There is always a last time. The ugly truth about last times is they often come without warning. The last time you carry your youngest child. The last time you run and play like a kid. The last time you feel butterflies in your stomach. The last time you hold someone in your arms…never to be with them again.
Such was the last time I saw my sister’s face. She was twenty-eight. Tall. Blonde. Beautiful. Passionate. Protective. Determined. Spirited. She left me on a Friday. She would leave the rest of the world twenty minutes later.
After her funeral, we mourners sat in the dark together as a forever incomplete family, the light now offensive to us. Staring at the walls, unable to look at one another, the constant threat of nausea chewing our insides, trying to make sense of this new unthinkable reality.
A well-meaning casserole-bearer tried to lighten the mood: “You must stop this! Stacey would not have wanted you to be pitiful like this!”
Had my body not been surreally numb, I’m certain I would have laughed aloud. Still, I managed the words: “Excuse me?? Did you KNOW my sister? She would be highly insulted and offended were we not sitting here in our metaphorical sackcloth and ashes, completely miserable in her absence. She would scream, ‘Do you not miss me at all?!’” And that was the truth.
We didn’t remain in the dark forever. The numbness slowly dissipated and feeling returned, but with the same pins-and-needles stabbing at our very souls to remind us there will always be pain in continuing to live without her.
Tomorrow she would have celebrated her 50th birthday. She would have loathed the half-century mark, and I would have razzed her about it mercilessly. She would have arranged to get her hair colored, and have her toes painted. She would have bought a kicky new pair of ankle boots (which she lived in, as she had legs to her neck and hated that her jeans were always too short.) I would have wrapped up a fabulous gift complete with a wildly inappropriate card, and we would have indulged in chocolate cake topped with chocolate icing topped with chocolate ice cream topped with hot fudge. Because, you know, 50.
But 28 was the last birthday I would celebrate with her. I didn’t know it would be the last one. I don’t remember it. I don’t know if I went to Georgia or if she came home to Kentucky or if we met in Nashville . I don’t know where we went to dinner. I don’t know what I gave her. I don’t know because nobody told me to pay attention. I didn’t know it would be the. last. one.
Saturday, a dear friend allowed me to walk with him to the graveside of his sweet wife. His last moment was a year ago. Mine was twenty-one years ago. Neither of us expected our last words to these precious women would be the last ones they would ever hear. We have regrets. Unfinished business. Uncaptured embraces. Unspoken words. Things we would have done, time we would have spent, words we would have said… had we known it would be the last time. So he spoke to the ground as though she could still hear him, and I fought, somewhat unsuccessfully, to hold back tears. Time is cruel when it comes to grief, as the wounds scab over but never truly heal, and sometimes the slightest bump will cause them to break open and bleed as though fresh.
When I sat down to write this a few minutes ago, I had no idea what thoughts would land on the page. I’m not going to edit them, I’m just going to leave this here as an Ode to My Sister: “Thoughts on Her Not Having Another Birthday.” And reuse a phrase I have used before:
“Stacey, it’s hard to believe you would be fifty.
It’s even harder to believe you’re not.”
So…Happy Birthday from down here. May you find an angel to paint your toenails a lovely shade of pink, and indulge in some heavenly chocolate.
See ya, sis.