It’s been seven months since my sister, Julie, died. Seven months of trying to comprehend that she’s gone, trying to understand how that’s possible, trying to figure out who I am without her. I’m not gonna lie, it’s been a bit of a free fall.
The fall started the day she was diagnosed. Praying for the best but preparing for the worst. The ups and downs that come along with watching someone you love more than anything fight for their life are impossible to understand unless you go through it.
I don’t really remember the months leading up to Julie’s death. I wasn’t present to anyone or anything during that time because all I could think about was how in the world I would live my life without my sister while trying to convince myself that I wouldn’t have to. That she wasn’t really going to die. If I wasn’t working, I was running around getting her things that might have helped her, planning a trip to see her, researching ‘cures’, or praying for a miracle. I wonder all the time now if I was there for her enough, focused enough, if I could have done more. Why I couldn’t save her. Then I move to wondering where she is now, if she can hear me, and if she’s still, somehow, bearing witness to my crazy life. I like to believe that she’s still holding me accountable and pushing me to be the best version of myself that I can be. Sometimes I find myself talking to her out loud because there are always things that I want to tell her. Because I always told her everything.
One of the things I miss talking about with her the most are our kids. All of those embarrassing stories and craptastic parenting moments we had that we only confessed to each other. Like the time I was at a public pool with my oldest daughter, who was about eight months old. I was still nursing, and because of that I was, well, more endowed than I typically am and thusly ill equipped in the nature of boobie control. As in, they would pop out of things from time to time with no warning. Now, I lived in upstate NY then, so when a nip slip occurred, I knew pretty instantly it had escaped as the weather was typically about 90,002 degrees below 0. Yet on this particular day, at the public pool, when I decided to yell at a lifeguard for allowing kids to run all over my stuff, scream, and act ‘inappropriately’ with ‘no respect for those around them’, it was about 100 degrees out. So that sanctimonious speech came flying out of my mouth as me and my right nipple stared right into that lifeguard’s face. Didn’t know it had popped out until a male friend walked across the pool deck to tell me so. And what did I do after that as I fled home in humiliation? Called my sister simultaneously laughing and crying while regaling her with my tittie tale. No, that’s not the reason I left NY State. At least not the ONLY reason.
Then there was the time that she called to tell me that her 6-yr-old son got in trouble at school for making his volcano science project in the shape of a penis, and subsequently pretending to hump it in front of the class. She was, of course, mortified but also confused about how he even knew of such things, until she realized that while playing a game on her phone, he had unintentionally stumbled upon her search history. Yeah. If a kid sees something with XXX in it, they assume it’s got something to do with a video game. Gives XBox a whole new meaning.
Recently, upon purchasing some fancy new litter that changes color if your cat is sick, my oldest daughter asked me if she could pee in the cat box to see what color it would turn. After considering her request for a second, I started laughing and then remembered how years ago, one of Julie’s daughters went through an experimental pooping stage where she would try to poop in random places just to ‘see how it felt’. In the planters, in the chiminea, through the slats of the TRAMPOLINE, and finally begged Julie to let her doo in the dog run in order to see how her poop looked next to the dog’s. I immediately grabbed my phone to text her about the pee plea and to ask her if she had caved over the crap comparison (mostly so I could let my kid do the litter test and feel kinda OK about it) and then remembered that I couldn’t. That she’s gone.
I don’t have Julie to share those stories with anymore. I suppose I could just stop sharing them in general, but who are we kidding? That’s not me, and she wouldn’t want it to be. My quiet, shy, and private sister always relied on her big sister’s loud, bitchy mouth to get shit accomplished. And so much of what I’ve accomplished, I did for her. To make her laugh, to win her respect, to make her proud. And I don’t know if Julie and my stories are unique to parenting, but my god, some of them are so absurd that it would be a disservice not to share them for prosperity’s sake. I hate that I’ll never hear another from her perspective, but I feel pretty confident that I can competently carry the torch of parental (and life) fails bigger and bolder for us both.
Julie and I weren’t twins, but there were times we might as well have been. We frequently bought the same things in different colors even though we lived states away. We often texted or called each other at the exact same time and then made fun of each other for doing it. We connected every day, multiple times a day and we could stay on the phone for hours making each other laugh, cry, and ultimately remember that no matter how alone we felt, we were never alone because we had each other. No matter what changed, she was the one and only constant in my life. I loved my sister with a fierceness that I’ve never loved – and will never love – anyone else with. So much so, that at times it frustrated other people close to me. I suspect it was hard to understand our bond, and we likely made those around us feel like outsiders. That was never our intention; it just was what it was.
These past seven months have made me go inward more than I ever have before, and what I’ve come out understanding is that I have two choices here; I can either let my sister’s death make my life smaller, and never tell anyone things like how my youngest daughter has spent the last few days screaming ‘Mildew Dickhole’ out of our window after I mistakenly asked her if that’s what she said when, In fact, she was inquiring about a mildew pickle – or I can live life bigger than ever for the both of us. In case you can’t tell, I’ve chosen option two. My sister’s death will always define me, just as her life did, and that’s not a bad thing. There was life before Julie died and life after Julie died. It’s part of who I am, because she is part of who I am. Yet who I am without her is a work in progress.
Losing Julie was like losing part of my soul. It broke me in a way that nothing ever has or ever could, but as Hemingway said, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” I hope I am.
I also hope that you can appreciate my oldest daughter’s excitement when I eventually decided that she could, in fact, pour one out for Aunt Julie in a Cat-Pee Diem kinda way. I had to make the call without Julie’s input or commentary, but I’m pretty sure it was exactly what she would have done. In case you’re wondering, the pee turned the litter a lovely light olive green, which means she is in excellent urinary tract health for a cat her age. She’s thrilled.
Unfortunately the night didn’t end as well for my youngest who, upon learning of her sister’s achievement, asked me enthusiastically – and I quote – if that meant she ‘would get to see an actual dickhole!?!? A mildew one!!!’ Couldn’t help her there. Wouldn’t even if I could have.
Stay tuned… I’m sure there’s more to come.