We can be whole even with our holes.

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Hi! This is me, Jessica. I’m a rectangle. (So- I’m not talking body types here, but just random shapes for the sake of my illustration!)

Jessica is a rectangle

This is my amazing sister Vanessa. She was a triangle (& see the V?).

Vanessa is a triangle

This is a hole I have in me. I got it when Vanessa died of stage IV (metastatic) breast cancer.

Jessica has a triangle shaped hole in her heart

And now here’s my husband, Jason. He’s awesome, and he is an oval.

Jason is an oval

See what his oval can’t do?

The oval doesn't plug up the triangle shaped hole

That’s right. It simply cannot fill that triangle shaped hole.

I turned 34 on August 23rd, which was also 6 months to the day since Vanessa died. My 34th circle around the sun had sure been one intense year… exactly half with Vanessa and half without her.

Recently I have broken out the starting steps of home projects that had fallen by the wayside as the caregiving portion of my life dominated my free time (and then some). But then, I get to the part of the project when I would want Vanessa’s advice, or approval, or passion, or support, or company…. and I am immobile again. I am unsure of myself, lacking my endless sounding board and my regular partner-in-DIY.

I’ve tried to fill the Vanessa-shaped hole with my husband, but he’s, by his very nature, Jason-shaped, so it doesn’t always work. He has never cared about paint colors or the feel of a room the way Vanessa and I could talk endlessly about, and he likely never will.

As I told Jason, in a moment of clarity as to why I had been feeling so seemingly irrationally upset at him one particular day…. he is an awesome Jason, but he’s a horrible Vanessa. ;)

But that’s not a bad thing – the bad thing was me expecting him to be that, to cover that hole I have now. It’s not fair of me to ask him to fill that for me. Without realizing it, that’s what I had been holding against him.

Plus, I like Jason how he always has been. He brings a lot to my life that is different than my sisterly relationships, and he gives me unique perspectives and his own unique joy. I have historically been totally ok that he doesn’t care about the nuances of color as they interplay with light! It’s just that before, Vanessa filled that role for me, and was a nice complement to all the things Jason is for me. But without Vanessa, I was turning to him to be her, now, too. Can he listen more and let me talk things through with him more? Sure, and he does. But would it make sense that he now somehow actually cares more now too? Nope.

I finally realized I was feeling sad at missing my sister, and not actually feeling angry with my husband. Simple, right? But not so much in the moments preceding that realization.

Something I hadn’t fully considered was that without my sister Vanessa, the dynamic of every other relationship I had would be changed and challenged, too. Jason can be an awesome supporter, a listener, a shoulder to cry on….  but he also remains himself. He would never succeed, just like EVERYONE ELSE IN THE ENTIRE WORLD, in being Vanessa in her entirety. And I really wouldn’t want him to try…  because even if he somehow succeeded, then I would gain a weird pseudo-sister but then lose a husband!

This grief thing can sometimes be a tricky beast, with sadness that feels like anger, and happiness that is still just tired, and pain that that is so intense it broadcasts as numbness.

Examining my grief has taught me to notice the actual shape of my hole, in any given moment – and not try to ram people in that don’t fit. Like everyone else on earth, Vanessa was a multi-faceted person, and she had many different impacts on those whose lives crossed hers. I’ll simply never have a single replacement person for her or our relationship that I was lucky enough to enjoy for her 32 years of life.

What I can do, firstly, is make sure to not fault anyone else for not being Vanessa. :) And secondly, look to spread out the role Vanessa played in my life, among many different people, where it fits and they have an ability to cover.

I mean no offense to, well, everyone, but you will never be able to replace her, really; not one person or a million people could make me un-miss Vanessa or not still prefer her alive.

But yet people keep showing up, and offering what they are, and having patience with me, and being a friend in their own unique way…  and for that, I am so grateful.

I have faith that one day I’ll get to something that feels like this:

MANY different shapes can mostly patch the triangle hole in Jessica
Yup, that’s me again, now with many, many people helping to patch up my hole. How amazing is that?

It’ll always be still a little uncovered, a little raw, and with a little sadness leaking out. And a lot of the patching has to come from within me, and not from other people.

However, what I realize more and more is that, even though it feels lonely, I am not alone in this – most of us are walking around with holes. I bet we’re almost all missing someone, tired, struggling, worried, scared.

I’ve seen that those with leaky holes of their own are often the best at detecting who else is in need of a love band-aid.

And it’s often when we help patch someone else up that we heal a little of our own self.

We all can be patches for each other's holes.

We can be whole even with our holes.


  1. Stephanie says:

    Beautifully said.

    Sometimes I wish you could climb into my head, figure out what it is I’m feeling, and communicate it (like you’ve done here) so that people don’t think I’m such an alien.

  2. Linda says:

    So well said. I think it is really hard to accept that the person you loved and counted on for so much is really gone. You were there when they left, but nothing can prepare you for the reality of it. Your right–it leaves such a void that can NEVER be totally filled, but hopefully with a lot of people’s help you can adapt to new reality you rather not have. I hate my new reality, but on the days that I am able I keep repeating something you said and it helps me through—Celebrate Life!!!!! I hope there will become more days that you can Celebrate Life too. You are in my thoughts often.

  3. Liza Unger says:

    My sister Thelma died on May 4th, 2014… My heart has a huge hole in it and many times I feel lost and as though no one understands… Leaving me frustrated and with expectations that are not met… My hubby Daniel is loving and wonderful, has held me when I hysterically cry after laughing… Thank you for this post… It is beautiful. I am sorry for your loss :(… After my grief class I reach for my phone to tell her about it… More tears end up coming out… My oldest sister Ruth shared this post with me… We cling to each other while we walk through the pain. I do believe the way I heal is by helping and being more present.

  4. Patiann says:

    :::Sigh::: I understand.
    Sometimes, I feel like Swiss cheese. I have many holes( my brother, my parents, my niece, my nephew) it’s a lot to deal with. Today, my thoughts are on the hole I will leave in “my people”.
    I noticed that if you put a heart over a triangle,( wish I could draw it for you) , it completely envelopes it covering it with love.

  5. Mary Norris says:

    Thank you for this, shared via Susannah Conway. My sister died almost 4 years ago, and it still feels so wrong that she is not here. It has been helpful to recognize how her death has changed me, not simply in missing her but in some fundamental way. When my father died some years ago, a wise friend told me “you get used to it, you don’t get over it.” And I have found that to be true, you find workarounds to the holes that your life’s fabric now has, empty spaces where relationships used to be there for participating. Memories are great of course, but we crave to create more!

  6. Diane says:

    THANK YOU for sharing your journey, and Vanessa’s, with me. I am a breast cancer survivor, and support person for almost 20 yrs now, and your insights astonish me and warm my heart! I have lost soooo many dear women in these past years, I know exactly the feelings of loss and despair. And I also know the gifts that were given to me by each of these women could never have been received any other way. They cause my life to shine every day. Jessica, this “Holey” insight is wonderful! Your sister would (and surely DOES!) love it!! Blessings to all who love her, Nfrtiti~

  7. Dee Anne says:

    i am laying here in the dark late at night reading this amazing post about your lovely sister Vanessa. I am so very sorry that she is no longer, physically with you. It truly breaks my heart so, I am sending you and your family a heart shape to help with all of your other shapes that you have collected to help patch your heart hole. Such a brilliant yet sad way to describe your loss. I can’t understand this loss but I do understand the concept of a hole in your heart. I have had breast cancer 3 times since the age of 31 and each time I have gone thru a diagnosis, the hole in my own heart gets bigger. And although I am beyond grateful to be alive it is most certainly a unique way to live life that no one will ever understand. In the meantime I am sending you all love and light.

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