Today would have been my sister’s 54th birthday. She died in 2000 after suffering a stroke. She lived with lupus most of her life, and her health problems unfortunately consumed her later years.
I didn’t grow up with my sister, in fact I didn’t even know I had one until I was 10 years old. My mother put her up for adoption when she was 4. That’s the short version anyway. When I was 8, I found a formal portrait of my mother and a little girl. I knew it wasn’t me, so I asked my mother who the girl was. She said it was a little girl she used to baby-sit. Even at that young age, the story didn’t make sense to me. Why would you take a formal portrait of yourself with some random kid?
About 2 years later, I came home from school to find my mother and my brother sitting at the kitchen table. She proceeded to tell us that she had a little girl when she was very young, and she was tricked into giving her up for adoption. My sister remembered her last name, and had found us after all these years. I was so excited-I finally had a big sister! I couldn’t wait to meet her.
She came to visit with her daughter (my niece!) who was only about 3 years younger than me. (My sister was 14 years older than me) It was very exciting, having new family members to bond with.
Fast forward about 2 years-I was 12 years old, and I was a mess. I had attempted suicide more than once, I was cutting school, smoking pot, and starving myself-all the “normal” things troubled children do. My sister took my mother aside and told her “She needs help. She needs more help than what you can give her.”
I ended up in a “treatment facility”-wait, let’s call it what it was. I ended up in a mental hospital, and after about 9 months my mother went to court and relinquished all parental rights. I spent the next 3 years bouncing around different foster homes until I left at 15.
My sister saying that to my mother probably saved my life. I still had many, many more years of irrational self destructive behavior ahead of me, but me spending time in that hospital planted a seed in my brain. It made me realize that my behavior wasn’t normal, and that I deserved so much better than what I was letting myself have. (it took me until I was 35 to get my shit together, but that’s another story)
The last time I spoke with my sister on the phone, she was bedridden and dependant on a morphine pump. She was in and out of consciousness, and couldn’t carry on a conversation. It was very upsetting, and when my mother told me to call her about 2 months later I didn’t. I didn’t want to hear her like that- I wanted to remember the sister that I used to laugh and joke with, the sister with a heart of gold who would give the shirt off her back if she thought it would help you.
She died about a year later, with me never having spoken to her again. I will never forgive myself for not picking up that phone and talking to her. It wasn’t about me at that point, it was about her. And I failed.
Happy birthday sister. I love and miss you so much.