Victoria was 9 when her sister died

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This website has been created by young people whose brothers or sisters have died. There are multiple stories from young people about their experiences.

This is the story of Victoria, whose sister Rebecca died aged 3 years old.

“It is a fearful thing to love What Death can touch.”

Josephine Jacobson, The Instant of Knowing

My sister Rebecca died on the 7th of January 2008 when she was 3 years old. She was strong, funny, and whip smart for her young age. I was 9 when she was involved in an accident in our home.

A tea-light candle set light to the dress she was wearing as we sat beside the stove watching The Simpsons on T.V. It was 6:43pm and it was 2 weeks before Christmas. Rebecca travelled from our home to the Erne Hospital, Enniskillen where she received care until she was transferred to Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Dublin where she received care in St. Patricks ICU until the end of her life. She fought tooth and nail to stay alive.

This child was brought up as a fighter, perhaps due in part to being the youngest of 3 daughters who spent sunny days tumbling around in the garden chasing dogs, watching cows, and spent the wet and windy days having tea parties in our play house. Words cannot describe how often I think about those memories, and how often they invade my mind and mental space. The thing with memories is for the most part they are involuntary. Some days I am hit with the joyous memories of laughter, others it is the memories of pain and grief.

My sister Hannah and I did not visit Rebecca during her stay in hospital, we stayed at home and continued our routine as normal with our Aunt Flo looking after us. We were adamant that Rebecca was going to get better. She was young, she had her whole life ahead of her.

I don’t remember that period well, but I do remember the support that our community placed around us. The constant thoughts and prayers of our parish, neighbours calling round to our house, and strangers sending cards to the house and telling us that we were in their prayers – many of them relations of burns victims or indeed former burns victims themselves.

I remember the night we were told she died, we had spent the day playing at a family friends house and had just came home to get ready for bed. I remember the phone ringing and my aunt breaking down as she told us. I don’t remember any other details from that night only the unbearable pain in my chest as I realised that my sister was dead and that no matter how hard we tried; we couldn’t change that.

I remember the wake; Her coffin being brought home and across the threshold, my parents crying, my grannies crying and my aunties and uncles crying. Everyone around us was incredibly supportive, they wanted the best for our family, to help ease this unspeakable pain. Her funeral was a hard day, I remember knowing that I wanted to stay strong for my parents. I had a reading to do at the service and knew this was an important job.

After 11 years I try not to dwell on the pain of what happened and the horror that engulfed my family during that time. The only word I can use to describe that period is horror. No one prepares a 9-year-old and her 7-year-old sister for the death of their baby sister. We were prepared for the death of others; a great- granny, an aunt, a dog. No one is prepared to bury their youngest sibling.

For me, the hardest part of losing Rebecca has been the years after. You cannot move on from this pain, some days it can feel like the pain is lodged in your very bones and it is trapping you. You had to adapt to the life you know being ripped apart at the seams.

Adaption is a strange process and as I have got older and time has passed it has made me realise that for the most part I adapted to make those around me comfortable. When I started secondary school a few years after Rebecca’s death I told everyone that I only had one sibling, I did not mention Rebecca for fear of having to explain the circumstances of what happened her, or to be made an object of pity. I knew that if Rebecca was here the last thing she would want is for us to be pitied.

Part of my coping technique throughout being a teenager was burying how I was feeling. This was incredibly unhealthy and ultimately led to mental health problems. I grew ashamed of Rebecca and what happened her;

if there was anything I could go back and tell my 11 -year-old self it would be not be ashamed of Rebecca and what happened to her.

Fear of what people may think is primarily what pushed me into silence and with that silence came shame and guilt. Many bereaved siblings struggle with shame and guilt, I know I often at times felt a survivors guilt for still being here. I felt ashamed because I was not sharing my entire person with my closest friends, and guilt about not honouring Rebecca’s memory. Part of this was in part due to not make other people uncomfortable. In hindsight I saved a lot of discomfort for my friends, but instead made the situation unbearable for myself. My skin prickled with anxiety as I worried how those I loved would react. If I could change anything about the aftermath of Rebecca’s death it would be to break the silence, death and grief are tricky enough subjects without a self-enforced silence.

Rebecca’s death was a tragedy, something that many would consider an unspeakable tragedy- perhaps that is why I and those around me chose silence over speaking out.

One of the many things I learnt from counselling is that those left behind shouldn’t be afraid to speak of those who have died. Those of us left on earth must speak about those who have departed, we must keep their memories alive. Rebecca formed a huge part of my life, and that cannot be forgotten. Sometimes I find her presence in our daily lives; when her favourite film Charlotte’s Web is on the T.V., when a complete stranger take a guess at my name and says ‘Rebecca’ as their first guess, when a robin perches on a window sill and taps the window with its beak. I have learnt that grief becomes easier when I acknowledge her presence in the universe. At the 10-year mark of Rebecca’s death I made a conscious decision to talk about her more, to talk about how I was feeling in certain days in relation to her. 7 years ago, her anniversary could have passed and I would not have said her name aloud, instead it rattled about my head for hours.

Many years of distress could have been prevented if I had been brave enough to share my story of loss with those around me. Typing this has been difficult, being honest about my whole person is difficult. But as I have got older I now realise that the greatest tribute I can pay to Rebecca from now on is keeping her memory alive. Rebecca will never be forgotten as long as we are still here; talking about her, remembering her and all the joy we shared in her 3 short years. How lucky we were to have had her and her love of life, even if it only was for a short time.

If these stories remind you of moments you have experienced, or you would like to discuss how you feel, please check out our 'Get Support' section where you can find information about registered organisations who can help you.

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