For my 31st birthday a few years ago, Susan had custom sister necklaces made for us from an artist on Etsy. She packaged them into two boxes, one with her set (“S” and “big sis”), and the other with mine (“C” and “lil sis”), and of course, I ended up opening her set first. A bit “slow on the uptake” (Susan’s words) I had to open the other to understand that we each had our own set. I proudly wore my set on a regular basis, and now lovingly wear both of our sets. I found this picture on Susan’s computer:
I’ve been thinking a lot about sisterhood as I navigate this grief journey. I’ve realized over the past few years that not every pair of sisters share the same kind of closeness that Susan and I shared. Some people, in expressing their sympathy for my loss, have said, with very kind intentions, “You didn’t just lose your sister, you lost your best friend.” I appreciate the effort to validate my sorrow, and I suppose for some people, “best friend” means more than “sister,” but for me, sister encompasses so much more than “best friend.” So what exactly makes sister so special? Here are some thoughts I’ve had on the subject:
1. Sisters are life-long. As cliche as it sounds, no other relationship is as permanent, constant, and uniquely linked. Parents had a whole life before we, their children, were born. Friends are great, but they change, they come and go, and they often shift with life’s circumstances. Life partners/significant others are (usually) met after we’ve become adults. From day 1 of my life, I had Susan.
2. Sisters make the greatest allies; we’re in it (“it” being the difficult thing that is life) together. Our parents fought a lot when we were kids, and Susan and I always took comfort in each other. I remember the two of us huddling together in the closet to “escape” the fighting, back when we were small enough to fit in a tiny closet together. We would talk about various things to try to tune out the fighting, or we would conduct our own review of their fighting (with our astute, probably 5 and 7 year old perspectives). Twenty some years later, we huddled together in various UCSF hospital rooms and ICU beds. On the hardest nights, when Susan had so little energy that she couldn’t talk (and we all know that those were rare, and truly scary times), she would just hold out her hand for me to hold. I would sit at her bedside, holding her hand, just the two of us, her eyes closed, mine watching my greatest ally.
3. Sisters “get it.” No one else would care about the minutia of each other’s daily lives, and we would never expect anyone else to care. We once chatted online for 40 minutes about what color cell phone case I should get (we decided on green). I never had to realize it before, but I now know that I basically go through each day of my life mentally storing details to relay to Susan. After college, when I moved to LA for grad school, Susan bought me my first cell phone and mailed it to me so that we could have daily catch-ups while waiting for the bus in our respective cities. I constantly catch myself making a mental checklist of things to tell Susan. Yesterday’s list would have included the angry bus driver who honked his way through Golden Gate park; how I ordered my usual pumpernickel bagel at Noah’s and then discovered that they have pretzel bagels (did she know that?); Peets (our dog) eating not just all of the peanut butter inside of his Kong (dog toy), but also a good layer of the plastic; and (in detail, probably word-for-word detail) the ongoing phone tag and voicemail messages to schedule my next grief counseling session. It’s also hard not to be able to sit and listen for her account of what she ate throughout the day, the frustrating problem she ran into while knitting current project X, the funny cartoon she saw online, what interesting articles I missed out on because I’m not on facebook, and what she thinks we should order for dinner.
During her prolific book-binding months, Susan made me a travel journal, and this page she included pretty much sums it up: