In May of 1982, I became a big sister at the ripe old age of one. Sarah Elizabeth came into my life and, considering my age, she had always just been there as far as I can remember. We were just fourteen-and-a-half months apart and did most everything together. She looked nothing like me –light brown hair with curls and an adorably round face, where I had dark, thick, straight hair and a more elongated profile. But we did share dimples.
Sarah was good at what the youngest is notoriously known for: getting me into frequent trouble. Always.
My favorite memory from our childhood together is one of painting a craft at our family’s kitchen table. The color of paint we were using was that lovely country blue that was on everything in the 1980s. We were eating green grapes as we created whatever it was that we were creating. In the middle of our art, Sarah insisted that I paint a grape and eat it. After many attempts to blow her off, she dared me to do it. *gasp!* How could the big sister refuse a dare from the baby sister? One tiny speck of country blue shined on that bright green grape and down the hatch it went. Before I even had a second chomp of the grape in my mouth, “MOM! MARY JUST PAINTED A GRAPE AND ATE IT!” And just like that, I was in the biggest trouble I had been in up to that point in my young life.
Baby sisters, right?! Geez.
There were many instances like this through our early years. Sarah and I played all day long, from the time we woke up until the time we went to sleep in the room we shared. We would make up plays and musicals, composing what we thought would be show-stopping tunes and acts. We dreamed together about our futures. Sarah was going to be a famous musician and I was going to be a famous dancer, maybe even of ballerina caliber staring in productions in “the big city.”
Our dreams fell apart, however, just before I started second grade. We were far too young to realize the odds of becoming a famous musician or ballerina were sort of far-fetched. No, something far worse than adulthood stole those dreams from us.
My family was involved in a tragic car accident.
My father and my sister were both killed. Two of the most important people in my life were gone, in an instant.
My mother and I survived and were left to pick up the pieces of our shattered lives, and try to make sense of the things you never think will happen to you.
In that unforgettable moment, we lost our other halves, our loves, our friends, half of our young family, and a large chunk of our hearts.
At seven, you can’t begin to comprehend the magnitude of something so tragic. My biggest focus at the time was on the loss of my father. I was a daddy’s girl. I did everything with him, and my sister had attached herself to my mom. I remember the moment when I realized it was going to be just the two of us going forward, and my mother felt like a stranger. When having babies so close together, parents usually adopt a divide-and-conquer mentality, and it just so happened that my dad was the parent that I had spent most of my time with. I was so in-tune with this portion of the loss that I neglected to think about how I had lost my very best friend and sister. It was too much for my young mind and heart to comprehend, so I just didn’t even try.
In fact, I never truly thought about or properly mourned the loss of Sarah or what she meant to me until I had my babies. I thought about how much I wanted to share this with her; I wanted to watch her hold a niece and then a nephew in her new Auntie arms for the first time and for me to do the same with her children. I realized how much we could have had throughout the years: the fights, the laughter, the vacations, the phone calls, texts, emails–how we could have “gotten” one another when no one else did. And, how we could have called the other one up and made fun of our parents together when they were being, well, parents.
We never, ever had the chance to have that.
Ironically, my own babies were born the same fourteen-and-a-half months apart that Sarah and I were. Joey (my daughter) has never known life without her baby brother, Ari, tagging along and getting her into all kinds of trouble. I see the amazing sibling bond between the two of them and my wounded heart sings. They have one another. From now until what I hope is a very long time, the two of them can have the bond that I lost. As they grow up, they can vent to each other about what a mean mom I can be and how unfair it is. They can get into trouble together and help each other when they are actually in real trouble. They will learn from each other and they will know, that when times are tough, they have a sibling to run to.
I dream of this for them.