Grieving My Sister – Renee Ohrn

Today would have been my sister Renee’s 21st birthday. Unfortunately, she’s not alive to enjoy it – she died in an apartment fire about two years ago.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been going through the grieving process and it has been really, really tough. In this post, I’m going to talk about some of the things that I’ve felt along the way and some of the effects it has had on me and my family. I’m mostly writing this post because I’m hoping it will be therapeutic for me. That being said, maybe someone who is experiencing similar things will find this post in the future and me sharing my feelings and the effects this tragic event has had on me will help that person. Before I get into all that, though, a few words about my sister.

Renee Ohrn – My Awesome Sister


Renee was everything you could want a young woman to be. She was kind, intelligent, and outgoing. She went out of her way to make others feel comfortable and safe. She loved and laughed and lived as hard as anyone I’ve ever met in my entire life. She was a true beauty and an amazing athlete. I swear she squatted and benched better than most men I’ve met.

When I think of my sister, I can’t help but feel she was basically the best of my brother and me. I also think about the impact she had on the people who met her. She was only 19 years old when she died and close to 1,000 people showed up to pay their respects. I could hardly believe it.

My Grief

Modern psychology says there are five stages of grief that a person goes through in order: denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance. I can’t say that I ever denied what happened to my sister, but I can definitely say that I’ve experienced both anger and depression over the last year and a half.

I was angry that my sister died due to something that had an improbably small chance of occurring. I was pissed that she was the only one who died (not that I wanted other people to die, I just didn’t want Renee to die). I continue to be upset that she didn’t get to experience the rest of what promised to be a full and exciting life. I’m still angry about these and other things from time to time.

I have been depressed on and off since Renee died. I don’t believe it is a clinical depression, but it has lead to me laying in bed and thinking things like:

  • Why even get up? Nothing you do today will matter because you could die at any moment.
  • Who cares if you get work done today? There’s always tomorrow – unless there isn’t.
  • Why do you even care about doing your best? You shouldn’t care – no one will ever remember you anyways.

The depression I’ve experienced has made me cynical and has lead to me being negative almost all the time. I don’t want to think about the future, don’t want to make plans, and I don’t get excited about the things that I used to look forward to. For example, Angela and I are saving for a house right now and I find it really hard to get pumped up about that. Before this happened, I couldn’t imagine thinking the way I do a lot of time.

Sometimes I can’t work because I’m just paralyzed thinking of the unfairness of life. My sister didn’t deserve to die, but she did.

I don’t want to go out and do anything fun. I mean, why is it fair that I get to live this life and Renee didn’t get to?

Effects on My Family

I have a great family, but when I say “My Family” at this point I mostly mean Angela. She’s the one I live with. She knew Renee and loved her.

My grief has made me an asshole sometimes. I know it has, and I know when I’m being one, but I find it really hard to snap out of it. Angela is the one who has had to deal with that.

In spite of all my negativity and the sullen attitude I tend to adopt, Angela has been my rock. She has supported me and loved me even in the moments where I have just been unbearable to be around. I cannot imagine going through this process alone and I feel so lucky to have a supportive wife who I can lean on.

What I’ve Found

Over the last year and a half, I’ve come to the realization that you can’t really control how you feel sometimes. This came as a huge shock to me because I’m a big control freak and I had convinced myself that I was totally and completely in control of my feelings all the time. Newsflash: that’s not true at all.

I don’t want to be sad or angry or depressed, but sometimes I literally cannot help but feel that way. There are things I can do to mitigate those feelings, but they’re often just temporary fixes (and unhealthy, at that, like eating a box of donuts).

I’ve also found that you can’t do everything on your own. You have to talk to people and ask for their help – even if you really don’t want to. I’ve never really been one to ask for help, but over the last year and a half I’ve learned that I have had to, otherwise, I will never get better.

From Here, Where Do I Go?

Honestly, I’m not really sure. I know that I have to go on living my life – enjoying it while I’ve got it. There’s nothing really else to do.

I’m relearning how to relax. For the first 6-7 months after Renee died all I did was work. I’d wake up at 5AM, workout for an hour, and then I’d work until 10PM. I made a ton of money, but the stress was eating me alive. The positive thing for me, or so I thought at the time, was that I didn’t have to sit idly and think about my sister. What I learned is that you have to idle your brain sometimes. I’m learning how to do that again.

I’ll be fine, though. I have a loving wife and an awesome puppy. I live a good life and don’t really want for much. I’ll keep on living and trying to take advantage of the life that I do have and I’ll encourage others to do the same.

26 responses to “Grieving My Sister – Renee Ohrn”

  1. I feel for you and have not forgotten. I care and hope that you know I am willing to do anything I can for both of you. You are part of my family too. I wish I had answers, but sometimes there don’t seem to be any.

  2. Not that it’s anything compared to losing your sister, but I lost my best friend, Dennis, freshman year in college. We were in a band together in high school. The most virtuoso guitarist and musician I have ever met, Denis would have given Eddie Van Halen a run for his money if he had lived longer.

    A freak accident, he slipped off an icy sidewalk at a harbor in Chicago, fell into the harbor, punched through the frozen surface and drowned. Neither Denis nor the friend he was with (our band’s drummer) knew how to swim. Scuba divers and a helicopter pulled Dennis’ frozen body from the harbor hours later.

    Dennis’ death absolutely sent my life and outlook sideways. I think the only thing that kept me from losing it altogether was exercise, riding every day with the Purdue cycling team. I still think of Dennis every night while learning guitar, I ask for his help.

    And I exercise, and meditate every morning so I can meet the new day and observe with compassion everything it brings.

    I have no wise words. But I see and acknowledge the hurt.

  3. Brian, thanks so much for sharing. It means a lot. I just try to get up every day and go on, just like you said. Some days it is harder than others.

  4. I’m sorry to say, I know how you feel. My mom passed away 9 years ago to breast cancer. And even when I could see the end coming over a span of years, it still completely tore me apart. I’ve never recovered from it. I’m only now starting to get back into a physically healthy place. My anger has finally subsided. But the pain is still raw and I feel it dull my pleasure every day.

    I have a beautiful baby daughter now and I think she’s slowly opening my heart. But even she only gets a small portion of what would have been available if my mother had survived.

    My mother, Elfi Chester, would have had her 61st birthday tomorrow. Thank you Nick for helping me to find a way to honor her and respect my love for her.

  5. Nick. Man. Thank you for writing this. I’ve been contemplating writing a post about the grieving of my dad for years but just couldn’t; I had plans to write about how I was dealing with Alzheimer’s and my mom but with her recent passing I don’t even know where to start anymore. My point is: it took a lot of courage to write this and I appreciate it.

    I’ve come to accept the struggle and I’m not sure when it will get better but what matters is how I allow it to shape me.

    • I think you’re on the right path if you’ve just accepted it is going to be a struggle. There will be good days and bad days, we just need to try to concentrate on the former rather than the latter.

      I encourage you to write something, even if you don’t post it publicly. It may help you sort out your feelings – that’s what this post did for me.

  6. Love you Nick and Angela. Last night we sang “Happy Birthday” to Renee then we watched some awesome home movies. Thank you for sharing.

  7. I have to say i feel the same way you do i lost my triplet sister 2 years ago. My friend Nancy posted this on fb her son David was friends with your sister. When my sister died a piece of my heart went with her, Our family is helping raise her son who is 7 now but was 5 when she died and was with her when it happened i thought all those same things and still do but try to live my life there is not a day that goes by that i dont think about her and miss her and yeah it is hard i still wonder why god took her and get angry but then i realize i need to think positive. She died from a massive heart attack at the age of 32 while driving to my house and i was the last one to talk to her and me knowing there was something wrong because she told me and i still wonder till this day if there was anything i could to and everyone tells me there wasn’t. so i try to think happy thoughts and remember my memories i have of her and I. And when i really start missing her a lot i watch the videos i have of her to make me smile.

    • Thanks for sharing, Natalie. I think it is pretty natural to blame yourself even if you know that rationally there is no reason to. It is really awesome of you that you’re helping to raise her son.

      Thinking happy thoughts and remembering good times is pretty much the only way to go as we continue with the grieving process.

  8. Well said young man. Our family fell in love with Renee the day we met her. We talk of her often and miss her, she will always be in our hearts.

  9. I lost my oldest son on June 25,2013 he just turned 17 on the 3rd. Police are involved and so are the feds. no one will tell me anything nor is anyone in any trouble at this time. I am a very strong person who is always in control of my feelings, but the feelings I have now I have no control and feel like I going nuts. The other day I needed Cody’s help to move something and he wasn’t here to help I thought I was never gonna stop yelling and crying at him. This is the hardest thing I have ever been though and dont wish it on my worst enemy.

    • Joelle, I’m really sorry to hear about the terrible loss of your son. It must be infuriating to not have the information you need and make it even harder to move forward.

      From my experience, you’re going to be feeling things that you just don’t understand and have no control over. The best advice I can give is to find someone you can lean on to support you when you are at your lowest.

  10. Nick….thank you for sharing….Renee was an amazing young lady, full of life, vision, and drive. We think of her often, cry, and grieve. Even though we only knew her a few years, she still touched us……For me personally, I remind myself to stop and tell my family just how much I love them every day…..they may live far away or as close as the bedroom next to mine….but in an instant, any one of our precious family members can be taken away from us. We can be so easily side tracked by work and other commitments, but in the end, all we have is our family and just that reminder alone is powerful.

    Having an amazing support person, like your wife, is also so important. She is strength when you feel weak and it’s wonderful to have someone so understanding and supportive and loves you unconditionally.

    I am sorry you and your family has endured the loss of your beloved Renee and I hope that, with time, you find peace…

    Thank you again for sharing your thoughts and feelings for your sister. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to reminding me and perhaps others of what’s important….Always, Robin E. Chubb (Brian’s Mom).

    • Robin, thanks for your comment. Renee was pretty awesome and I feel lucky that I was her brother.

      Like you, I try to tell the people I love that I love them as often as possible now. You’re right that Angela has been ridiculously important to my healing. I’m so lucky to have her in my life.

  11. Nick thank you so much for Sharing such personal feelings. I have thought of Renee often especially over my freshmen year in college. I have a hard time reaching out and getting to know people and I miss out on a lot because of that. I will always regret not trying harder to have a stronger relationship with Renee. But she was always an inspiration to me. Her ability to brighten a room with her personality. How athletic she was and how out going and funny. The list goes on. She is a positive role model in my life and she helps me to make good choices and practice enjoying life and being myself and making new friends. She is always in my mind and in my heart when I try something new.

    And as you continue to heal and carry on I will continue to pray for you and your family. I haven’t had the chance to get to know Angela in person but I also look up to the both of you. You two have been so encouraging to me this year over Facebook and I love you two.

    • We love you too, Mary, and thanks for the comment. I’m glad that Renee is a positive role model for you and I’m happy that you can look up to Angela and me.

      If you ever want to talk, just let me know. I’m always available.

  12. Nick,
    Your sister was truly the most amazing person I’ve ever known. I knew from the day we both started singing a really obscure song together at the same time during soccer practice that we were going to be best friends, and we were just that. We were utterly inseparable at soccer practice. We didn’t even ask each other to be partners we’d just look across the field and just know. The reason I’m saying this is because I want you to know how connected we were. We would just sit in absolute silence before games and nothing was weird it was the most comfortable silence I’ve ever experienced.

    You mentioned things like “Why should I even do my best?” Why? Because you’re doing it for her. She did everything to her absolute fullest potential. She was almost hyperventilating, without an inhaler, and I literally had to put myself directly in front of her so she wouldn’t try to run anymore. In her words in a note she wrote me “Kukla, I want to be super beefcake-like.” Nothing would stop her. So now you have the opportunity to live your life for her. Every single thing you do, do to the fullest because you know she would.

  13. I googled the words “I am grieving for my sister”, and I found your site. I, too, lost my baby sister. It was June 22, 2013, my youngest brother’s birthday. We were getting ready for his birthday dinner before he headed out for the night. I was making Mexican food when my sister Jennifer called and asked me for help with our sister Margaret.

    I begrudgingly agreed to stop cooking and go help. I thought my sister was being a hypochondriac, upset that Jennifer was getting the attention that she wasn’t. Jennifer had just been diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. She had just come home the day before from the hospital. Her chemo was giving her heart attacks.

    When I went over, Margaret was in her bathroom. She had become violently ill, and she needed help getting off the toilet. I helped pick her up and started cleaning her toilet. My sister Jennifer started cleaning her. She started speaking incoherently. We walked her to her bed. She looked at us and said, “I am so, so sorry,” and she died in our arms. It was the most horrifying, haunting experience of my life.

    I hurt every day. I miss my sister so much. I wish the ache would go away. She was only 38 years old. She was a loving woman. She was my baby sister.

    • Kim, thank you for sharing your story. I can’t even imagine how difficult that must have been.

      Try to stay strong and move forward as best as you can. That’s all you can do.

  14. I also Googled the word grieving the lost of my sister because I am still trying to figure out why I find it very hard to talk about my sister. Everytime someone brings her up I answer their question and change the subject and tears come to my eyes like now I am crying. It has been only 8-months, she passed away in a car accident august 19, 2015 which was the worst day of my life. She was my lil rock, and I was her rock. My sister Jeri had the biggest heart, funny, beautiful, intelligent, a go getter, and the life of the party. We are 5 siblings and she and I were the closest. She was married with 4- beautiful kids from ages 5 to 11 and they miss and love their mom so much. The baby girl was with her when she got in car accident. What the other driver said happened is what the police went on, there was a witness who witness entire accident and said a different story. They did not go question the neighbor until I called and told them and of course they try to say thats not what happened.

    We gave it to god and he is in control.

    I miss her so much and so does all of my family, a piece of our heart went with her when she passed away. Yes, I was angry with god because he took her away, but I understand that everything happens for a reason and this is not our home we are only passing through. Her kids, husband, my parents, siblings, my kids and rest of my family miss her so much. She got in an accident not even a mile from my home. I was going to work that wednesday morning and I saw her car in the ditch, then saw cops. I pulled up to go check on her and when they push me back I knew it was bad. They said she lived long enough to make signs with her eyes that her daughter was still in the car. Still till this day I cant believe she is going because she was such a fighter and strong person. I know she’s home up above but im so lonesome for her I would be selfish enough to say that I want her back with us. I was always there for all her struggles and accomplishments in life and she was the same for me And on her last day I pulled up to the accident think maybe its a car like hers or I know if its her then she is ok. Shaking my head I was wrong god took my girl from us august 19, 2016. I know this will take time.

    I brought her a prayer book about 2 months before she passed away the name of it (This Too Shall Pass).

    She said thank you sissy I love my book, we are alike in many ways and we also look so much alike.

    Well I bought that book for her through her trying times trying to find a job in her feild which she had just graduated, not knowing I would need it.

    My brother in law passed it on to me and I was so grateful for it, I started reading from where she left off. It was like that page was marked for me….

    I am fearing mothers day, because I think of her kids when they are at school and they are making things for their mothers. My heart hurts for them so bad just knowing how they are feeling. I just want it to come and go.

    Thanks for sharing all of your stories, reading them was a help to me and I am truly sorry for your loss.

    One day at a time is what me and my family is doing.

    My parents are doing their best to cope with this, I really worry about them.

    I know God has it.

    We love and miss my sister Jeri Kendall Ceasar Richard.

    Words cannot explain the pain…

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