I am reminded of my sister all the time. My parents live in the same house that we spent the majority of our high school years in. I go home to visit them every weekend. My sister’s old room is now a bedroom for my nephew- her son, when he visits, as he does often. Her picture hangs in his room. He looks so much like her, at times it seems almost unbelievable. These are obvious reminders. I can picture her sitting in the living room, or running up and down the stairs. I can feel her presence in the memories of past events and old stories my parents and I recall. She was always there.
There are less obvious reminders. Sometimes it’s as simple as being asked a variation of the question, “do you have any siblings?” I had a client come into the office just the other day. We chatted briefly as I showed him to the conference room and got him some coffee. He thought I looked familiar, and was trying to place me. He asked me if I had a sister. I hesitated. I always hesitate at this question now. I have to choose what I think is the most appropriate response. This time, I responded with “no”.
At first, any time I was asked this question I kind of stumbled and would answer a little pathetically with something like “I did, yes” or “not anymore”, which inevitably begs the bigger question, “what happened?” Or sometimes, just resulted in an awkward apology from someone who was confused but too shy or too respectful to ask me about it. I have one of those faces where strangers often think they know me, or know someone who looks just like me. Such was the case with the client the other day. And while I feel that it is best in these situations to simply avoid the story, the apology and potential awkwardness, answering no still felt like a betrayal to her memory.
There are even less obvious reminders. Any time I see an old picture of Kate Walsh. When Cher comes on the radio. Last week my roommate asked me if I wanted to go to church with her on Easter. Even this reminds me of her.
I immediately declined the offer. I told her I “don’t do the whole church thing”. It made me take note of how quick I am to dismiss the whole subject in general. In a way, I admire the power of faith and the peace that comes with believing in something bigger and more important than yourself. I see a lot of good in believing in a higher purpose, or in places like heaven, or the afterlife. But there are things I simply can’t believe in. Or maybe rather, simply would never want to. The idea that one man died for the sins of every man to come. That an “all merciful God” allowed his son to be tortured to death. Who then, for thousands of years, would allow the people who love him to be treated in thoughtlessly brutal and terrifying ways is just a completely repulsive idea to me.
But my sister believed in God. At least, I’m fairly certain sure she did. We both attended the First Reformed Church in Chatham as children. We went to Sunday School every week, and the church service afterward with my grandmother. We sang in the choir, we preformed in the plays. When I got to be about eleven or so, my parents let us decide for ourselves if we wanted to continue going on a regular basis. I didn’t. Angela did. She went every week. She later went on to be baptized and confirmed through the church. I don’t really know what her specific beliefs were.. we never talked about it. I was happy to not be involved and I think she was happy to have something that was her own.
My grandfather on my father’s side died in May of 2007, about a year before Angela. Many of the Chatham Central School faculty, and the First Reformed church congregation attended his services. I stood next to my sister at the front of the greeting line. I was the first person you met as you came up to the casket. I hardly recognized a person there. But Angela remembered every one of their names. She whispered them to me as they came up in line- both their names and where we knew them from- so I would be able to greet them properly. She was warm and open-hearted with them, and they had so many nice things to say to her. I remember her vividly like this.
Less than a year later, standing at the front of the greeting line at her services, I saw many of the same faces. They all had lovely things to say to me, about her.
It is two years later and I am still just learning of some of the effects that losing my sister has had on me. I believe this will be a feeling I will have for many years to come. Last year, it made me think about life in general in a totally different light. I’m still adjusting the ways I choose to use that insight to enrich my life and better myself. I’ve found it can all too easily take you in the other direction if you’re not paying enough attention. I am paying more attention. More recently, I am learning the effects that it has had on my heart. The way that my brain now processes functions related to those matters. I keep a safe distance now. I think in a way, I am scared to get too close to anything that I might lose. I hold on more tightly to those things and those people who have claimed a place in my heart. I cling to them desperately. This fear of loss I’ve developed has, at times, felt overwhelming.
So now, as I reflect on Angela’s life, the loss of her and the effect that has had on my life, as well as upon those of my family and her friends, I decide I will be less fearful. Fear has a cunning way of holding you back. My sister knew fear. So I decide I will have the courage to use the wisdom of my perspective to keep fear from strangling me. From stunting me. I will not be afraid to try new things. I will not be scared to push myself. To do more. To be better. I will aim high regardless of the fall. I will give myself fully. I will love openly. And I will lose, occasionally. Maybe more. And my heart will ache. But I will have tried more, done more, loved more. I am still here, and they will still be with me, as Angela is. I remember. I reflect. I revise. I am still here. And I go on.
Rest in Peace, Angela. I love you.