My sister died a year ago today. It’s strange that I can’t remember what I’m wearing unless I look down, but I vividly remember getting the call that she was dying as I was driving across the flat Illinois landscape toward Chicago. I remember sitting in the Chicago airport and talking to her, even though she was in a coma and non-responsive. I was sure that she could hear me saying goodbye.
I remember hanging up and feeling guilty that I hadn’t said something to the man holding the phone to her ear. I had broken some sort of deathbed etiquette, but how would I have gotten his attention other than yelling in her ear. How long would I have needed to repeat my loving words to her before he took the receiver back?
My memory of that day is crystal clear. But other memories left with her.
She held our collective family memory. She was the genealogist, but more than that, she was the oldest sister. She recorded historical facts for us, but there is no record of the stories between the lines. Our loss of family history is profound.
Now, I’ll never know whether her husband really went insane and threatened her and her children with a gun?
I can’t recall the names of the people who lived in the stone house on the huge tree covered lot across from the house where I turned five.
I don’t know why we moved to so many different houses when I was a child. I know my dad did carpentry and floor covering, but did he build and sell houses as part of our living?
Where was the barn where we square danced?
Why did the little girl at the end of the road die? And why was she so white with pink cheeks in her casket?
What year did our grandparents visit from the Midwest? I remember that my Grandma was afraid of the mountains because they were tall and menacing.
Did my parents name the street we lived on and the creek was named after the street? Or was the street named after the creek?
The answers to these questions died with my sister. It seems selfish when I say it aloud. I had a chance to listen and remember the stories. But still…I can relive all of her last moments but I can’t remember all that she knew about my life. She wasn’t the only one who knew, but she was the last one to remember.