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In the aftermath of my sister passing away, I have long struggled with the fear of who was going to be next. As the oldest of five kids, I have always felt very responsible for the other four and that somehow I had to protect them from everything that could go wrong or could be painful. This ranged from waking my sister up every morning so she would’t come late to obsessively controlling where they were going and why. 

Yep, I was that annoying oldest sister.

Therefore, when my 2-year younger sister got into a car accident the day after she moved out of the house, to a certain degree I did feel responsible. Despite the fact that there is literally nothing that could have avoided this (wrong place at the wrong time), I felt as if I had somewhat failed my oldest sister duty. Rationally I know there is nothing I could have done, but still there was this nagging feeling. And so I might have become an even more annoying oldest sister.

As a result, for many years, I have had this anxiety inside of me of who was going to be next. And the impact it would have on our family if something would happen to another one of us, would we still be able to get through that? Could my parents even survive that? I lived in fear-mode, always thinking about worst-case scenarios that could take another one down. Would it be my other sister? With her diabetes there are plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong every single day. Would it be my mom? With her rusty driving skills, an accident could happen just like that. Would it be me? With all the traveling I was doing, a plane crash wouldn’t sound very unlikely. And this went on and on. Basically, my mode was, once there were seven, now there is one down, six more to go.

Well, more than 8 years later, we know who was going to be next. When my dad got diagnosed with ALS and we learned he only had a few more months to live, my initial response was “See, I knew this would happen. He is next.” And even after his death, I have struggled for some weeks with the once we were seven, two down, five more to go chaos in my head. Would my whole family fall apart around me?

But in this grieving process I am reflecting a lot about the skill of those two that are “down” to enjoy life and to always think optimistically. Both of them were always very convinced that things would work out fine, no matter what roadblocks they found on the way. So maybe I should just have faith that things will be OK instead of worrying who will be next. Because fact is, there will be someone next. Sooner or later, all of us will be next. And that is not only true for a family that has already experienced loss, but for every family. All of us are going at some point so I better not waste my time anymore living in fear and start living a bit more like my sister and my father did. To the fullest.

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Tineke Franssen

Tineke Franssen is a working mom abroad that is trying to keep her sanity amongst cultural clashes both at work and at home (Spanish parents in law anyone?). When she is not in the office or working through piles of laundry, you can find her drinking wines with friends, watching Grey´s Anatomy, playing fieldhockey or writing on her blog http://workingmommyabroad.com/

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