My right to grieve

Kaley Brown Soren, Opinions Writer


Art by Kayley Brown Soren / The Runner

A loss in the family is never easy, and just because my sister and her partner came from different parents, it doesn’t make their loss any easier. 

This past month, my stepsister passed away unexpectedly at the age of 35. She was kind, caring and beautiful. As a loving daughter, sister, and mother of four children, it was easy for her to make an impact on people. 

I didn’t know my stepsister well, but the thing is, I didn’t have to. 

My father recently got remarried on Dec. 31, 2022, making her my “official” stepsister for a short month and a half. Prior to their wedding, I had only spoke to her on two occasions: a lunch in 2021, and Thanksgiving dinner in 2022. 

On Thanksgiving, my stepsister opened her home not only to me, but to my older sister and my boyfriend, whom she had never even met before. It was like we weren’t even strangers. She was always compassionate to other people, and it really showed that day. Her home was our home.  

I had the honor of meeting her boyfriend, who also passed; my stepbrother, his wife and their children; and my stepmother’s mother. 

My stepsister and her boyfriend made absolutely sure that we were comfortable in their house, despite us not being close. We ate dinner, had a few drinks, and made it a Thanksgiving to remember. 

That day, we became family. 

Now that they are both gone, I find myself asking the same question over and over: Am I allowed to even mourn them?  

It seems everyone I ask has a different viewpoint on it. So many mixed opinions ranging from, “you didn’t know them well enough” to “they absolutely were your family.” I’ve even gotten “if you think she was your stepsister, you have lost your mind.” 

Hearing all of those statements at once threw me headfirst into a state of cognitive dissonance. Were we close enough for me to grieve her so, or am I just overdramatic? 

According to Eleanor Haley from the What’s Your Grief blog, grief can make you feel many different emotions at once, leading to one “big emotional mash-up”. 

I was definitely an emotional mess about the entire situation. The fact that I heard many differing responses raised yet another question: Do I have the right to grieve? 

Anytime someone tells me that they are sorry for my loss, a wave of imposter syndrome consumes me. I feel like people shouldn’t be saying that to me. After all, I only met my stepsister twice. 

On the other hand, I have shed so many tears for her. Tears full of sorrow and regret—so much regret. I wish I had come around more often; I wish we had more time. 

It’s like being stuck between a rock and a hard place. You lose someone you just started building a bond with, and now, despite any feeling of sadness you may have, you second guess your own right to grieve. 

These past few weeks, I’ve had to put school on the back burner, and take some time to reflect on what was happening within me. My counselor explained how I have to let myself feel what I’m feeling, even if that feeling may contradict what others think. 

I’ve reached the conclusion that anytime anyone makes any impact on you and your life, you absolutely have a right to mourn them. You don’t have to ask people permission to feel what you feel.  

You just feel. 

You could know someone thoroughly, or you could barely know someone at all. But the fact is, if that person means something to you, then that alone justifies your right to grieve. 

If you have recently lost a loved one, you don’t have to go through the grieving process alone. The CSUB Counseling Center provides “free and confidential support”. You may reach them at 661-654-3366. 

In addition, if you are experiencing difficulty on campus, you can report “non-emergency behaviors that are disruptive, concerning, or threatening” to the Behavioral Assessment Intervention and Response Team (BART) by emailing [email protected]. 

We have a very limited time on this Earth. Remember to tell anyone you may know who has had an impact on you, whether a lot or a little, that you appreciate them, care for them and that you are thinking of them.  

Please, tell the people who matter to you what I wish I could tell my stepsister and her boyfriend.  

Life is too short to leave those words unsaid, no matter who they may be for. You shouldn’t hesitate, because you never know what tomorrow will bring.