We were supposed to celebrate this holiday together, tiny tots in tow. I can picture her little children, hand in hand with mine, sitting at the brunch table. I see braids and bows and baby doll dresses. She was supposed to be Auntie Kimmy to my girls and lavish them with meaningful hugs and thoughtful presents. She wasn’t supposed to leave us two months after her wedding and two weeks before my delivery. She was supposed to live her life alongside mine, as sisters do.
My first Mother’s Day was almost unbearable. My mom hid behind her smiles and fell apart at home, and I did the same. We smiled for everyone, masking the numbness inside. Over the years, the hardest part for me has become watching my mom hide it all away. I know that she is dying inside, when she thinks about the loss of her daughter, and it is heartbreaking to watch. How can we live, when part of us has died?
After becoming a mother myself, this question has haunted me. It became part of a fear-based cycle where I was determined to have at least six children to cushion the potential loss of a child. I wanted to protect myself against the pain my mom experienced, but the truth is we are all unique, hand-crafted, and irreplaceable. It does not matter how many children I have, I will never replace my sister. I will have to find joy in my memories of her.
For now, my sister lives on in pictures and cards I stuffed into one small box. I was 35.5 weeks pregnant with my twins when my sister passed, and I was concerned about going into labor early. I packed everything I had of her and put it out of sight. I needed to focus on my girls and what was best for them. This box laid sealed for almost two years, until I brought it into therapy. It actually stayed in my therapist’s office for months before I could bare to open it.
I was close to delivering my second child, and I walked into her office one day and said, “It has to be today. Let’s do it now before I lose my nerve.” I took out each item, one-by-one, and I told its story and how it impacted me. I cried for what was, what wasn’t, and what would never be, and this allowed me to process and begin to move on. This experience helped the anger, shock, and grief continue to melt away.
What once felt like a bomb in my house has become one of my most prized possessions. This box contains all of the tangible remnants of my sister, which is pretty miraculous for me. I’ve never been as sentimental as the women in my family, and I abhor clutter. I tend to throw out all cards and unnecessary knickknacks immediately, but somehow a few of her items survived. I find them tucked in purses or drawers, and her handwriting will stop me, whatever I was doing no longer important. I will run my hand over the letters on the front of the envelope and remember how she was the only family member who called me Jacqueline instead of Jac. I can see her slender, ringed fingers handing me the card with a big smile on her face, and I miss her. Oh how I miss her.
I find these unexpected and tender moments to be incredibly jarring. Finding fragments of her always takes me by surprise and almost always ends in tears. Not the silent beautiful tears but the kind that leave you breathless, gasping for air, and folded over on the floor. As much as a card can reduce me to a sobbing mess for a moment, holidays tend to take a toll on me for days. I never miss my sister quite as much as I do when various holidays come around.
As Mother’s Day approaches, I wonder how this year will go. As time passes, I find I can spend less energy on being angry with my sister for leaving us and more on being thankful for how she blessed my life. I hope I can embrace the approaching festivities with a spirit of gratitude for everyone present, instead of everyone missing. I hope I can see my sister’s beauty in my daughters’ faces and begin to tell them about her.
This is an area where I struggle the most. How can I tell my daughters about my sister when I can barely speak her name without crying? I have learned to start small. I wear my sister’s engagement stone on a necklace, and my girls always play with it. I’ve learned to squeak out, “That’s Auntie Kimmy’s necklace,” even though my voice is so tight it often comes out as a whisper. One day when they ask me, “Mama, who’s Auntie Kimmy?” I pray I will have the right answer because I can’t tell them about her without introducing the concept of death. How do I bring up death without inciting fear?
It seems the more answers I find, the more questions I have. And on the days when I feel like I only have questions, I remember that He has all of the answers. When I worry about finding the right time, I remember His timing is perfect. In my darkest moments, I will rest and find peace in Him.