My sister died 18 years ago tomorrow. And i still vividly remember when it was 18 hours ago, 18 days. And the thing of it is, that very specific mindset feels as relevant now as it did then.
I had dreams those first few days, dreams where i swore she was talking to me, and maybe she was, who would even know, I’m not a ghost expert, but the dreams felt different, hit different as the kids say. They were so real. And Julie told me in those dreams that she could only come see me for a week. A week is all she had. And I’m not sure if I’ve dreamt about her since, so maybe there’s truth in there, I don’t know. I remember the day she died, the day i found out, the day we all found out, it was a Sunday. I had considered calling her the night before but I didn’t because my husband, fiance at the time, and I were watching a movie and my phone was plugged in all the way across the room. And i was still a little mad at her for reasons that no longer matter. She died on a Sunday and there was an awards show on and I watched it but I don’t remember anything about it. I just kept thinking that it wouldn’t be true if we didn’t pass the 24 hour mark. And then the next day happened so the goal line changed. 48 hours. If she could just wake up before 48 hours passed. And then 48 hours passed. And then a week. And then I convinced myself she was in the witness protection program and she would knock on my door one day with a different name and a wink. She hasn’t shown up.
18 years. That’s an entire adult. One of us could’ve birthed a child that day and they would be an official adult tomorrow, able to vote and everything.
And I’m hesitant to write about it, to post about it in any capacity because i feel responsible for the mourning process of a whole bunch of different people which is ridiculous, but that always felt like my job.
I spoke to her for a long time after. I mentally introduced her to all my coworkers, i laughed at inside jokes with her at the grocery store. When it felt like everyone around me was falling apart except for me, i rolled my eyes with her, begged her to hear me. Probably because I was falling apart, but all the positions for the role had filled up quickly. So I assumed my usual role and consoled and listened and pretended it didn’t affect me and I wanted so badly for everyone around me to treat me the same. No pity, no sorrow. If I could go back, I wouldn’t have told anyone about it. Because now it’s a “thing”. It’s my life altering, Wikipedia bullet point. People will ask “do you have any brothers or sisters?” And I do. I have a wonderful brother who I love dearly, and if I stop there, I deny the existence of her. If I mention that I HAD a sister, then I feel guilty for making someone feel bad for asking a simple question. So sometimes I say I have a brother and a sister and leave it there but then you have to pray the questions move on so I don’t have to perform the awkward, past tense dance. A lot of times I’ll throw my sisters-in-law in there to muddy the waters.
People don’t really talk about the loss of siblings, except us siblings that have lost and feel like we have to whisper our pledges to each other in cathedral basements in robes and masks like we’re in a secret society.
Which feels unfair to even bring up. I’m a parent. I would burn the city to the ground if I lost one of children. And I am so lucky to still have both of my parents, happy and healthy and alive and I’m not ready to even consider losing either of them. My nephew isn’t as lucky. So it feels selfish to demand time to grieve, recognition to grieve as a sibling, even though I have a deeper connection to my inner self with my sibling and my relationship with how i developed as a person than i do with either of my parents or my children. But like, that’s still a me issue that I do not want sympathy for. It’s been 18 years. A whole adult.
And I realize writing this is in itself begging for attention, “look at my tears!” she cried on social media. I guess I write it, not for me, but for others, a bat signal to those lost siblings, to anyone reading this far, for myself to publicly grieve like I’m looking for likes (I’m not and i know I’ll regret this tomorrow). But mostly, anyone reading this, please make those phone calls that you assume you can just make tomorrow. Please reach out to me if you need to grieve in secret (bring your robes, I’ll teach you the handshake) but the absolute most important message of this entire self-indulgent rambling, change the batteries in your fire alarms right now.
TLDR: change the batteries in your fire alarms right now.