It has now been over two years since the day my baby sister angel gained her wings in Heaven next to my dad. It’s hard to believe that somehow, 730 days have passed without her, and the heart-wrenching pain that comes with the reminder that I still have a lifetime to go.
This time of the year also marks what would have been her 25th birthday, the most bittersweet experience of my life. I don’t remember her past couple of birthdays, one because it was just weeks after her passing, and the other because I was still recovering from trauma and settling into my new life. What I do remember is her joking about my age when I turned “a quarter-century old”, and me joking back that she’d be where I am sooner than she thinks. Sadly, that never got to happen, and my heart breaks every time I think of this or the millions of other milestones she never got the chance to experience.
One part of me, like anyone who has grieved the loss of a sibling, wants to curl into a ball and not get out of bed all day. Yet, here I am at work, knowing there is no better way to express the love I have for her as fuel for helping my patients. That is why, the other and much more prominent part of me, feels okay.
Over the course of the past two years, I have undergone immense spiritual growth and gained better understanding of my mindset, emotions and life purpose. Although this does not take the pain away, it greatly softens it and makes difficult days like today much more bearable.
To me, the reason for her passing does not matter, because I have a firm belief that we are each alive only for as long as we are meant to be. Although she is the only one who could fully understand her own experience, I did gain enough understanding of the science behind her illness that it actually makes me proud that she survived so fully, for so long.
What matters to me is the kind of person she was, the experiences and relationships she did live through and of course, the memories. The countless, never-ending, melody of memories that constantly dance around my mind, although I am aware that they will begin to increasingly become altered and then fade over time.
But I understand now that regardless of how I feel, the truth cannot change, and so it must be accepted. And in that case, I decided that today I can celebrate her life: wear her warm fleece jacket and unique paisley shawl and the animal jewelry she loved so much, send loving thoughts and prayers her way, eat her favorite foods while watching our favorite shows and reminisce on the good times of her life with my mom.
I sit here today and look at pictures of her on social media, smell the scents that take me back, taste her favorite foods, listen to songs that remind me of her and feel her presence around me as vividly as her favorite hoodie keeping me safe and warm. I grasped tightly to whatever material belongings I could to celebrate her physical presence, but in the end I know they are only objects and nothing compares to the eternal bond between two sisters.
So I spent some extra time thinking of her. I remembered how intelligent and witty she was, and such an astounding writer. She had the biggest heart, always advocating for those less fortunate and going above and beyond for those she loved. She was full of beauty and spunky personality, surrounded by a positive energy, and so loved and respected by countless.
She made so many people happy during her life but she also made many of us deeply saddened when she left. However, I am thankful she got the chance to experience the unconditional and abundant love of a mother, father, aunts, uncles, cousins, best friends, classmates, coworkers and so much more. If only it were enough.
I teared up at one of her emails where she mentioned her plans to move to Seattle after graduation and find a slow-paced online Master’s course for her social work goals. I felt anger arise at the insensitive comments of others who had no idea what she was going through. Then I laughed at her witty insertions amidst serious emails to professors. And finally, I felt some combination of it all as I came across the blog (catsforapa.blogspot.com) she made comprised of funny and cute cat pictures for me to visit anytime I feel sad. I left no emotion unturned as I felt it all- every imperfect, finite expression of my eternal love for her…and then let it pass.
She is and forever will be part of my soul, and the experience of that brings about a new depth of peace. She is part of my mind, including memories that only she and I shared, and all the future good I will do in her honor. Even when I look at myself in the mirror, or catch myself saying something I knew I would never say had I not known her, I know she is a huge part of me. She is always in my heart and if it ever gets to be just too much to take, I find comfort in knowing I am close enough to go visit her memorial site next to my father.
On days like today, I have to remind myself,
Grief is only love with no place to go.
I have overwhelming love for her and so today, I am grateful to be able to express that love, both through remembering her and through connecting with my patients at work and loving my family and friends just a little harder. Sweet Anita can never fully be gone because she’s a part of me, and that impacts everyone I impact with love…so I thank God that I have lived 730 beautiful days of life with a sweet guardian angel looking over me from Heaven.
WHEN I’M GONE
“When I am gone, release me. Let me go. I have so many things to see and do. You mustn’t tie yourself to me with tears. Be happy; we had so many years.
I gave you my love and you can only guess how much you gave to me in happiness. I thank you for the love you each have shown, but now it’s time I traveled alone.
So grieve a while for me, if grieve you must. Then let your grief be comforted by trust. It’s only for a while that we must part. So bless those memories in your heart.
I won’t be far away, for life goes on. So if you need me, call and I will come. Though you can’t see or touch me, I’ll be near with all my love around you soft and clear.
And then, when you must come this way alone, I’ll greet you with a smile and “Welcome You Home.”
-Mowlana Jalaludin Rumi