When you work in hospice, you are constantly reminded of what it is like to lose someone you love. I am still trying to process the loss of my sister. I don’t think a day ever passes that she is not a part of me. My ache is still so raw, and the pain I feel when I am reminded of this loss, breaks my heart into tiny pieces all of the time. My grief does not fade, it has not gotten better, and it has not gone away. My grief gets all up in my face in a very big way. Some days I just deal with it better than others. And when I am providing support for families as they grieve their own loss, I feel my grief start to surface. I whisper softly, “not right now… we will talk later”, because I know, I will have to revisit those feelings again.
When I was born I already had a big sister. She wasn’t my dad’s daughter; she was my mom’s from a previous marriage. From the beginning, her and my father did not connect and from very early on, she never felt truly welcomed in our home. I didn’t know that until I was much older and it has always made me very sad, because my sister Laura is (and always will be) my very favorite human. It is his loss that he didn’t get to know her the way I did, the way so many of us did.
In her late teens, she was kicked out of our house. But when my parents were gone late into the night, she would come with cans of Campbell Soup and hot dogs and make us dinner. Those were the best dinners. Sometimes we would wake up and find treaties under our beds; she would sneak in and hide pens, or coloring books, or a Peechee folder for us to find. She always made dollar store items feel like the fanciest of things. For Easter or Christmas, or “just because”, she would leave us notes with clues to where we would find a special treatie. We would get so excited as we unfolded each tiny little piece of paper that would take us to a closet or a drawer where something wonderful would be waiting for us. She made life feel so magical to me. For birthdays or special occasions she always wrote an incredibly creative poem that reflected her love and pride wonderfully. I always looked forward to those.
As I grew older and into an unappreciative bratty teenager, she continued to look out for me, despite how badly I treated her. I remember one night I told my mom I was going to dinner at a college boys apartment. Laura was livid that my mom didn’t stop me; she didn’t even ask where he lived, what his name was or how old he was. Laura did, she asked me all of those questions. And when I came running out of his apartment scared out of my mind because he wanted me to do things I wasn’t ready for, she was there waiting for me parked on the curb outside. She told me to get in the car, and she grabbed her baseball bat and went in. I never knew what she did that night, but I do know my sister came to my rescue. Again. She always came to my rescue.
Laura was my sister first, most days she was my friend, and in many ways she was also my mom. She was a mom to everyone; me, my kids, her seven kids, her kids friends, and her friends kids, kids. She took care of everyone. Laura never had money, and yet she gave as though she had millions. She never said no, she never turned anyone down, and she never let anyone go without anything. She never asked for anything, even if she needed it, but she would have given you the clothes off her back if you needed them. If you knew her, you loved her.
And then she got sick and she was sick for a really long time. She was in and out of hospitals for the last ten years of her life. She was fighting insurance companies, constantly paying towards hospital bills that never seemed to end, and fighting to just have one good kidney. I can remember her getting excited when Dialysis was going to be covered and she could finally feel some sense of relief. This was her life, and it was a constant that never stopped repeating itself. Despite it all, she continued to stay very involved in her kid’s schools, their activities, their lives, and everything and anything that had to do with them. She rallied like no one I’ve even known.
I wish so badly I knew then what I know now. Death has a way of reminding us what we wish we could have or should have done and I have those moments all the time. I could have done more for her, I could have been there more for her, but I wasn’t. I regret that every single day. But her kids sure were there. She has the most amazing kids and they never left her side. Her daughter told me that when the doctors said the dialysis wasn’t working any more and she decided to stop everything, she took her hand and asked her “are you going to be okay”? Laura was ready to go but she needed to make sure all of her kids were going to be okay, she told me that often. Those kids filled her hospital room with love and laughter until her last breath was taken. Because of them, I know her heart felt full.
And now, as I watch each one of them grow, I see glimpses of her sparkling all over them like glitter. They are good parents, siblings, friends, and humans. They are an incredible reflection of her. I know she would be very proud, as am I.
My last conversation with her was over the phone. I was about to graduate nursing school; I worked so hard, and she encouraged and supported me the whole way through. She said to me, “I want you to know how proud of you I am. You are destined to do big things. And I will be watching you the whole time, I promise”. I said, “you promise”? She said, “yes, I promise”. She passed away a few days later.
A few years ago, I went to the After Life Conference. On the last day, we were given a presentation by a very well known Medium. I have always been skeptical, did not believe for one minute anything she said was true and in many ways found the whole thing ridiculous. And then, coming toward me, she asked who was one of seven kids. I ignored her. She looked right at me and proceeded to tell me that my sister, who was much like a mother to me, was there. I admit, I was curious. She said to me, “your sister wants you to know she loved being like a mom to you, she loved taking care of you and is still watching over you. She says she is very proud of you”. And then she said, “She says to tell you, “I told you that you were destined to do big things, and I am still keeping my promise”. That moment made me a believer. It also filled my heart.
So many things I would do differently if given the chance. I beat myself up less as each year passes, but I wish I was there for her in the end, I wish I was at her bedside, and I wish I had thanked her for everything she did for me. I know she knows how much I love her, I always told her that, and I know how much she loves me. She has a way of always popping up in my life, whether it’s a dance party I throw for myself in the living room, a bargain I find at the dollar store or the crazy way I am with my grandchildren, which I have come to realize is the time she shows up most.
My sister Laura is and always will be my favorite human. I am so grateful I was gifted her, as I am certain anyone who knew her would also say. I am thankful for my grief, because it represents the love I feel. I don’t want it to go away, I want it to constantly remind me how truly lucky I was to have been chosen to be her little sister. No matter how old I am, I will always be the little girl that she never stopped caring for.