19 Years

“That was the thing. You never got used to it, the idea of someone being gone. Just when you think it’s reconciled, accepted, someone points it out to you, and it just hits you all over again, that shocking.” ~ Sarah Dessen, The Truth About Forever

Last week marked the nineteenth year since my sister died. She’s been gone almost as long as she was alive. I am sure there are some people who wonder if I still miss my sister, or if I still grieve for her. Admittedly, I no longer think of her every single day like I used to do for the first five years after she died, but I still miss her. Of course I still miss her. Birthdays and holidays are difficult. Whenever things are bad, I miss her.  Whenever things are really good, I miss her. When there is something funny to share, I miss her.  When I am depressed, I miss her. When I see something that she would have liked or even hated, I miss her. Whenever I hear certain songs from the 90s, I miss her. Whenever I think of my childhood, I miss her. So, yes, I still miss her. I do not miss her in the every day kind of way, but I miss her in the important kind of way – in the way that you feel empty in parts of yourself, like missing a limb or an eye, and you can still go on with your life, but you are forever changed.

Chocolate Ice Cream

“…stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot oftener, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more and cry less. Life must be lived as we go along.”  ~ Robert J. Hastings, Tinyburg Tales

A day or so before my sister passed away, the doctor told her she did not have much time left, probably a day at most.

“Did you hear what I said, Alanna?  the doctor asked.

“Yes,” she answered.

“And what do you think about that?”

“I think I’d like some chocolate ice cream.”

“Alanna, did you hear what I said a minute ago?”

“Yes.  What is it that you want me to say?  It seems that I should be having that chocolate ice cream NOW!”

Me and my sister | circa 1999

33

“Lost love is still love. It takes a different form, that’s all. You can’t see their smile or bring them food or tousle their hair or move them around a dance floor. But when those senses weaken, another heightens. Memory. Memory becomes your partner. You nurture it. You hold it. You dance with it.”

“Did you ever wonder? Why people gather when others die? Why people feel they should? It is because the human spirit knows, deep down, that all lives intersect. That death doesn’t just take someone, it misses someone else, and in the small distance between being taken and being missed, lives are changed.” ~ The Five People You Meet in Heaven

My sister would have been 33 this past Sunday.

Although it has been over ten years since she passed away, I still miss her so much. Her presence is always missed during the holidays, but it is in the everyday moments and occurrences when I find that I miss her the most.

I miss her sweet smile and her contagious laughter. I miss the animated way she would tell us about her day. I miss those early mornings when she would sneak into my room and crawl into bed next to me after a night of sneaking out and she would tell me about her adventures. I miss how she was the worst at making cookies, but how she would try anyway. I miss how she would laugh at how bad her cookies were. I miss how she and I would just break out into a dance in our bedroom whenever we both heard a song that we liked. I miss how she and I would go out to 7-11 in the middle of the night just to get a cup of hot chocolate and a pack of gum and a magazine.

I miss so many things about her. I hate that she was supposed to have become 33 this past Sunday, but that she died when she was 22. I hate that she never had the chance to get married or have a child. I hate that she wanted so badly to live, but that she did not. I hate that she is not around to live the life that she wanted. I hate that she never got the chance.

Happy Birthday, Alanna. I hope you got a big, fancy cake and lots of presents up there in Heaven, and that whatever wish you have came true.

Unwanted Admission

I was angry for a long time. Years, possibly. I knew she had stolen my Immaculate Collection cd. I mean, I saw it in her box of cds. When I confronted her about it, she denied ever taking it.

“I bought it. That’s not yours,”
she said.

“I don’t understand,” I countered. Last week you didn’t have the cd, and now you do, and mine is missing all of a sudden? I know that’s mine.”

“It’s not yours.”


(source: Google images)

That was that. She had a tone of finality in her voice. I didn’t have the energy to argue with her anymore. It was just a stupid cd. But damn, it was my favorite cd. I seethed about it for a long time but never bothered to confront her about it again.

Years later, she got very sick. Cancer. She fought hard for her life. I didn’t think she would ever succumb to it. When a priest came to give her Last Rites, she was defiant and refused to take it.

A day before she died, I was at the hospital. From out of nowhere, she turned to me and said, “I want you to know – your Immaculate Collection cd – I did take it from you. I’m sorry. I loved that cd and wanted it for myself. I’m sorry I lied to you, but I did take it. It’s in my room. You can take it back from me.”

I felt my heart breaking inside. Ripping into little shreds.

I was angry, not because she did in fact steal my cd, but because she decided to finally come clean about it. I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want a deathbed confession. I wanted her to keep lying and deny that she had stolen my precious cd. I remembered some saying about people making peace with themselves and with those they have wronged right before they died.

I could feel her slipping. I felt the fight coming out of her. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

I refused to accept her confession. “No, I don’t want to take it. That one is yours. You have to get better so you can buy me my own cd.”

“The cd is in the closet. Inside the box with all of my other cds. You can have your cd back.”

She died the next night.

Later, when we were going through her things, I came across the cd. I didn’t take it back. I left it in the box along with her other belongings.

For a long time I believed that she would still be alive if she never made peace with me.

I wish that I told her that I would have let her steal anything of mine if only she would never leave my life.

“Why, I did not know we had quarreled.” ~ Henry David Thoreau, when asked by his aunt if he had made his peace with God

Alway Get Back Up

There’s a song on my iPod workout playlist that always inspires me to keep on exercising even when I’ve already convinced myself that I don’t have what it takes to keep on going. It’s my fight song, so to speak, and it also holds a special meaning for me.
When my sister was diagnosed with cancer, she did everything she could to fight it. In addition to her regular “Western” doctors and oncologists, she also saw numerous herbalists and special healers. If she heard about it, read about it, or even just thought about it, she went out and she tried it. When her doctors all told her that she had only a few months left to live, she set out to prove them wrong.
This song was very popular during the months before she died. She would listen to it over and over, and she would laugh about how cool the song was even though it was about drunken people getting back up to keep on drinking.
But the song also brought out a serious side of her, and she would sing along and pump her fists in the air with passion. Once, after we had listened to the song together, she told me that she would never let the cancer get to her and that even though it may knock her down, she would always get back up and keep on fighting.
During her last days before she died, she would slip in and out of a morphine-induced coma. At one point, we had called the priest to her hospital bedside to give her Last Rites. While the priest was administering her Last Rites, she jarred herself from her semi-unconscious state, and she interrupted him. She said that she didn’t want her Last Rites as she wasn’t yet ready to die. The priest had told her that he wanted to prepare her for her meeting with God, but she, two breaths away from death, defiantly answered that he didn’t know exactly when she was going to die, and that for all anyone knew, she could live another forty or fifty years.
After ten months of intensive chemotherapy and multiple and painful hospital stays, her body finally succumbed to cancer on March 31, 2000.
In the end, she had stayed true to her word. She never gave up believing in life, and even as her body gave in to the cancer, her mind, her spirit, and her will to live remained intact to the very end.
This song is a reminder to me of her fighting spirit and of how no matter how many times you get knocked down, you can always, always get back up.
I miss you, Alanna.

Acceptance

It has been quite some time since I’ve written about my sister. I think of her everyday though, and during the most unexpected moments. Her anniversary is coming soon, and I have been missing her more than usual. On the 31st, it will have been eight years. Eight years. I cannot even believe that I have survived for this long without her. When she first died, the pain of losing her was so intense. There were moments of grief so unbearable, I was convinced that one could die from missing someone so much. I had gone through all the emotional stages of grief: sadness, anger, realization, and finally, acceptance.

But even acceptance cannot heal the hurt in my heart and the longing that I feel for her. I look at my daughter, and at times I can see glimpses of my sister’s face in her, or I see movements and mannerisms that remind me of my sister. It is in these moments that I miss my sister the most. But I also miss her when I’m reading a book or watching a movie that I know she would have liked. I miss her when I’m riding the subway and some weirdo takes a seat next to me. If she were still here, we could have laughed about it. But she’s not, and acceptance has stopped me from cursing God about why He took her instead of me.

It’s been a long road to get to where I am now in my acceptance of her no longer being here. I no longer cry for her everyday or sit in a room catatonic with grief. But the pain is still there, dull, but ever-present. It is that same pain that reminds me, however, that she still lives, comfortably nestled in my heart.