer. Diagnosed in January, Anne-Marie died in May. The first months after she died were a haze of tears, anger, and despair.
How should I live, now that she was gone?
For three years I answered the question of “how to live” by cramming as much activity into every day that I could: if my sister had to die, I would live double, to make up for what she had lost.
But I still woke up every night crying and I spent every day fighting fatigue. I realized that I had not answered the question of “how to live” but had instead been running as fast as I could away from the reality of my sister’s death and the inevitability of my own.
What to do?
I began a course of therapy steeped in books.
For one year, I read a book a day. I read all kinds of books, I wrote about what I read on my blog, Readallday.org.
And I talked about what I read with my family, my neighbors, my friends, and with people I met through my blog.
In talking about books, we can talk about anything at all. Sorrow, loss, memories, joy, sex, kids. And more. Everything about life is found in books and in talking about books.
Through my reading and writing and talking, I learned so much about how to live.
I learned to hold onto my memories of all the beautiful moments and people in my life, as those memories help me through difficult times.
I know now that love is a power great enough to survive death, and that kindness is the greatest connector between me and the rest of the world.
Most important – because I know now that Anne-Marie will always be with me, and with everyone she loved — I understand the lasting impact that one life can have on another, and another, and another.
There is no remedy for the sorrow of losing someone we love, and nor should there be. Sorrow is not an illness or an affliction. It is the only response possible to the death of a loved one, and an affirmation of just how much we value life itself, for all its wonder and thrill and beauty and satisfaction.
My whole life, I have read books. And when I needed to read the most, books gave me everything I asked for and more.
I will never again read a book a day for one year – but any break taken from the frenetic pace of busy days can restore the balance of a life turned topsy turvy.
We all need a space to just let things be, a place to remember who we are and what is important to us, an interval of time that allows the happiness and joy of living back into our consciousness.
Knitting, walking, yoga, cooking, reading, writing: time to ourselves.
Our only answer to sorrow is to live.
To live looking backwards, remembering the ones we have lost, but also moving forwards, with anticipation and excitement.
And to pass on those feelings of hope and possibility through acts of kindness, generosity, and compassion.
In sharing with others, we amplify joy, and we ensure the continuation of love, even long after we are gone. I carry my sister in my heart, and her love carries me through every day.
– Adapted from Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, by Nina Sankovitch (HarperCollins 2011). For more information, goto www.readallday.org