Tomorrow is my sister Kelly’s birthday. July 30. She would have been 26. It almost feels like writing “she would have been 910!” It’s an obscenely large number somehow, for someone who will always be 8 years old.
She had the only head of gleaming blonde (not brown) hair in the family. Blue eyes she shared with my Mom. An easy, gutsy laugh. (Here she is getting love-bites by the neighbor’s fluffy little dog.)
When she was 6, she had brain cancer. Two years of chemoradiasurgertorture we’ll call it and one tumor returned as four. She died shortly after her 8th birthday.
I was in high school. I think it was about a week, before most of my friends were back to soccer practice, crushing out on boys, complaining about the homework for English class. I remember my Health teacher releasing me to Study Hall during the “Death and Dying” portion of the curriculum. I was proud of myself for taking the leave because I could use the free time, not because I needed to be protected. After all, what new information was there to learn. I had been on a Death and Dying field trip. Want me to teach this s***?
But the thing with grieving is that it isn’t over. Ever. Even after you’ve passed through your allotted up-to-2-weeks of public sadness. After that point, even the most well-meaning people are ready to get back to not worrying about you so much. You’re ok, right? You’re so strong. You have your faith. She’s in a better…
But that’s the point when you realize what happened. It sinks into your marrow. Your heart takes on a different, permanent shape. Fast forward to 18 years later and things still catch you off guard. While the hurt isn’t as jagged, it can still be crushingly powerful.
I have talked with my Mom and a few friends about how a person should be allowed “THE YEAR OF NUTTINESS”. A full YEAR of unabashed grieving, following a death. Acting friggin looneytoons and being allowed the space to do it. Don’t wanna shower for a month? OK! Don’t feel like working? BLESSINGS! Wanna punch that stranger on the bus because her giant shopping tote is poking into your leg? SHE’LL UNDERSTAND!
While I still very much wish I had had that year (and that maybe Kelly would have died at a more convenient time… like, when she was 910), I can now find a few bits of humor in it. Here’s an example:
“How many siblings do you have?”
“…Two.” (I always waffle here. There are many factors that come into play (How well do I know you/Do you really care/Is this going to get weird), but I generally try to mention sisters, plural. Because there are two.)
“Cool. Where do they live?”
“Baltimore. And…Heaven.” (This entertains me because I know how ridiculous it sounds.)
“It’s ok. Baltimore’s actually really nice if you spend some time there…”
So, THIS YEAR, I wanna do something for Kelly’s birthday. I am still brainstorming about this. I want it to be meaningful to me. I also want to connect with her somehow. Non-Ouija-ish-y.
Here’s a picture of she and I, when she came with my parents to pick me up from camp. I cried my eyes out when I saw her. I missed her so much (I was only gone for a week. Ugh, sensitive, shy kid I was). I look at it now, remembering how it felt to hold her like that. And how it felt to have her small hands on my face. And it still makes me cry…
Happy BDay Kelly. I miss you every day.