Yes, sleep in the early days after my 37-year-old sister’s unexpected death was near impossible. I had to put on a TV show in the background..a show that was not too funny, but funny enough. A show that was comforting and familiar, but had no associations with my sister (I chose How I Met Your Mother). The volume had to be low enough to go to bed, but loud enough that I could just make out the dialogue. The goal was to give my destroyed brain a moment of respite so that it could slip into unconsciousness.
This didn’t stop me from waking, usually several times a night. Both because I would be startled from sleep and instead of adjusting my pillow, I’d remember my sister was dead and I would sob, or because my daughter was still nursing and she would cry for me, and I walk to her and remember my sister was dead and I’d sob.
Within a couple of weeks, my sleep schedule was close to normal. The wakings in the night no longer left me crying into my pillow for hours at a time, but I was still so tired. Bone-deep tired. Barely functioning tired.
I realized that the bereaved are not necessarily tired because of lack of sleep. It has much more to do with what happens when we’re awake.
Kellyn has been trying to change the way people support each other in grief since the unexpected death of her sister, Alison, in 2017. Her work can also be found on her blog and Modern Loss. She reluctantly posts on Instagram.