sc0037cb2cToday would have been my little sister’s 24th birthday.

To say I miss her feels like a severe understatement. I lost a HUGE piece of myself when she passed away and even 13 years later I feel I’m still just beginning to understand how deeply defining an experience that is for me.

I think about what she would have been like at 24. Would she have gone to veterinary school? or maybe majored in English or Art? Would she have followed me to the same university? Would we have shared an apartment?

To say I feel lost without her also seems lacking somehow. I deeply treasure memories like when I first truly bonded with her – laying on the ground one morning under a little floor mobile set up, her only months old, me three and change, just looking and talking at her realizing she couldn’t talk yet but she was LOOKING back at me, and I was just curious and happily decided I liked her and it’s hard to explain, but I know I felt just possessive and protective of her from then on.

I remember being the first person to make her laugh, and even then she wouldn’t laugh for anyone else doing the same thing, but I’d do it and off she went laughing. I remember it was Christmas when she first raised her head off the floor by herself, I think I was actually opening a present when my parents saw and got excited and grabbed the camera etc. The brief annoyance I felt at the initial interruption fled when I saw why, I was so proud of her! I remember several years later after moving to Arizona and we had separate rooms that during a big lighting and thunderstorm, she woke me up by calling my name from hovering around in my doorway, I can still clearly see her scared face and demeanor in my groggy state, I remember making room in the bed and lifting the blankets and the way she ran over and climbed in with me, and how great it felt to comfort her. I remember countless little moments: her swiping a handful of icing off my birthday cake, leaving a perfect little hand print as evidence, before we’d even had a chance to bring it out and light the candles. As upset as I was, it also just made the cake look hilarious so while the rest of us ate our squares, and she had to watch (because she’d already had her desert!), my heart softened.

She was constantly wanting to be like me. Sit where I sat, wear what I wore, play with me and my friends, read what I was reading, conspiring together to watch tv when Mom thought we were old enough to stay home alone together for an hour or so while she ran errands. Perhaps I’m just viewing the past with kinder eyes now that she is gone, but I really think the proportion of enjoying playing with her far outweighed the times I just wanted her go away! I loved it when it was just the two of us, playing school, playing dress up, building forts, playing indians, dancing to Fresh Aire records (yes..RECORDS! I guess they’re called vinyl now though, sounds cooler :P), reading out loud to her, keeping her company when she was sick, playing house, playing barbies, playing legos, helping her some with her school work, doing art together, playing in the mud, playing in the water, looking out for her when we traveled.

Moving to Northern California was hard on us. 10/11 and 13/14 are hard enough ages to navigate together without a major move, a new school, and having to start sharing a room together and even a bed for awhile again. Squabbles over petty things became much more frequent, but we were still close when we were at our best. I remember there was this one book series I was reading, Redwall, that I would re-tell the stories to her as we fell asleep each night. I started listening to the radio and she’d always ask if she could turn it up when “Story of a Girl” by 3 Doors Down came on. I wonder if I would have ended up with an always available concert companion had she lived!

I didn’t know about all the teasing she was enduring from her classmates, I remember being amazing at the stories that came to light in the aftermath of her death. I remember being ashamed of myself, feeling like I’d failed at being her sister, to not notice what had been going on, and that maybe if I’d interacted more with her at school, somehow it would have made a difference. She was the one to always call out to me if we happened to pass during the elementary and high school lunch change over, I’d never ignore her, but I wasn’t exactly warm either. I don’t clearly remember any instance of waiting around to get picked up after school together either, I can’t imagine we never did, but I do think I was just distant if we did. I honestly wonder if anyone would have been able to tell if we were related just by our interactions alone. I really really really regret that there are precious few pictures of just the two of us from the later of her life. I can think of just one, perhaps two after moving to CA. My parents took time to meet with her class and I think there may have been a counselor and I remember wondering why I wasn’t involved too. I did attend the school dedication of a bench and tree in her honor, we did some activity with balloon’s and letting them go, but I remember feeling just really out of place the whole time.

I wish I had been able to ask for some time alone with her when we were given time at the hospital. Those hours from when I overheard my dad call out to my mom to call 911 to collapsing on the floor of living room early the next morning were the longest, hardest hours of my life. I swear it felt like my heart was frozen and didn’t beat once through the whole ordeal. I remember my mom suggesting we pray before the ambulance got there and thinking to myself – what do you think I’ve been doing this WHOLE time?! Looking for even the tiniest thing I could do that would be of help, feeling so useless in the meantime, telling myself it would be like the time she’d had her first seizure, we’d go the ER and she’d be awake and fine, complaining about the IVs.

I had no clue how to take care of myself at the time. I subconsciously put everyone else’s needs above my own. My parents were wrecked, devastated, and it scared me to see. I let my mom hug me when she needed to, I can remember only once running to her arms because I wanted them when tears overwhelmed me, but I quickly became self-conscious and stopped because it felt like all the eyes of our family in the room were on me and I was afraid I looked like an attention seeking spectacle. I felt largely forgotten, left-out, and invisible, yet most attempts to really connect or talk about how I was doing and feeling, most expressions of sympathy directed at me felt uncomfortable and somehow illicit. The second time I cried was just for a few moments on my father’s shoulder at the viewing, then I thought of the line of people behind us, waiting their turn, and I quickly stopped myself and left. I wanted to both move on as quickly as possible and stop time. I was so numb, so repressing my grief because it felt detracting. I felt horrible for being glad to get a room to myself again, like what kind of person finds good things about their sibling dying?

I’ve always preferred to visit her grave alone. When I moved home after college, I actually went there quite a bit and never told anyone. I always felt like Solomon knew exactly how I felt when he said in Ecclesiastes: It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart. (7:2) I’d always wondered if my parents would ever be able to move away from the town where my sister is buried, and I think it’s only been since moving to MN that I have actually thought to ask myself the same question. I believe that there will be times in my life when I will travel back there just to visit her grave. It may sound morbid, but with living far away, now I like to visit different cemeteries and find a good bench to pass some contemplative time on.

I now recognize there is still more closure to be found for myself. Losing my only sister, having no other living siblings, that’s something that I didn’t choose for myself. It’s a facet of my identity that I have to fit in somewhere, a significant, defining part of my life story imposed upon me, but thankfully I DO have the final say on how I deal with it.

If you made it through reading all that, thank you. I’m learning the importance of just sharing my deeper heart and thoughts without calculations and expectations. I miss my sister so much. I greatly feel the loss of our bond, of the way she looked up to me, followed my example. I think that without her, I’ve seriously had trouble knowing just who I was living my life for after all.  I had a lot of pride and satisfaction in being a good big sister, the awareness that she was always watching me, the responsibility I felt towards her. I feel SEEN by her, I knew without a shadow of a doubt I mattered to her. I think in the last 13 years I’ve only traversed the tip of the iceburg of facing how the loss of her affected me.

Just today it’s occurred to me that I’ve never done my own research into the psychology behind losing a sibling, how the factors of age and it being my only sibling would have made it unique. I’ve read a few things on grief in general, from books my parents had around the past two years, and even in my counseling since that time, I’ve generally avoided the topic of Mindy if I could help it. Progress of dealing with her loss has been incremental. With all the other things in my life I’ve done my own fairly large amount of reading and research on (spirituality, relationships, womanhood, to name a few), it is seriously just now occurring to me I can do the same in the area of grief and loss of a sibling. That just gets me right now, how disconnected I’ve been without realizing it. It’s like I’ve been… trying opening the lid of a plastic soda bottle that’s been shaken up just a teensy bit at a time to release the pressure and avoid having the gigantic bubbling overflow. Perhaps I’m finally ready to just open it over a sink and let it do it’s thing!

Again, if you’ve read this whole emotional dump, thank you. I think I’ve been writing this for at least a couple of hours now… pausing, thinking, (crying) re-writing here and there. I usually go back and read through and look for typos, missed words etc, but I’m really too exhausted to do that right away, so I’m posting it as is and hoping you hear my heart through all the reminiscing and rambling. I miss my sister, and I no longer feel apologetic for embracing and expressing that, and I’m deeply grateful to whoever just simply hears my sadness and gratefulness on this day.

Happy 24th Birthday, Mindy! I miss you.