There are times when I really miss my sister. She and I were close, especially after we moved out of the house. I guess we got on a lot better once we didn’t have to share the same bathroom. I try not to think about her too often. but sometimes it just creeps in my mind. She died eleven years ago this week.
My husband never got to meet the sister that I miss hugely and hold dear in my heart. That version of her disappeared long ago, before he and I were together, although I still saw glimpses of her often enough to keep my hopes up. When we were younger she was the one that all the boys used to flock to, and she could outthink just about anyone. She was smart, pretty, and had a lot to look forward to. Unfortunately, things went as they did, and she became more and more tangled up with things she shouldn’t have and couldn’t control. Things like alcohol and her diet obsession dragged her attention away from what was really important: life, love, family, and friends. Happiness. All elusive to my dear sister.
That’s not what I remember though. Nor why I miss her. She never did get to meet my younger two sons. She died right after my middle son was born, so she saw pictures, but never got to hold him (we were in Singapore, and she in Idaho). She never got to hear his crazy rambling stories about far-fetched dreams and plans that make no sense but make his brothers giggle like mad (where he got his story-telling skills, I’ll never know) or hear fall for one of his practical jokes. She never got to see how quick my eldest is at building rocket ships with his legos (perhaps he’ll be NASA’s next super star) or as he becomes a budding sports star. She never got to see my youngest flash his big dimples and be on the recipient end of his charm (I’m fairly sure he’s going to be one of our future presidents. The boy really knows how to work a room). It’s so sad that she didn’t get to know them. She’d have loved them, as they would have loved her.
I think of her when my boys do something so sweet or cute that make me want to take a mental snapshot and send the thought to her. That’s how we used to email. Just rambling quick thoughts, kind of snippets about the day. Never really long notes, but multiple thoughts throughout the day. We didn’t talk on the phone much, but mostly because I was on the other side of the globe. I see my youngest son, little tongue out with concentration, getting his pencil around on the sheet, and I think I should let her know about it. Or my middle son climbing to the tip-top of the ledge in the yard, and I want to share the image (and how well I managed to not scream so that he could enjoy the moment). Or how amazing my eldest is as he is trying so hard to be a good team player on his current chosen team.
I think of her when the boys do something awful and I need to winge about it. Like my eldest and his incessant nagging to get his first phone. I’m a tech nazi so I always say no. He knows nagging makes me dig in my heels, but in his desperation he often forgets. She would get to hear about my middle son’s inability to sleep. Ever. It makes no sense that an eleven year old can survive on such little sleep. But apparently they can (he internalizes his worries to mull over during his hours of wakefulness… much like his father). She would get to hear about the pterodactyl-like noises that my youngest can make in his rare (thankfully) moments of anger and how doggedly the boy can hold on to a grudge. He’s like a pitbull when he has an issue he wants to drag around. He will not let go, and will not get over it. Champion grudge holder.
My kids don’t know whom I am talking about when I talk about my sister. I have my older sister, whom they’ve met. Especially when they were younger, they’d be a little confused when I say no, that it isn’t her, but my other sister that I am talking about. Who, they ask. Do we know her? Why doesn’t she visit? When will we go to her house? As they get older, they understand more and more about death and loss; sadly, it is sinking in for them that it isn’t just the elderly that die. Children die. Grandmas and grandpas die. Friends. Even sisters and brothers. This is the one fact of life that will happen to everyone, unfortunately. And unlike their beloved super heroes, there is no magic elixir, or next episode/film where suddenly there is some mystical undoing of the previous death scene. Real people are not ever reborn in that manner. That would be a little creepy. So, I tell them stories so they can share my good memories; perhaps if I share them with my husband, too, he’d change his mind as well. Why do I miss her so? I mean, beyond the whole sibling-is-gone thing, which is pretty poignant. I guess when you’re born together, it is a different kind of relationship, right? A different connection than one has with another sibling. Don’t get me wrong, I love my older sister. But I know that if I were to send her rambling emails, she doesn’t have time for that. She’s a busy mom, she has so many obligations. Her world circles around family, yes, but most specifically her nuclear family. I most definitely do not wrong her for that; we all focus on our own. It is just a different connection.
Sometimes, I just think about how much I miss my sister because in so many ways we connected. She used to run, also, and I used to tease her that she ran with blinders on, focusing only on her feet. Look at that amazing flower, I’d say. Where? I didn’t see a flower. Shake my head. When we’d go to the gym, she’d tease me because I always lost count on the reps. Always. Did we do 20 or did we do 12? It would exasperate her because I’d usually then opt for the lower number and we’d end up doing more – a lot more – reps. She quickly learned to be in charge of counting. Or how we’d go hiking and my dog would inevitably poke her in the butt with a muddy nose, so she’d have to walk around with a nose print on her pants for the rest of the day. She gave me marshmallows when I was in a bad mood. She helped me paint my house, even the chimney, even though she was afraid of getting on the roof with me. She’d do it because I told her it would be okay, and we’d be fine, and I’d help her back down. Which I did, of course, but not before I teased her by taking away the ladder (sister’s right to tease, right?).
Maybe it hits us particularly hard because we generally live so far from our extended families. Sure, we typically see our relatives once or, if we’re lucky, twice a year, but … generally, the visits are few and far between. Distance doesn’t erase our want to be there, but cost is generally a consideration; we can’t be leaving our lives in Country X to endure hours upon hours of travel and jetlag and … all excuses, I know. But still, as we age, and as our families age, it is inevitable that we start to lose those we love. And rushing back at the last minute – or after – isn’t the same thing at all as being there every weekend for a card game or to help with lawn maintenance or to chat over a cup of coffee. We are only an email or skype call away but sometimes that can feel like the other end of the galaxy.
I really do miss my sister. Especially this year, since we are in a new country again, and finding my community again, and it always takes time and I’d love to tell her about that, too. Reminds me that it is ever so important to cherish those we have in our lives, to cherish our time together and to hold our families close, both proverbially and physically. Because you just don’t always get that one-more chance. And then suddenly there is no one on the other side of that rambling email. So. That's all very sad. I need to cheer up, methinks. So, to get myself out of this maudlin state of mind, I like to think, rather fancifully, that somewhere, she is with my dog whom she loved dearly (not the muddy nose poker, but the other one, whom everyone loved), playing fetch because that was something he loved dearly, too. And, even better, playing fetch on a beach because that is my favorite place to be. And that brings a smile to my face.