Today would’ve been my sister Marilyn’s birthday. I say would’ve . . . because she died twenty-eight years ago of melanoma. So as the one left behind, the one that cherishes and mourns her, I get the honor of paying tribute to her. Something I do every year on this day.
Not one big on birthdays, this, her sixty-fifth, she would have hated. Hated the idea of it, the very sound of it, the fact that nothing was the same as before, that her body parts drooped and creped, thusly acknowledging that milestone passage into true senior territory, would be the last thing in the world she’d want to do. But given that she isn’t here to argue the point, I will speak on her behalf and say: she would have gladly accepted that fate over the other.
More than likely Marilyn would have caught the last flight from New York to Florida so she wouldn’t have to act sullen in front of her friends over a celebratory lunch or dinner, feeling it okay to act sullen in front of me. We’d spend the day together doing her favorite things: shopping, eating, taking a long drive, meeting with my children, who are now grown and barely remember her face. You see Marilyn never married. She had no children. So as the years progressed with no sign of those transformative experiences happening to her and without a word of complaint, she embraced mine as her own. Heartily and with grace.
Many times over the years I’ve found myself wondering how her life would have turned out—if she had lived. I’d love to imagine that the clothing business she’d started right before she got sick became a wild success, or that her Mr. Wonderful just so happened to live next door. I’d love to imagine that everything glorious my sister wanted in her life, eventually and fortuitously landed right in her lap. You know, as her sister, I get to dream those dreams for her, simply because I can. Because that’s my job. I am still her other half . . . even though she’s no longer here to nag me religiously like she did wherever, whenever the mood struck. It was a nagging I dreaded and a nagging I now long for, beyond words.
It’s strange to think when we lose someone close to us, all that we’re really left with are those constant reminders of what we miss and those moments we’ll never share. And I didn’t want it to be just that. I demanded there to be some purpose to all this tragedy. If not, I knew I would drown.
The answer didn’t come right away. But it did though in between the course of my life winding and lengthening, as flowers blossomed and leaves faded. Marilyn’s death beyond forcing me to adopt a healthier lifestyle, also forced me to face certain ugly realties about my life going nowhere, and make those hard decisions that require the type of backbone I didn’t honestly believe I had. Decisions, in retrospect, I now see were all for the better.
So, that is what I take away with me today as I quietly eat this imaginary slice of cake chock full of a million imaginary calories and decorated with my sister’s name on it. That life is a crummy crapshoot. But it’s all we’ve got. So live it as honestly as you can remembering that those we love are always with us, always cheering us on.
Wherever they may be.