real life

"Losing my little sister taught me that a man cannot break my heart."

Recently I experienced what many girls would call ‘heartbreak’.

He came around, ended things with “I don’t know what I want” (clearly not me) and left. Of course, I hit up my gals and the squad assembled to play with my hair and trash-talk him, just the right amount. (Bit disappointed they didn’t come bearing chocolate, vodka or rom-coms, but whatevs).

They looked at me with expressions of pity, concern and…confusion?

“Teegs, you’re too quiet. Like, you seem to be handling this way too well. What’s going on?”

For once, there was a boy in my life, who was making me feel things, and I didn’t have anything to say about it. This was certainly unusual for me. I’m fairly sure my friends once had bets going on how long I could maintain a conversation without casually dropping his name (the eye rolls were real).

But for once, they wanted me to talk about my feelings. It was as though they wanted me to tell them how SHATTERED I was and how I didn’t know how I would EVER live without him.

 I didn’t know how I would EVER live without him. (Image: iStock)

Was I even human if I wasn’t crying hysterically at this point in time? I had, after all, just been heartbroken, had I not?

No. I wouldn’t do those things. I knew better.

Back in the day when I wasn’t in my 20s, something very, very terrible happened to my family. We had always been a tight bunch. My little sister, Kelly, had a number of medical complications. For whatever reasons, our extended family was never really around to help out and we only had a very small group of close family friends, so we had to stick together. We had no choice.


I left home in 2012 to go to uni, and when I did, my little sister was the hardest person to say goodbye to. She wouldn’t talk to me on the phone or look at me on Skype for a solid week after me leaving. So, we would send each other (generally fairly boring, nondescript) letters instead, at least one a week (cute, I know).

In our most recent conversation on Skype, Kelly was brimming with excitement that Easter was coming up. My 17-year-old sister still (very genuinely) believed in the Easter bunny and all his chocolatey glory.

I was brimming with excitement because I knew my family were coming to stay the weekend with ME! I was excited to show them around town and take them out to the local Chinese restaurant for dinner (Kel’s favourite + Dad’s shout = winning!). It was going to be the BEST EASTER EVER!

Only that Easter turned out to be the worst Easter of all.

Tegan (left) and her beloved sister Kelly (right). (Image provided)

Just two days before they were due to arrive, I received a weird phone call from a family friend, Chez, who lived nearby. She wanted to meet me. Right away. At 8pm on a Tuesday night.

How bizarre, I thought.

As I approached the entrance of my college, a million thoughts were running through my head. All positive, of course. I’d been in bed all day, sick as a dog, so I thought Mum and Dad must have planned for my good ol’ friend, Chez to bring something super nice for me. ‘Homemade soup? A casserole? Some flowers? No-one has ever bought me flowers!’ I thought.

I was slightly disappointed when I saw she was empty handed. And I’m not going to lie, it took until the second round of saying “yeah, good thanks. How are you?” for me to realise something was wrong.

Very, very wrong. She suggested we sit down, and I started crying hysterically before I even knew what had happened and played out a dozen worst case scenarios in my head. Something had happened to Mum? Something had happened to Dad? Something had happened to both of them? Something had happened to Kelly? Something had happened to ALL of them? WHY DIDN’T THEY CALL?!

“You know what I’m about to tell you, don’t you?”

To be honest, I actually had no idea. Kelly had been healthier than she had been in a long time. Dad was his usual self. Mum had been sick, but nothing more than the flu. I was 100% clueless.

“Your little sister has passed away.”

Passed away? PASSED AWAY? As in, GONE? FOREVER? No. It couldn’t be. It wasn’t possible. What? (At this point I was hoping Chez had a sick, sick sense of humour.)

Hysterical crying in the foetal position ensued.

After what felt like 12 years, I decided it was time to pack up and head home. I don’t think I’ve ever packed so fast in my entire life. Suitcase? Check. Undies? Check. Anything I grab? Check. (Also helped that I had a bunch of wonderful friends who had heard my wails and came to the rescue).


Probably the worst feeling of all was opening my wardrobe and having to think ‘what am I going to wear to the funeral?’ My little sister’s funeral. Which I should not have to be going to. I felt bad for even having to think about such a trivial topic when my sister had just died, but I settled for a nice dress and a blazer. At that point, anything would do. We packed up the car and said our teary farewells.

Tegan and her parents saying goodbye to Kelly, releasing purple - her favourite colour - into the sky. (Image provided)

That trip home was the longest three hours of my entire life.

The next three days were worse. And I mean horrific.

Kelly’s death had happened completely unexpectedly. She was looking forward to her 18th birthday in just a few months and graduating from high school at the end of the year.

She’d had a happy day at school, afternoon tea with friends and a pre-dinner kip on the lounge. Dad had gone off to play lawn bowls with his work mates (he’s not even 50 yet, for the record) and Mum and Kel were keen for their standard Tuesday night in. Everything was fine, and then it wasn’t.

Mum, Dad and I relived every moment of that night with every new person that came to our front door, each in our own unique way. My poor Mum, home alone, performing CPR on our bathroom floor. My poor Dad, who heard the sirens from the bowling greens and had a feeling something was wrong. Me, three-heartbreaking-hours away from home thinking, ‘it’s weird that Mum hasn’t called me tonight’.

My heart broke that Tuesday night. Really, really broke.

It broke as I saw my parents for the first time. It broke as I walked through the front door and realised she wasn’t home. It broke as I saw the latest letter sitting opened at her place at the dining table. It broke as I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed until Mum finally came to pat my back and Dad offered me a 4am glass of wine to “take off the edge”. It broke the next morning when I didn’t hear her stir in the bedroom next to me. It broke again with every text message, phone call, Facebook post or visitor we received.

It broke as we chose a coffin and flowers. It broke when we played her favourite songs. It broke when we set our dining table for three. It broke when I went to check she was asleep at night only to see her empty bed. It broke again and again and again, until it could break no more.

I have never cried as much I did in those few days, and I’m not sure I ever will again. I cried so much that my grief was not only an emotional pain, but a physical one as well. My cheeks were sore. My nose was raw. My face ached. And my heart? Well and truly broken.

That my friends, is red, raw heartbreak.

 That my friends, is red, raw heartbreak. (Image provided)

It didn’t just last a few days, or a few weeks; not even a few months. It’s been two and a half years for us now and I can 100% confirm it’s still there. Every birthday. Every anniversary. Every funeral. Every Christmas. Every Easter. Every 18th birthday. Every Year 12 graduation. Every time I see sisters being cute like Kelly and I used to be. It hurts (but seriously, love your sister (and everyone) just a little bit more after reading this please).

Yes, time is a great healer and some good old fashioned L-O-V-E goes a long way as well. With a bit of luck, you’ll meet someone who adores you and every bit of emotional baggage you carry with you.

They’ll understand your compulsion to take a thousand photos and go on weekly coffee dates and mentally document everything about them in borderline obsessive detail (not a stalker, really). They’ll love you on your good days and love you even more on your bad ones. They’ll make you believe your broken heart CAN and WILL be fixed. (HINT: It can’t, but thanks for trying).

LISTEN: Loren O'Keeffee, sister of Dan, discusses the grief of losing him. (Post continues...)

If you’re anything like me, you will have carefully selected a commitment-phobe who may love you temporarily but has no intention of ever sticking around (eh, boys). He won’t understand your compulsion to take a thousand photos or go on weekly coffee dates. He’d be creeped out if he ever knew how much you truly took him in, and is generally never around to see you in broad daylight.

But, when he tells you that he thinks “we should take some time to be friends,” you’ll hold it together and nod agreeably, because deep down you know something that he doesn’t: he didn’t fix your broken heart. And you can’t break something that is already broken.

He might think that you depended on him. Like you needed him a little bit too much, but he’d be wrong. Because while your time together was all well and dandy, you never needed him. Because YOU’RE A STRONG INDEPENDENT WOMAN WHO DON’T NEED NO MAN. No, but seriously, once you’ve been through gut-wrenching heartbreak like I have, you can do anything on your own. And I mean anything.

So nice try, Mister. You might have ended it, but I win this one. And I will continue to win (yes, relationships can be won), because my heart simply cannot and will not be broken by a boy/man/commitment-phobe. Nope, not now, not ever. Sure, I might be a little sad that things didn’t work out the way I might have hoped, but it’s nothing compared to real heartbreak.

A boy could never break my heart. Just give me some Maltesers, I’ll be ok.

This post was originally published on Fifty2 Fridays, and has been republished here with full permission.

To read more from Tegan, try: