I couldn’t let this week go by without acknowledging the fact that it’s now been a full year since my older sister, Jen, passed away. I expected to be a blubbering mess as the date approached but find that I’m doing okay. I dream about her most nights and think about her every day, but I’m moving forward – comforted by the belief that her spirit is off being busy somewhere.
She’s likely laughing with our grandparents, playing catch with our beloved family canines, and soaking in knowledge. I trust that Jen’s journey didn’t end with her death – it only curved. She’s alive in spirit – and she’s probably the reason I’ve found so many pennies in my path lately. She did love Lincoln!
I think about all the what-ifs (I know reason says I shouldn’t, but I do) and all the hopes I had for her. I can’t go back, but I can reflect and move forward. My sister was a fierce, independent soul – championing environmental causes and women’s rights. We would frequently have in-depth discussions (aka disagreements) in the oddest of locations but I knew she challenged me because she cared. I have many regrets of words I never said. Did she know I loved her even if I didn’t say so every time I saw her? Did I ever tell her I was proud of her or admired her?
And here come the tears…I can’t live my life for HER – only for me – but I will absorb the memories and carry her with me as I continue on my life’s journey. She is in my heart and my soul (and sometimes she’s annoyingly in my mind) now and always.
I wrote the following piece and shared it during and Open Mic session at the 2017 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference this past week. I share it with you in honor of my sister and how our differences bound us together.
I almost didn’t register this year. Not out of a lack of interest or displeasure with the conference. Last year was my third time attending and I relished every moment. I networked, made new friends, and received a plethora of information about my craft. I went home inspired and ready to move forward. Then, two days later I discovered my older sister in her apartment, gravely ill. She passed away three days after the 2016 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference and my world changed in ways I hadn’t expected or anticipated.
My sister was the eldest of four girls – all of whom differed in personality. We had our disagreements as siblings do but we were protective of one another. I remember Jen telling me during my last visit to her college apartment (seniors in high school and college respectively) that if I ever dated a man who hurt me, he’d have to answer to my sisters.
Jen loved us but wasn’t the lovey-dovey type, that was me. Jen made her opinion known, whether you asked for it or agreed with it. She was fiercely independent and determined to live on her terms. I shall never forget her final hours, seeing her struggling for breath and wailing for relief.
I looked up to my big sister. I watched Family Ties and Star Trek: The Next Generation because Jen did. My love for Les Mis started because Jen listened to it. Most of my feminist views formed as a result of our intense conversations. She was an important influence on me and that didn’t cease I death.
It took some time and counseling to see myself as separate from her – to understand that it wasn’t up to me to save her. She made her decisions, just as I make mine. I’ve chosen to celebrate my life and embrace all that defines me. I am the nurturer, the dreamer, the romantic, and the idealist. And I believe that Jen loved me as I am.