This Is What Happens When Your Sister Dies
This is what happens when your sister dies. You wake up one morning to a lot of texts from your younger sister asking you to call her and you assume it is just to talk about your week or gossip about something. Your husband takes the kids out for pancakes and you have editing to do and coffee to drink so you start your day and wait for a normal time to return the call because you have no idea your older sister had died and your younger sister has been up all night trying to reach you. You never sleep with your cell phone on weekends, and for some reason your husband didn’t either, which never happens. It’s Saturday and your house is quiet and empty and your oldest kid spent the night at a friend’s house and you get a few hours alone, a cat sleeping next to you and the coffee strong and hot.
You call your sister back and she tells you and of course you don’t believe her. You realize how loud you are crying and that nothing makes sense and she tells you that your husband is on the way home and that you need to come there but you still can’t believe what she told you and you try and make sense of it through a voice full of snot and tears and you talk to your mother. She no longer sounds like your mother but some weak far-away keening ghost and you are not even sure what language she is speaking so you tell her you love her and you will be there soon.
You vomit and your husband comes home and he finds you standing in the kitchen with the floor littered in Kleenex. You tell your kids and they don’t understand it either and you pack half-damp clothes into suitcases and your older son comes home and you tell him and he speaks the same ghost language as his grandmother. Your husband takes the dog to the boarding place and you find some expired Xanax in a drawer from some flight you took a few years ago and you gobble those like Halloween candy and you drive and drive and drive to go home. You pull your shit together as best as you can because you don’t want to freak the kids out and you remind yourself they are looking to you.
You’ve had people close to you die before. Your father, your grandmother, your uncle. These deaths were expected, either due to to the cruelty of age or cancer, and you prepare as much as you can for death, the inevitable reality of someone you care for no longer existing. It’s hard, and you know it happens daily, people lose loved ones every moment, car crashes, suicides, illnesses, homicides, accidents. Death isn’t special, or rare. It happens to all of us and it can happen at any moment and it happened to my sister. My sister, who was just 47, who had health problems but nothing super alarming and nothing that predicted she would leave a family who loved her very much, a son who has yet to have his own children and a daughter who hasn’t even finished middle school. My sister, who at times in her life hated me and who I annoyed greatly, who called me a bitch and hung up the phone and complained about me to our mother and who taught me how to use a curling iron and held all my babies after they were born and who had a lifetime of weddings and births to attend and holidays and graduations and she always made the relish tray at Thanksgiving.
When your sister dies you try to make arrangements and view her body which now looks nothing like her and you leave a lipstick smear on her forehead by accident but are afraid to wipe it off and you can’t help your mother who is now suddenly a million years older than 70. You feel the worst you could ever possibly feel because you shouldn’t have fought so much, you shouldn’t have been so stubborn, you should have called more often and visited more often and you do that thing where people say they would give anything to have just another few minutes.
You drink too much with your family and stay up late telling stories and you have to return home because your kids have school and you have a job and you leave more arrangements to be made and your mother who is now a million-and-70-years-old and your younger sister who still has shaking hands. You wonder if it’s possible to take your nephew and his wife and your family and all just hide in a room and never leave.
You get a lot of messages from people who say things like “I know how you feel ” and “You have so much to be thankful for!” and “She is in a better place now!” and you bite your tongue and want to say a better place is with her daughter, getting her ready for school and packing her lunch and taking her dog for a walk because she was just 47 and that is far too young to die.
When your sister dies you google things like is it normal to cry in the shower after the death of a sibling and how long does it take to feel okay after someone you love dies and you have this terror when someone doesn’t answer the phone right away or your husband is late coming home from work.
Things no longer make sense. You refuse to let your kids do anything but go to school because you are afraid of them leaving the house. You can no longer write, and you burn eggs, and you leave laundry to mildew in the washing machine. You consider making an appointment to talk to someone but you want to give it another week. You snap at your husband for no reason and sit on the sofa with the dog a lot. You feel guilty and sad and lonely and stupid and all you want to do is talk to your sister. You see your grief because it is now tangible and lives in the corner of rooms, this giant hulking mass of pulpy blood, and it is heavy and whispers you should have done more.
Someone tells you it will take time.