I got the call, the call no one ever wants to get, telling me my older sister was on life support and things were bad. I jumped on a plane, I did, and came home as fast as I could to be with her and to tell her all the things I held inside, the things I dared not share with her for years for fear of being the target - yet again - of her bitterness and rage. But there they were, these feelings, so wanting to be shared with the one person whom I'd always hoped I could safely sit beside again and share tea and favorite sandwiches and reminisce about our happy times together by the sea and at our father's house and all the places in between.
I took that red eye flight back so angry no one had told me sooner she'd been so sick in the hospital or even had a kidney transplant two months prior and angry at her for being too stubborn to let me know herself. She lay dying in that hospital at all of 57 and her baby sister wasn't there beside her holding her hand. Our tears were cried separately.
My sister died before I even landed. Before she could her me say I love you one last time, before she could know I'd come home for her and only her. Too many years estranged and hurting and the one thing we both wanted more than anything else was to feel the love we'd once shared and to have the sister back we'd once known. I know this because I've been told this and read it in a poem she'd written about me. I know this because I've felt this myself for so many years now.
My sister died from a heart attack at 2:00 AM while I was in the air contemplating sleep. I made them take me to the morgue so I could see her and tell her that I was here dammit, I was here. I came home for you, I said. Her eyes were still partly open and I swear she could see me. I saw my sister in a body bag. It doesn't get any more real than that. She looked beautiful, her face long and soft. I saw my sister, really saw my sister, for the first time in many years. I cut a lock of her hair, just as I'd done when I was 16 and my mother died and again at 38 when I lost my father. Small things.
My sister died and left nothing in place as just like my mother many years before her, she wasn't ready. So I came home to bury my sister and deal with all she left behind. Cats have been placed and wakes held, clothing has been donated and time has been spent with her friends hearing that they, too, knew of the difficulties in loving such a woman and yet more joyful and often painfully funny stories have been shared than not. No need to live in the dark spaces when there are too many bright spaces waiting to be filled.
I feel sad in ways no one can truly understand because there's no way to explain what it feels like to live in my skin. Grief is such a personal journey. My sister and I read the same books, liked the same music and ate the same favorite things. I went to a sandwich shop to get a steak and cheese sub, my favorite, the other day and just last night found a receipt in her wallet for the same place just days before she went into the hospital. She'd ordered the very same thing. It's unfair, I tell you. But it's life, too. And so I live here in a state of befuddlement and rawness waiting to feel a little less exposed to the world and am grateful every time someone just says hello.
I'm alive. And right now, that's enough. I am still alive.
Rest in peace, Carolyn. I know you always longed to be with our mother again and I find peace in knowing you are back in her arms free from pain and angst.
You were loved.