Fifteen. That’s how many years have passed since my sister was stolen from us. Fifteen years. Some that have creeped by with ache and anger. Others, like this last year, that galloped by full of goodness. Not related to her being gone of course, just a by-product of living. Even in fifteen years I still spend chunks of time wondering what it would’ve been like with her here. Curiously imagining how she would’ve changed and grown. We were 18 and 19 when she died. I had just spent my first year away at college and she was close behind. We were about to take a leap into our twenties – that decade of figuring out what you think and feel and believe and like and don’t on your own. And she was gone. Taken. I was altered. Sometimes I wonder who both of us would have been if she was still here.
My family started a tradition on this day, somewhat unplanned but consistent. Every year we – my dad, mom, sister, and I – get together and have lunch. We have lunch as a core unit. We laugh and share stories and memories. Sometimes we tear up and sometimes we sit silently. We never wanted to celebrate her dying but instead this lunch is like our protest. It’s our protest against death: you cannot remove her from us as much as you cannot remove the love that connects us all. It’s comforting. My parents are remarried to new partners, my youngest sister is a grown up now (oh my!), and I’m carrying along my own treasure. My little chunky toddler made lunch extra interesting today. Between devouring food and pretending to drive my dad's car (while honking the horn with his belly), he certainly spread sunshine around.
When I started this blog it was to share about living with grief. Living and longing still. We were approaching the ten-year mark of Rachael’s death. That number hit me hard. It was a third of my life, a decade - a ringing, dangling, round number. I imagined writing here about the experiences of growing through and around grief. Then, of course those who read here know, we lost our twins. And as my world crumbled again with less violence but similar force, I wrote. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. I did the same thing after we lost Rachael. I process through words on the page. And in doing so I’ve had others reach out to say they needed to read them, which feels like a small redemption.
I bring that up because I have been blocked. This is the first post I’ve written in 7 months. Not because there haven’t been things to say or new understandings or even beautiful stories to share. But every time I’ve gone to put word to page I’ve stumbled. It hit me today why.
Today, as I tried to find the words to post a picture on Facebook in honor of my sister I couldn’t gather them. I couldn’t find a picture that was new, because there aren't any. I couldn’t express how sometimes I feel like I can cheat death and still experience her in my life ... and sometimes I feel like I can’t remember what she sounded like at all. I couldn’t let the tears fall all the way down my face today. They stopped at my lashes and crawled back into my eye sockets. I’m afraid to grieve right now.
As open and raw as I usually am about sharing my life story, as much as I try to give room and permission for feelings to exist, as much as I try to live the very things I advise therapy clients to do – I’ve been blocked by a fear that grieving will somehow threaten this current happiness. Because what if I get too sad and seem ungrateful for my son. What if something terrible happens. What if I don’t get another blessing. And I really hope we get another blessing.
This is my new grief insight to share. It changes again. Grief hasn’t gone away; it shape-shifted on me. It looks a little bit like guilt and a lot like fear right now. The brain-based side of me understands that I do not need to feel guilty for longing for my twins back or for longing for my sister Rachael to be here. I recognize that feeling those things does not make me any less in love for the ones I have here. Saying it out loud (or at least on this page) is an effort to tell my heart it’s okay to let out its breath now. I posted a beautiful video a on the L&L Facebook page from a woman that said it perfectly:
"But you're allowed to miss what you had and still love what you have... One does not negate the other. One does not replace the other."
Heart, can you hear that? It’s okay to want both, to miss one and embrace the other, it’s okay to love all of it. It's okay to wish for the past and not want the present to change. Guilt and fear aren't needed here. You can laugh and grieve and love and long all at once.
I hope to start writing more again. I have stories I’d like to share beyond grieving. Things about parenting and marriage and everyday lived experiences. Things I’d love to curl up on the couch and talk to Rachael about in the way that we used to sneak into each other’s rooms after bedtime and talk til morning. Perhaps I could share those here too? Perhaps this blog can shape-shift too.
My beautiful sister Rachael. I remember snapping this photo on a disposable camera in the middle of a giggle fest. We were up really late, we were really hyper, and we were laughing a lot. I don't remember what about but sometimes when I look at this I can feel that same laughter fill my bones. Some things time can never erase.
We moved. Ten or so days ago we moved down the block and around the corner from our little house, but I’m still trying to unpack. We hadn’t planned on moving this year, but we suddenly needed more space. Unpacking with an infant is not the easiest process, who knew?
In September, my father-in-law was diagnosed with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer. The news rumbled through the family. This was the same disease that took my husband’s mother (non-smoker) just 5 years prior. My father-in-law is an Iowa farmer, born and raise and tilling the land on a farm that has been in the family for nearly a century. But we are not in Iowa and neither is my husband’s sister and family. So together we all looked at the best options and decided that he would come live with us and have treatment at the University of Kansas.
The plan works on many levels. KU has a great program, the treatment center is only 10 minutes from us, J doesn’t have to be in a house alone (and I can make sure he eats), and most importantly he and Lochlan are getting some special grandson/grandfather bonding in. They have a special way of making each other smile and I like to think it’s part of the healing plan.
Shortly before he was diagnosed, J had picked up a puppy to keep him company. It became quickly apparent that keeping a pup was not going to be easy so he gifted it to Lochlan. Yes, I feel like I’m going crazy with a 7-month-old puppy and a 6-month-old baby, but they ADORE each other. And most of the time our old boxer really digs the pup. Probably because he lost his life companion last December and as annoying as the bouncing puppy is, the company is comforting.
And the thing about an extra adult, a young dog, and a baby is that they need room to spread out, toss toys around, and get comfortable. It became quickly apparent that our little 1600 square foot home was not going to cut it for long. So, we found a beautiful house.
When I told my father about the new house, he was super excited for us, but he immediately told me that it would feel bittersweet and that’s okay. He said your first home will always hold a special place and you will miss it from time to time; just like he misses “the little blue house.” And he’s right, leaving the house felt sad. We teared up when we got the over asking price offer from the first person who saw the house. We sighed heavy when all our stuff was boxed up and we started patching holes where our pictures had hung. My eyes welled again when I erased our name off the chalkboard painted door in the garage.
We lived a lot of life in that house. We became a true family in that house – we got engaged, married, and pregnant all while living in that house. We brought our son home to that house. When we lost the twins, I sat at the picture window and imagined them in the yard. The yard we put a new fence on shortly after we became pregnant with them. We put in that picture window and spent hours sitting at our fireplace or kitchen table looking out it. We loved that house. And it’s just a structure, we carry our home with us as a family, but it started there.
This new house has a great layout, beautiful windows to stare out of, and two fireplaces to lounge around. We will grow into it, our son will know this as his home, and eventually all of our things will find their place. But the sentimentalist in me had to write a goodbye letter and a blessing to the new owner.
The new owner is a 25-year-old that just returned from living overseas. He grew up in the area and his parents are notable in the Kansas City community. He may find the letter sappy. Dan informed me most 25-year-old guys would shrug it off, but he also said that were he to get one now he’d know it was important. And I told him, as much as the letter is for the young guy, it’s for us too. When we went to drop it off, my typically pulled together husband also got a little emotional leaving the house. Because it was a good little house. Because he put a lot of sweat and dollars into the house. Because we truly lived in that house - ups and downs and lots of life.
So, I’ll share my sappy letter as a tribute to a house well-loved and to put the blessing into the universe for the new owner and for our new house also.
Welcome to your new home! We hope that you love this little house as much as we did. But even more than a house we hope you find it to be a home, a beginning, and a place where life’s big moments happen for you. These walls held some of the most pivotal years of our lives, some of our biggest ups and a couple of our biggest downs.
Off to unpack and make more memories and build a home in this new house. I’m hoping to write more in the new year, but if you haven’t had a chance to yet, you can check out my latest blogs over at Kansas City Mom’s Blog. The once a month deadline helps me keep posting!
Hi, I'm Tiffany. I believe in the power of stories to connect us to each other. I write about life after loss and all the love, longing, and learning that comes from it. Grief is big, love is bigger. My newest stories are about motherhood (after both infertility and loss). In my experience, love doesn't get bigger than motherhood.
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