I posted this on Facebook last night and decided it was worth putting on the blog, too.
Last night before I went to bed, I read an advanced copy of Alison McGhee’s Dear Sister (out in October). I was struck by how many parallels there were in my relationship with my sister (like a 7 year age difference) to the brother and sister in the book. Also, the fact that the brother read to the sister over…and over…. And over again…. Of course, it eventually moved me to weep, and to ponder. And I’ve been thinking about what I would say if I were to write a letter to my sister in heaven, Taylor, today…
I’m writing you mostly as a means to take a break from my PhD homework. I’m taking two classes at the same time for the first time, and I regret it. They both have 2 assignments due at the end of every 2 weeks. The next due date lands on this Sunday, and I’ll be in NOLA for the ALA Conference. I started on the PhD after you died. I told Lacy that when I finish it, she must call me Dr. Dylan. Do you know what she did? She laughed in my face and said that wasn’t going to happen. I imagine you would refuse to do so as well, just because you are so much like her.
It was 1,286 days ago that you left the earth and moved on to heaven. Your passing left a big, dark, cold void in my life, and in many others’. I know a lot of us have made progress in moving forward with our lives, but you sure made your impact here, and left a mark, which has made it so difficult for some of us to get beyond our grieving.
There are still moments that knock the wind out of me momentarily- from hearing a song on the radio, to playing a chord progression on the organ on a prelude on a comforting hymn, to seeing a certain box of cereal, to getting a notification from Facebook about a memory we shared. Facebook does that now- they will pull up your memories from all of the years past reminding you what you were up to on that day in time so many years ago. Some days I’m afraid to click the notification in fear of what will show up. So much has changed in the last five…seven… ten years…. And yet, there are some things that have remained the same.
I won’t fill you in on what’s going on in the world. Frankly, I don’t know if your tender and fragile heart could stand some of the atrocities happening in our country and around the world. As time goes on, things get fuzzier and grayer and more confusing. There is so much hurt and bitterness and anger in the world…. I’m glad you don’t have to endure it. That was the one thing that so many people have told me, and the rest of our family over the years- was that your heart was always so loving and so compassionate- and very, very fragile.
You know, I went to college and was employed for two years before you graduated high school, and I know I missed out on a lot of your life during that time. And I wasn’t always the best at communicating, because we didn’t have all that much in common during those years. You were a moody teenager chasing boys (then again, maybe they were chasing you), and I was trying to figure out what it meant to be an adult and how on earth I would function on my own in the real world.
And then it was time for you to move on to college. You were going to put that heart of yours to work and become a counselor. When I last saw you, I was visiting home for a week in the summer and we had the house to ourselves because Mom and Dad were on vacation. Do you remember that wretched stench in the house? You blamed me, and we both couldn’t find it. We called Grandma Jean when we couldn’t stand it, and she found the culprit- a bag of rotten tomatoes behind a barstool in the kitchen. When you both opened the bag, one exploded, and I still remember Grandma hollering “Grab a trash bag before another one explodes!” – You and I laughed and laughed for hours that night, once we could breathe after the tomatoes were brought outside and you fumigated the entire house with a single can of Febreeze.
How was I supposed to know that would be the last time I saw you alive and well and not hooked up to life support? I left early the next morning for IL. You left the next month for college at Iowa State. We kept in touch, sure, but I remember saying “I’ll see you probably next at Christmas” and you said “Yeah…. Probably.” I don’t think either of us knew what would transpire in the months following.
I know you would not want this for me, but I must tell you, I still lay down each night with the deep regret of not returning your call in mid-November. It was 11:30 on a Tuesday night and if I hadn’t had Pneumonia, I would have answered. When I texted you the next morning you said you missed me and just wanted to catch up, and I told you I’d call you back. And I failed on my promise. If only I had known that would have been my last chance to talk to you, I would have picked it up in a heartbeat. I would have made for darn sure that I followed up on my promise.
And then I got the call 2 weeks later that I needed to come home. I came, and my body froze and my heart broke into a million tiny pieces when I saw you there in the hospital. The nurses said you might be able to hear us, and so I’d talk to you and I asked you if you remembered the night the tomatoes exploded. I’m not positive, but I could have sworn the corner of your mouth moved up to smile a bit. After a week, I headed back to IL, not knowing that the following Friday Dad would make the hardest call of his life to let me know “She didn’t make it, Bud.”
Life has never been the same. It’s been hard, yes. But I have had so many chances to see the good— the BEST— in so many people and in so many circumstances. I have learned. I have grown. I have lived and loved like I never did before. There have been so many moments where I whispered to myself, “I wish Taylor were here to see this.” Most notably, at the birth of your nieces- Peyton Taylor and Paislee Marie. They took your names for their middle names. In a quiet moment when I was at Lacy’s house alone with them this past weekend, I looked into their eyes and I saw a reflection of your kindness and goodness and love in the innocence of what was looking back at me. I know they’ll grow up to make their mom and dad proud, and me proud… and you proud, of course. Many of us have committed to living your legacy of kindness and compassion and care, and sharing our hearts with the world- It’s the least we can do. And I know those girls will join the ranks.
It’s about time I get back to my homework, sis. I just wanted to let you know that you are not and will never be forgotten. And I will see you again some day.