Patricia Arquette Says She's Just Now Processing 'Incredible Pain' of Losing Alexis Arquette

"I'm really, really sad," Patricia Arquette told PEOPLE at Sunday's 2019 Emmy Awards

Patricia Arquette is still mourning the death of her sister Alexis Arquette.

On Sunday, the actress, 51, earned an Emmy for her supporting actress work in the Hulu limited series, The Act. And after giving a touching tribute to Alexis in her speech, Patricia admitted to PEOPLE that she’s only just starting to deal with the complicated emotions surrounding her death three years ago.

“As people, we kind of act like everything’s fine when sometimes it’s not,” Patricia said. “If people could talk about where they’re really at, I think that’s a healthy place to be. I don’t think it’s the way we communicate as people.”

“I’m really grateful and really happy tonight and yet … the last few years, I’ve been working really consistently back to back. That’s been wonderful, but it’s also been distracting,” she continued. “This last little period where I’ve been taking some time … I’m really starting to feel my grief. It’s starting to feel like I’m processing this incredible pain of losing Alexis.”

“For me to stand up there, it would’ve been inauthentic for me to be there and pretend it’s all great,” Patricia continued. “It’s not all great. It is really great and it is really hard right now.”

Alexis Arquette and Patricia Arquette
Patricia and Alexis Arquette. Charley Gallay/Getty Images
Alexis Arquette and Patricia Arquette
Alexis and Patricia Arquette. John Shearer/WireImage
Alexis Arquette and Patricia Arquette
Picture Perfect/Shutterstock

Alexis, who was one of the first transgender activists in Hollywood, died in Sept. 2016 at age 47 from complications stemming from HIV, which she had contracted almost three decades before.

In her speech, Patricia held back tears as she gave an impassioned plea for the world to embrace and employ the trans community.

Patricia continued to stress the importance of acceptance when talking to PEOPLE.

“I really wanted to talk about the reality in America,” she said. “Trans women of color survive under $10,000 a year, in deep poverty — the life expectancy of a trans person is 35 years in America. That’s a young person. Why is that? Because we’re not giving people opportunities.”

“People are still making jokes, they’re still not opening up their hearts to these conversations,” she added. “Let’s just change it already. I don’t want any kids going through that. When I look at my sister’s life, I’m infuriated and heartbroken that she had to face this wall of discrimination.”

Asked what she thought her sister would say to her today, Patricia revealed that Alexis was “so protective of me.”

“She wouldn’t want me to be sad,” Patricia said. “She’d be worried about me being sad. She loved me so much and she would’ve defended me to the death. I’m really, really sad.”

Patricia Arquette
Patricia Arquette. Kevin Winter/Getty

Back in 2017, Patricia opened up to PEOPLE about Alexis’ legacy.

“Alexis was really also very powerful, and strong, and really brave, very brave,” Patricia said.

“We had a long conversation when Alexis told me that she was transgender, and I said, ‘Okay. So what do you do about Hollywood? How will you get work? People are not progressive in Hollywood and it could really negatively impact your career. Are you thinking everything through?’ ” Patricia recalled.

Despite the risks, Alexis was confident in her decision to come out. “Alexis was very brave to make that decision,” Patricia said. “She really wanted to help progress the world and move the world forward.”

Alexis Arquette - News
Steve Granitz/WireImage

Patricia’s sister Rosanna also started the Alexis Arquette Family Foundation “so that we could do good things in the world under Alexis’s name,” she told PEOPLE in May 2018. One of the Foundation’s initiatives was creating the Alexis Project with the Violence Intervention Program at the LAC+USC Medical Center to give queer young people medical and mental health services.

“We’ve gotten so many letters. I’ve had letters from people all over the world who said their first experience of a trans person was with Alexis,” Patricia said. “Alexis was incredibly creative our whole lives. She was my best friend when we grew up, so I wouldn’t change one thing about Alexis.”

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