My oldest sister made two promises to me during our final visit in a Boston hospital. She held my hands tightly, vowing fiercely to love me always, and said she would find me, after she was gone, no matter where in the world I was.
Shelah died on the Winter Solstice in 2003 – nine years ago today — after a difficult life full of illness.
It was fitting, as I said in her eulogy, that she left the world on the shortest day of the year when the ever-present darkness of winter begins its journey to the tender green of spring. She had hoped for such renewal in her own life and remained hopeful she would get better.
It was just weeks before her death, the day I started a challenging new legal beat at the New York newspaper where I worked, that her doctor called to confirm she was dying. I remember staring numbly out the window of my grimy little office in the grand, old courthouse, wondering how such a thing was possible.
During her life, Shelah offered unconditional love and support, something precious that I also give to those closest to me. And her pledges, over the years, have been a balm that I think she has fulfilled.
For some unknown reason in her last years she started signing her notes to my kids as Auntie Shelah Chandelier. It is more than eerie that the overhead lights in the dining room often dim repeatedly during happy dinner conversations, as if she, too, is there, weighing in.
Other times, when I am struggling, I find myself surrounded by the scent of lilacs – her favorite flower — a soothing reminder, maybe, that I am not alone.
Because she was so much older, Shelah was already out of the house as I grew up, but she made a big effort to come back for me. I miss so many things about her.
A lot of my friends have lost siblings, so I’m not singular in my memories, or grief. But the tears for Shelah flow as easily today as if our goodbye was yesterday.
The truth is, my sister’s death was a blessing and I like to think of her soaring freely somewhere after casting off the prison her body had become. But that doesn’t make it any easier.
I mirrored Shelah’s promises as we prepared to send her back to God. The love is a given. But I have come to think that the searching won’t be so necessary. Kindred souls that are meant to be together will always find each other, a gift that is worth waiting for.