Happy Birthday To My Sister, Who Would Have Been 48 Today.
Happy birthday, Beth.
It’s been nearly six months since we lost you without warning.
Six months of readjusting. Of not sleeping. Of staring at walls. Of eating less than usual.
Six months of wanting to do little else but talk to you. To talk about you.
Six months of rummaging through photos. Six months of texts and messages from heartbroken friends who’ve only just learned the news. Six months of cataloging messages delivered, every one sent with the very best of intentions.
Six months of questions. Of drafts thrown in the trash.
Six months of reminders that emerge from the clear blue — as blue as your eyes and as blue as the sky on that last goddamned day that I saw you.
I didn’t hug you that day.
I’m so sorry I didn’t hug you, Beth.
It’s been six months of generosity and grace from friends, from colleagues, from neighbors — all of whom heard the news and witnessed the shock and checked in repeatedly despite the echo of my excuses, my silence, my lies that I am okay.
Because I’m not at all okay with this. I’m faking my way through it 99% of the time. And I’m just trying to exhale.
For six months I’ve been holding my breath, hoping and praying for acceptance. I know that you are physically gone, yet I know that you will always be with me. It is these mutually exclusive states of mind that I haven’t yet wrapped my arms around.
For the past six months I’ve often gone to sleep in disbelief that you have actually died, waking up many days to the reality that I must, in fact, keep on breathing.
For six months I’ve wondered when I’ll have a dream about you, or feel you in my presence, or see your blue eyes without feeling sad.
For six months I’ve tried to write about you…
write to you…
write in honor of you…
… yet for six months, the normal comfort I find in stringing words together has become all but ghost-like.
Instead, I’ve been reading, searching for words to pull me from my sadness, perhaps closer to you. I read tributes written to you. I read your old Facebook posts. I read books dealing with grief and acceptance and gratitude. I distract myself reading essays and columns and news briefs and articles that have nothing to do with loss or sadness, sometimes feeling guilty if I dare to chuckle or smile or laugh.
But it occurred to me today, on what would have been your 48th birthday, that you’d want nothing of this sort of avoidance or wallowing.
Today, as I write this, for the first time since you died, I can hear your voice.
It’s distant, but it’s there, reminding me to exhale, and to share all these feelings with others who also walk this aching path.
For the first time in six months, as I take these baby steps to open up, I finally find it possible to exhale. Doing so, I can hear your laughter — instead of my pounding heart — while imagining your smiling face and your clear blue eyes.
I know you’d want me to laugh, to live, and to forgive myself for not hugging you that last time we were together.
“Knock it off,” you’d surely say. “You’re not always in charge, you know. I didn’t hug you, either. So there. But wait. Is there a Coke in the fridge?”
I wish I could hug you now, Beth. I wish I could tell you how much I miss you, and how sad I feel that I cannot.
Instead, I wish you the happiest of birthdays.
I am so grateful that you are at peace, and that you are always and forever right here in my heart.
I love you.