Next weekend, our families are traveling from Illinois, Colorado, Ohio and New Jersey to help celebrate Sarah’s graduation. We’re excited to see every member of the family, from the young cousins Neal, Ben and Jason to aunts and uncles and grandparents from both sides.
Me? I’m especially looking forward to spending a few days with my sister Kathy. We rarely get such times.
Every few years, we drive or fly back and forth between Ohio and Massachusetts, grab a few days together, surrounded by spouses and children. We’re rarely alone.
And yet I’d argue, is there any bond that’s like those between siblings? We can pick up the phone every day, or months apart, and connect as if no time or distance separated us.
I am almost giddy with the anticipation of family in town. Of time with my sister.
But just as I was about to express that delight out loud, over dinner with Sarah and Chris? It hit me, as it does from time to time … as it will until the end of our days … Sarah doesn’t have the same relationship anymore. It’s been subtracted from her life. She doesn’t have a sister.
As an adult, Sarah won’t ever have a grownup sister to call on the phone, to chat with casually, or to talk about her own childrens’ potty training and commencement, to discuss intricate family matters and controversial national politics, to explore the realities of marriage and parenting and working-mom careers and all those issues.
Sarah’s sister Jessie may have moved to the next stage in her spiritual journey, but $%@&** that. Sometimes it’s not enough. Sometimes it’s just not comforting or sufficient, to believe she’s elsewhere, but connected to us.
We live here on this earthly plane. With everyday interests like the best recipe for chocolate cake or where to apply for the best college loans.
Sarah lives here. Her future is right here, right now, on this mortal plane.
Sarah doesn’t have a living sister to call about any imaginable daily realities. She is isolated in that way … and yes, many single children grow up lacking the same resources, but she once had a sister. She had an identity as a sibling. A belief in a family that would grow up and grow old together.
And that expectation is gone. Changed. Removed.
I talked to my own sister Kathy for 45 minutes today. Some of it was about the realities of Sarah’s graduation. Talking about the speeches at the ceremony, her scholarship, the dessert we ordered as a celebration … and some of it was just catching-up gossip about everyone in our families.
I could pick up the phone and connect to my sibling. For three-quarters of an hour, there was no one else who could listen or understand the way my sister Kathy did.
Sarah can’t call Jessie. Or text or email her.
$%^&#%^$. Sometimes it’s just not okay.
When I talk to my sister, and know my own daughter Sarah cannot grow up to call her little sister? When I hesitate in the company of Sarah and Chris, to recall and share my conversation with Kathy, because it immediately reflects what is absent from Sarah’s life?
Just #$%#$@. Sometimes there’s nothing like a good, polite stand-in for a swear. A rude curse word.
Jessie’s absence deserves a few swears. And Sarah’s loss deserves them, too.
Meanwhile, I’m reminded, humbled even, as I remember not to take such relationships for granted. I realize that not all sibling relationships are wholesome or healthy or stable. I know that families are complex in their connections and communications.
But when you don’t have the choice any more? When your chance to reach out, to make contact, to explore your relationship … when that opportunity is gone forever? It makes all the subtleties, all the shades of grey, disappear.
I’m glad I called my sister. I wish we didn’t live hundreds of miles apart, but our sporadic visits and phone calls will have to be enough.
Which they are. Because I bask in the luxury of knowing my siblings are part of my life. For now, there’s no reason to believe anything will change.
Yet I also know, all too well, that life changes. Sometimes suddenly. Sometimes gradually. It always changes, and what we have taken for granted will slip away, or transform.
Until then, I’m grateful. And when I get the chance, I’ll slip into the comfort of a phone conversation with my sister like it’s a fuzzy bathrobe and fleece slippers. Cozy. Healing. Familiar. Beloved.