My sister passed away five years ago today. I wrote this maybe a month or two later after I could muster up the energy to do so. It's crazy how life has changed so much in five years. I originally posted this to Myspace. Not a life-shattering example, but you get the drift.
I'm really happy that I wrote this because it's a real time capsule for myself to look back at those dark days to see where my mind was at. I remember knowing pretty early on that I had to stop asking questions or it would drive me mad. Life happens in not the best ways sometimes, and we can only learn by growing with those moments. You cannot suffer the unknown.
I miss my sister's physical presence. I miss her voice. But it is more important to know that she is always here because we are blood and we had 30 years of life together and she is permanently recorded in my mind. There is nothing more infinite than that.
I love you Suzanne.
Every morning I wake up to the constant realization that will plague the rest of my life: I’ve lost my sister Suzanne and I’m not getting her back. The emptiness that accompanies this sentiment is hard to grasp, because simply put, there is nothing there. You know you will never be able to hold her hand, and you’ll never be able to hug her and kiss her on the cheek. It’s a rotten felling to have because you know that you shouldn’t even be writing this because you should have been an old man and your sister should have been an old lady and it would have been a natural passing. It’d still be sad, but you’d be okay because you’d be gone in a couple years too, and it’d be a wholly natural thing. You’ve lived your life, you’ve done your thing, and now you’ve passed away. But that isn’t how it is. I’m going to live the rest of my days missing my sister who fought hard and probably lived longer than she should have with stage four lung cancer. She leaves a husband. She leaves a daughter. She leaves parents, a brother, and a sister. She leaves loving family and friends, two dogs, and a cat. She’s left a world of suffering that she did not deserve and a bad hand shuffled back into the deck. It was before her time, but time due for what she was going through.
What does it mean to lose a sister? It’s a question that is answerable and unanswerable all at once. A feeling that is felt, but also not transmittable to those outside of yourself. It’s more than a sense of loss and more like something was stolen from inside of me, something not physical, but something that has been there since the day I was born and should have been there on the day I die. This thing wasn’t fully formed, still growing with every moment. When I was a kid, it was prevalent in my every day. I just didn’t know it. In my teenage years and early twenties, this thing revolved around that same world I did, just in opposite directions, being around just as much as I was, which wasn’t a whole lot. But after moving 3,000 miles away from Connecticut, with every passing year, with every day I grew older, this thing inside could truly be acknowledged, and maybe even understood a bit more. This thing inside of all of us is the greater importance of family, the connections and relationship you have with those who have always been there. When a part of this is taken away, squashed from our psyche, there is a matchless loneliness that sits in its place and pervades almost every moment of our every day. Even in a room crowded with family or friends, there sits an empty space and the density of the air feels less. Staying at her home for two weeks during this whole ordeal, every time I entered a new room I looked for her. Strangely enough, being back in my apartment in Reno, a place she’s never been, I do the same. Where is Suzanne? Where is my sister? All I find every place I go are the places she should be.
She should be…
But she is not, and I don’t know when my brain is going to fully accept that. Right now I’m at battle with reality. And guilt. And the “whys” and “what ifs.” And the last week of her life in the hospital. What I said. What I didn’t. It’s all there, swirling round and round on the daily-go-round, even in my most distracted moments. When I wake. And when I sleep. I have no doubt in the validity of the phrase “time heals,” and I don’t mind waiting because all of these feelings, no matter how mixed up, confused, and upsetting; they are my sister, and I have no doubt that with time they will turn into her greatest attribute: strength.
In the past year, there were conversations we never had. Conversations I wish we had. They didn’t not happen out of dishonesty, but because my sister was protective, not just in a proud way, but because she did not want people worrying about her. Trust me, we worried plenty, and we were scared shitless, but talking to my sister was talking to my sister and I don’t think she wanted it any other way. The cancer was on our tongues, but so were other things. We talked about what was going on, and jokes, and memories, and parents, and life. I wish we could have had many other conversations. I wish we could have many more. No matter how much I could let out at her bedside at the hospital, there’s always more to say. I have an infinite amount of words for my sister, and where once they were heard, I no longer know what they really are. My belief system doesn’t know what to make of where she is and this is the first time I’ve really been confronted with this. Confronting the known unknown. In the back of my mind I’d been waiting for the phone call that would have me on the next flight to Connecticut. The longer she lived, the further off I could push that phone call away, and the further off I could push the notion of death. Then you find yourself in the hospital sitting next to your sister, holding her hand, wanting so badly for her to be able to come home, if only for a short period of time. I don’t know how I could sit there and think about time in such an ultimate form, with an end in sight, but I did, and all I wanted was for my sister to have a few more days with her whole family, eyes open, breathing, talking, and maybe a laugh or two if she could muster it (and believe me, I bet she could). Then as the days moved forward and she did not, I only wanted some time with her off sedation, but I knew in my heart that it wouldn’t happen and I became fearful that my sister would pass into the night, alone.
It’s hard for me to look back on these moments and put myself back into it. How could I not sit there and wish my sister to only live more than forever. In the midst of her suffering you have to be as rational as possible and only want what is best. Upon arriving to the hospital on Saturday the 20th of September, it was time to let nature take its course. Suzanne was tired. She let us know it when her husband whispered into her ear and a tear came rolling down her face. She knew what hour had arrived, and let us know it by fighting through yet another trial with her strength. Her body was giving out, but she gave us a true and knowing response. Throughout the week I wasn’t sure how much she could really understand us under sedation. As much as we all could, we’d sit by her side and tell her stories, describe pictures from photo albums, read emails people sent to the hospital, tell her how we love her and we’d keep her safe, and she even got one last friendly Kratky family argument (politics of course), but I was never clear that she heard us. She would open her wonderful green eyes once in a while, but it wasn’t until that tear that I really knew that she could take her surroundings in. She truly blessed us with it, and I believe she fought hard for us all to be there. When my sister passed away, she was surrounded by family, all of us holding on to her, all of us telling her we love her.
It’s this moment that I wanted most for her in the end that haunts me more than anything. It’s all you could do sometimes. Be there. It’s all you can do sometimes. Be powerless.
Standing in the cemetery the day before I left to go back to Reno, I felt uncertainty inside myself. I stood before where she laid, but still, I looked out across the grass and through the trees searching for Suzanne. I will always search for her; in the windows of every home, in the slow passing nights, across Nevada’s desert terrain, and every time I look to the sky. I know that after time I’ll eventually find her, and I’ll have to look no further than myself. No further than my sister Rachel, and my parents, John and Maryann. I’ll have to search as far as my cousin and Suzanne’s best friend Melissa, her husband Chris, and of course, her daughter Cyndy with whom we all have a new role. Not as surrogates in a capacity we could never fill, but to embody the true essence of family and support. Then I’ll look up to the stars at night and know that my sister fills the empty space in between, holding them together with all her strength. In time, that empty spot inside all who loved her will fill with realization and learning from her life and her death. The world has already become a different place for me. Never again will it hold the poetry of fresh eyes, because I am old now, and unwilling to venture backwards.
Suzanne, all I can do now is make you a promise:
When the loneliness settles in, and the empty chambers of my heart ache, I will think on our childhood. I will remember your smile and hear your laugh.
When the sky grows dark, and the “whys” and “what ifs” settle in, I will remember our phone calls and the times spent staying in your home over the last few years.
When the tears swell in my eyes and my stomach grows uneasy, I will fondly think back, and thank you for all you have given me. Things that have shaped me, that may forever go undiscovered, but they are there and they are me, and I thank you.
Sis, you will never be forgotten, only known more and more. If I could I’d write you into existence again, but I know you’re in a place greater than words. I love you so very much. We all love you so very much.