A few years ago, my sister passed away. I don’t talk about her a lot nowadays. Some of my friends probably don’t even know I have a sister.
When you’re getting to know a new friend or co-worker, and they ask: “Do you have any sisters or brothers?” I’m never quite sure how to answer. If I tell the truth right off the bat, that’s a surefire way to stop a conversation in its tracks. But how can I answer “no” to that question?
Here’s what surprises most people about me and my sister: She was 13 years older than me.
Due to a freak ice storm in Dallas on the day my mom went into labor with me, the ambulance couldn’t get to my house in time. So my 13-year-old sister was on the phone with paramedics, helping to deliver a baby.
How she did that and then went on to have five kids of her own, I’ll never understand.
What Grief Does
The grieving process is a funny beast.
After you lose someone and you get past the initial shock, you start remembering things about them.
Little things, big things. Happy, sad. Funny, embarrassing. Regrets.
I remember how my sister always got me two birthday cards every year. One sweet and heartfelt, the other funny and silly.
I remember her laugh.
I remember that time when she tickled me so much I threw up. I’d just polished off half a package of Oreos. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
Where the Memories Go
You collect these memories, like pretty little marbles. You put them, one by one, in a sturdy wooden box.
Some have breathtaking swirls of colors that don’t seem real. Some of them kind of make you want to look away. But as you collect them, they’re all so pretty together.
Then one day, after a few months or maybe a year or maybe more, you decide you’re ready to put that box in a safe place.
You get the stepstool from the garage and set it up in front of your closet. You clutch the box to your chest and climb.
And when you get to the top, you just stand there. Because actually, maybe you’re not ready after all.
You hold that box for a little while longer—and in your arms, all those marbles are just so HEAVY.
So you take a deep breath and push the box up on the highest shelf, climb back down, and shut the door.
Every time you pass the closet, you think of that box.
You try not to think of it, but you do. Every time.
Except one day, somehow, you don’t.
Of course, when you think of it the next day, you feel guilty for the previous day.
But after a while, the unthinkable finally happens. You forget the box is there.
What You Don’t Realize
There are these tiny little earthquakes, every now and then. Too small for you to notice.
Each one loosens that box from its spot. Inches it forward.
Until one day, you’re picking out what to wear to work, and that box comes crashing down around you.
There are marbles EVERYWHERE.
And the sunlight catches them, and they’re gorgeous, and it all comes rushing back, and it’s too much.
But you can’t just run away. You have to force yourself to clean up the mess.
Pick up each marble. Look at it. Remember.
And put it back in the box.
This week, my box came crashing down.
A Letter to My Sister
Yesterday was nothing special, except you were on my mind all day.
When Bailey woke up from her afternoon nap, she opened her eyes and wailed.
“Bailey!” I said, desperate to head off a meltdown. “Wanna go pick up Abby?”
She closed her mouth and nodded, over and over.
The real miracle was she consented to be in her car seat on a 100-degree day and didn’t squawk once the entire drive to first grade pickup.
This, I’m learning, is the power of sisters.
You were so much older than me. I was five when you moved out. So I don’t remember: Did we have that bond, once upon a time?
When we got home from picking up Abby, she wanted to read a book. She grabbed one off the bookshelf and settled onto the couch.
Bailey pointed to the couch—she wanted up there too.
Typically, books are too much temptation for 15-month-old Bailey. She eats them, she bends them, she tears them. She just can’t help herself.
But yesterday afternoon, she cuddled up next to her big sister and didn’t move an inch while Abby read to her.
This kid NEVER sits still.
She is absolutely in awe of her sister.
I watched them on the couch together, and my throat felt tight. Did you read to me like that? I wish I could remember.
You weren’t here to see me become a mother. Go through divorce. Lose my way.
And you weren’t here to see me find it again.
But I wasn’t there for you either. When it mattered most.
Last night, the girls were playing in the bath. Just this week, we started letting them take baths together even though Bailey is probably still a little too crazy to be trusted without an adult.
Abby stood up with a plastic tugboat in hand, swooping it through the air like an airplane.
She didn’t realize Bailey had stood up too.
The boat smacked Bailey right in the head.
She didn’t even cry, but Abby was devastated. Her body crumpled down into the water, her forehead on the inside edge of the tub to hide her face.
“Abby, it’s okay,” I said. “She’s fine.”
“Abby, look at me.”
“I don’t want to.”
Bailey stood up and walked through the water to where Abby was. She sat back down behind Abby and leaned forward, wrapping her arms around Abby’s back. Rested her head on Abby.
Bailey understands, already, what you do when your sister is in pain.
I am sorry. And I know that’s not enough. Never will be.
But I hope, wherever you are, you can forgive me.
And I hope you can see these girls, these sisters. They make me think of you, every day.
I wish I could go back in time and do all the sisterly things I never did with you. So I made myself a promise. I will honor you by doing everything in my power to nurture this beautiful, sometimes volatile sister magic between these girls.
Your sister, forever and always
Before you go, get my FREE cheat sheet: 75 Positive Phrases Every Child Needs to Hear
If this resonated with you, you’ll probably like this, too: 18 Things All Sisters Should Do Together Before They Turn 18.
Please share your own story, if you feel comfortable.
Social media photo by R. Nial Bradshaw.