I am thinking about my sister today.
This February, three days before her eldest son’s birthday, it’ll mark three years that my sister’s and my relationship transformed fundamentally. Estrangement: not of my choosing, but neither could I prevent or remedy it; as such things likely are, the causes are both logical and utterly incomprehensible, though whatever they are, they are now and may always remain opaque to me. I’ve only been able to make sense of them from a novelistic standpoint; the indirect, unlikely path the heart picks through grief–and evidently they continue to be of value and help support her now (or at least so I hope; otherwise, what a tragic waste, a pointless denouement to a far bigger tragedy).
‘Til now, though writing is a deeply therapeutic map-making enterprise, I’ve not written about it here, out of a vain hope to keep a door open, a light on. But “not ever,” I’m starting to consider, is longer than a few years. I will leave the door open and the light on, but it’s time I got up and went about the business of being and healing myself.
All I can have gleaned from our trip to the dark side of the moon, I’ve gleaned long ago: hearts can break and come back together in brand new shapes; ancient relationships can be knocked out of orbit, for good, and for reasons beyond one’s ken. The unpredictable aftermath of pain this big can be so challenging that it causes key eyewitnesses to freeze and go mute, or perhaps find their distance vision distorted by the heat waves emanating from the pavement. Side by side with these observations: not a week has gone by, since late March 2005 when my nephew died, that I haven’t at some point stopped short and caught my breath at just the glimpse of what losing one of my children would feel like.
(Anything can trigger it: the sight of my son or daughter asleep in bed; my daughter’s elongating body, slowly becoming closer and closer to the size his was during the nine months he was dying; the feel of my children’s sleep-heavy bodies when I lift them from the couch at the end of the night, or from the car at the end of a long car trip, so like the body memory I have of carrying him in my arms; a look I give my children that reminds me of looks I saw my sister give him; the sight of a parent standing in the window of the fifth floor cancer ward at Children’s Hospital, a building I pass every time I get on the freeway heading south.)
And the thought that always follows is: anything, for the rest of her life, is okay, if it helps her get through the rest of her life with a hole that size in the center of her heart.
Would the lifelong, hairline cracks in our relationship have remained only hairline, were it not for the gale force of this sorrow and loss? I’ll never know. What I do know is that I continue to wish her godspeed on her life journey, whatever sort of healing it takes her to. And that my best birthday gift to us both, now and every year, is forgiveness.