"How many siblings do you have?"
In the picture below is Me, 9th September, first day of University.
You can't see her but my sister is stood right next to me!
After Emily’s death, the biggest thing I had difficulty doing without her was applying for university. I put it off for so long, writing a personal statement was something I always would have done with her. I really struggled and it was really difficult to bring my self to even start it. my attitude was "she isn't here to help me, so I refuse to do it".
Looking back now I have no idea why I avoided doing it, it’s been the best thing I’ve ever done.
People asked me why I wanted to go to university, my answer “because Emily wanted to”, to me that’s ok, mum always said I cannot do it for her, yes I can, yes I will and yes I have. Moving out of cwmbran was one of the best things I’ve done. I'm currently in Birmingham writing this blog. Yes I'm here for Emily and I know she's very proud.
One of the hardest things leading up to going to university, and something that scared me because of its looming prospect after Emily’s death was meeting new people. Everyone in my life up to that point knew Emily had died, I never had to explain it before, everyone knew me so questions like “how many siblings do you have?” Never came up, but applying and getting into uni I knew it would come up, it had to, you’re meeting new people and getting to know each other, questions about family are totally normal. To most people they are easy to answer, but for a girl who lost her teenager sister, NOT. SO. EASY.
So these are my 5 steps in how I went about meeting new people and talking about Emily’s death. I hope they can help someone needing it.
Step 1. Answering ‘THAT’ question.
To this day I really have no idea how to answer the question or how to bring it up. My advice to those with situations looming that you may meet new people is; every person and situation is different, there is no right answer, how you feel the situation, just go with it! Whether you;
A. Dodge around the subject
B. Blurt it out
C. Let them discover it on social media
D. Talk about them like they are alive
E. Never say you lost a sibling
F. Proudly bring it up in conversation
(I can say I have used all these at some point.)
Step 2. “How many siblings do you have?”
Starting university you are constantly meeting new people, typical questions come up… the one that terrified me, the one that loomed over me as I met my new friends. ‘HOW MANY SIBLINGS DO YOU HAVE?” They ask so innocently, so ignorant of my ‘situation’. To all my friends in uni reading this (you know who you are) I know they will all have different stories of how I told them, if I did. I know some found out about Emily from simply seeing my blog all over my social media, some still don’t know. But to those I have told I can say with confidence I didn’t tell anyone the same way. Yes i’ve had some pretty awkward conversations and people have put me in some pretty awkward situations too. But me being me, the conversation mainly starts with
“Ok, so, um, don’t feel awkward, I talk about it all the time and I love people asking me questions, but um my older sister passed away. Soooo technically I have 2 sisters and a brother but my 1 sister died’”
Sometimes I just say ‘I have 1 sister and 1 brother’ (not in the mood to talk about it).
My little sister Libby (8 years old) has her own I think is absolutely fantastic way of telling people and says she has ‘1 sister and 1 brother who live at home and 1 sister who lives in heaven’ - very logical for an 8 year old.
I assumed I’d tell ‘the story’ the same way, every time I met a new person. The situation never changes so why would the conversation about it. but it really isn’t that simple.
Step 3. The Unavoidable Questions.
In my Television production class I was director and as the director I was fortunate to come up with some of the ideas for content for our show. I decided I wanted to do an interview on the importance of Anthony Nolan and getting people to sign up to the stem cell register, I found myself in front of my class being asked “why is this topic so important to you holly? Do you know someone who survived from a stem cell transplant because of Anthony Nolan?” And there I found myself in front of 20 other students, in a very awkward situation telling everyone my sister died from a transplant.
To me it’s normal ‘my sister died’ that’s not deep that’s just something that happened and now I deal with it. But meeting my friends at uni made me really realise it is, it’s shocking and a big deal. It coming up in random conversations isn’t so ‘average’. But to me talking and bringing up Emily is normal, whether she is here or not, just because she died I’m not going to stop talking about it. People are shocked to hear that I’ve been through something like that. And are shocked that I talk about it so openly, why shouldn’t I, you talk about your siblings, I will talk about mine, whether they are all with me or not. It shouldn’t be a silent awkward topic. I believe I hold a great power in being able to share my experiences, good or bad. And well Emily would want to be talked about she was amazing.
Step 4. Tell YOUR Story, YOUR Way.
I have also been pressured by people who know about Emily’s death, to tell others that don’t know - well what if I don’t want to, that’s my choice. if I don’t want to, I might decide talk about Emily like she’s alive that day. Well then that’s what I’m gonna do. (No one can tell me what’s ‘right’ for that person, if it ain’t right for me)
Sometimes, an awkward conversation or question will come up, involving someone who doesn’t know anything. Conventional questions. I remember I was in year 9 maths class, a boy was asked what his mum’s job was, his reply “my mum died”, That stuck with me for a long time before Emily died. Now I get questions like that, I never expected in my life to get questions like that. Normal questions become so difficult to answer, another part of grief and losing someone. “Didn’t you mention you had an older sister? is she in Uni too”. First thought “oh shit, whyyyyyy” Sometimes I reply “oh my sister passed away” sometimes, “no she doesn’t”… thats it, all I say, all they need to know, but I hate it when people also with me, act weird or say something, that makes me feel awkward, and them, then I feel I HAVE to say something when I really could be not in the mood that day.
Step 5. My advice to friends.
Do not do this, you may know, and they may have said something different, let them. It’s their situation, their family. Unless they ask you to say something, or speak for them. Just leave it. Its very personal at the end of the day. And I found it hard. I didn’t want people making it awkward for me, its hard enough to tell new people.
Tell your story your way, and how you want to. Don’t let anyone expect you to say anything if you don’t want to. No way is the right or wrong way.
(If you have been in a similar situation and have your own way or dealt with differently, please get in contact with me and share your stories.)