7:15 AM, December 15th, 2019 My phone vibrates, clanging on a metal shelf. It’s my mom. Groggy, I roll my eyes. I think to myself, “Doesn’t she know I’m a night owl and this is an ungodly time to be calling? I already told my Dad to tell her I got the package she sent…” I silence my phone, but immediately see her text, “You need to call us ASAP.” I sit straight up in bed. Those were the same words I got when my grandparents died. Someone died. I call her. “Hi, sorry to call you so early.” “It’s fine, Mom, what’s up?” My heart pounds. Someone died. Someone died. I know that both of the family's Goldendoodle dogs were in decline. I was prepared for that call; this felt different. “Is Will there? You aren’t alone?” My boyfriend of over 10 years was still asleep next to me. “Yeah, he’s here. What’s going on?” WHO DIED. WHO DIED. And then the world ended. Or should have. “Aurora was killed --Killed? Like MURDERED?“- by a drunk driver last night.” Aurora. It was Aurora, my little sister. No, no, no, no... My body empties of all feelings. She can’t be dead, I just... My thoughts scan to the last time I talked to her. It was only 24 hours before she was killed. I, the 31-year old big sister, had been helping my 25-year old sister with some life struggles she was dealing with. Our last conversation was punctuated with her final text, “There are so many things I don’t know and never thought I’d have to know. I guess that’s what life is.” I remember thinking, “Wow, she’s really growing. I’m so proud of her.” Will woke up, sensing commotion. "What happened?" “You want me to tell him?” My mom asked. “No, I’ll do it.”
After a few moments, choking on my breath, “The worst thing ever,” I barely whisper, “Aurora got killed last night.” Words I never thought I’d have to say...
I put my phone down, numb. I can't lift my arms and my body needed to pee, vomit, shit, and snot all at the same time. As my world flips upside down, my body wants to turn inside out.
Moments later, as I try to steady myself in the bathroom, I see a framed picture of my sisters and immediately take it off the wall. I want to smash it. It’s not true anymore! Instead, I put it facedown on the counter. I can’t stomach to look at her face. Was her head smashed? I can’t look at her head. What is the physical state of her body right now? Where is her mind? Where is her SOUL?! WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING?!!
I practically hear her little voice saying, “Nooooo!” as if she herself is receiving the news in some waiting room somewhere, picturing each member of her family taking in the tragic news. I don’t know what to do. I need to call my two older sisters, Claire and Kristen. Is my mom calling them right now? How come no one else has called me? I call Kristen. She’s bawling, which breaks my own emotional paralysis. Hearing her sob is the first nail in the coffin of sinking into this new reality. Then I call my oldest sister, Claire. We all agree we don’t know what to do with ourselves. But we tell each other to drink water. Breathe. We’re all in this together.
I bookmark the uneasy feeling that both of my older sisters seemed to have known a lot longer than I have. “BUT I WAS CLOSEST TO AURORA!” I want to scream. But maybe that’s what took my mom so long to tell me…? It doesn’t matter. It’s a superficial detail in a much worse situation. I start to face the cold hard fact that I am somehow still alive. I am in my own skin, in my own bed, and in my own Hell. I don’t sleep, I don’t get out of bed, I just wait for a call that “She’s okay! She's up! Whew, that was close!” In silence, I start to panic. It dawns on me that I could lose any of my other family members, my boyfriend, any of my friends, any second. How can I grab everyone and protect them all? Up until now, my family has been so safe; hardly a broken arm. And now, we’ve lost a whole person. And that doesn’t guarantee immunity for anyone else.
I feel an unfamiliar rage starting to flare deep in my belly. I refuse to say that she died; that sounds too peaceful. My little sister was KILLED. Her death certificate will read “homicide.” There is undeniably a flesh and blood killer who at least had the decency not to flee the scene of the crime. (Ha. Decency. The jury is still out on that judgment.) I want to be with my family, but my parents are now leaving on a 9-hour drive to the city where Aurora lived... died… to handle her affairs. They have to do whatever it is you do with the body of your 25-year old daughter, and it’s unknown if they’ll be there 24 hours or all week. So, I am stuck in Los Angeles for a few days until the dust settles and I can rebook what is supposed to be my flight home for Christmas to my flight home for her funeral.
For now, I’m absolutely powerless. Defeated. Maybe that’s why I make the uncharacteristic choice to put Captain America on TV to ease the silence. I need a hero that never comes.
I become desperate for any further details and information because the facts are grounding. The facts are real. The facts halt the worst of my imagination. The facts make things logical in the brain, protecting the heart from pain.
But unfortunately, the only fact I have tethering me to the Earth was, “Aurora is dead. Aurora is dead. Aurora is dead.”
No one can tell you how to grieve, including me. If my words are not helpful or do not resonate with you, I would simply encourage you to explore another source, or even write your own. But should you join the unfortunate club that so many are apart of, here’s my simple advice: On the day that someone close to you suddenly dies: -Breathe. -Drink water. -Clear your schedule, a week out if you can. -In the event you have to call their employer or other essential people, it's totally okay to have a friend do it. If you have to tell a lot of friends or family, you are allowed to take breaks in between calls. And if you need to keep it to yourself, if you aren’t ready to tell anyone, that’s okay too. I waited a day to call my friends. -The grief, shock, pain… all of it will start coming in waves. Take it easy, don’t drive. -Stay off the internet and social media, use caution for any movies or tv. -Your brain might cloud over and do irrational things, and same with the people around you. Try to practice compassion for yourself and have patience with others. Everyone is hurting. -This sucks, but there is a possibility that someone might say something offensive to you in your grief, or they might minimize it. ”It’s not like you saw her every day.” You are allowed to feel however you need to. Consider boundaries with these people. Other heroes will come out of nowhere. -There is also a possibility that your loved one has secrets that might come out. Debt, another lover… cross that bridge later. Give yourself at least a day. -Be alone when you need to be alone. There might be an overwhelming parade of people right away- you can tell them to go if you need to. It's okay to ask them to bring hand soap, tissues, or whatever inane household object you need. (Whoever brought paper plates was amazing, because no one wants to do dishes.) -Refrain from drugs and alcohol. If that’s your thing, there will be a time for a cathartic drink down the road. But right now you are raw, and alcohol is going to sting. -The week and the details will unfold as they need to. Only worry about right now, the present. Everything else can wait. -Most importantly- THERE IS NO WRONG OR RIGHT WAY TO GRIEVE. Laughter will happen, ugly cries in public will happen, sleep and eating probably won’t. It’s only our western culture that shuns away from the grieving. Whatever you need to do (except hurting yourself or anyone else) is TOTALLY OKAY.
Marlow Jane is an actor/writer/producer in Los Angeles. Follow along for weekly installments of her journey through grief, an attempt at healing, and seeking meaning in a new reality. Some details have been changed or omitted to protect the open criminal investigation.