Visiting my sister

On the last day of our trip I went to visit my sister. I put up that post and it probably seemed so simple, that I’d been there. That I brought a pinwheel, that I took a picture. But it wasn’t simple. It still doesn’t feel simple.

Somewhere out there
Beneath the pale moonlight
Someone’s thinking of me
And loving me tonight

In this community there are so many women who have suffered unfathomable loss. There are women whose families have been shaped by adoption. I am in a strange place because those experiences belong to me only peripherally. My life has been shaped by unfathomable loss and by adoption, but I was the sister, not the mom. I’m never sure what that peripheral position allows me to lay claim to. What am I supposed to feel about my sister dying when I was two? How am I supposed to feel about my sister being adopted before I was born?

My parents had gone to visit Stephanie before, without me. My mom mentioned it causally, with only the most subtle hint of despair in her voice. I found her easily, but I couldn’t find my mom, she related. I can never find my mom.

My mom’s is the life marred by tragedy and loss. My mom lays claim to unending pain and suffering. I feel that so fully that I’m never sure what of it belongs to me.

Surely there is enough to go around, and yet I don’t want to overstep my bounds. I don’t want to put my grubby, undeserving hands all over someone else’s suffering.

I’m not quite sure why I wanted to go. I love my sister. I wonder what life would have been like if she lived. I wonder if they would have been able to save her if she’d been born now. I wonder how the hole she left in my parents’ life affected the landscape of our family, of my childhood. But I remember very little of her. I was mad when she died, so angry to be denied my sister. I don’t remember those feelings but they’ve been relayed to me so many times over the years that I lay claim to them as if I did.

Somewhere out there
Someone’s saying a prayer
That we’ll find one another
In that big somewhere out there

I remember visiting her grave as a child, sitting in the back seat of the car singing, Somewhere Out There but knowing that she wasn’t. I remember thinking that it was all too big for me to understand, that I couldn’t really grasp the gravity of our family’s loss. Even back then I wasn’t sure what of that immense grief belonged to me.

I remember leaving pinwheels at her grave. I always positioned mine perfectly so the wind would make it spin. I don’t remember if my mother cried. Surely she did. Or maybe she didn’t. Maybe she held it in for me. We must have gone to visit her after the first stillbirth. And the second. And third. How must her grief have compounded after each loss? Was her experience at my sister’s grave the heavier for the loss of her sons? Or was my sister’s loss always just about her?

I will admit that I didn’t think a lot about my sister during my college years. She would float through my mind every once in a while, and every year at Christmas I’d hang her little pink angel, but mostly her presence was was rarely spoken of, though certainly not unfelt. I assume my mother thinks of her every day, that she always, always remembers.

And even though I know how very far apart we are
It helps to think we might be wishing on the same bright star
And when the night wind starts to sing a lonesome lullaby
It helps to think we’re sleeping underneath the same big sky

My sister is buried with all the other babies. So many babies. So many lost loves, lost dreams, lost hopes. Walking through them, trying to find the one that belonged to me, if only in some small way, I felt an immense sadness. So many lives carved by this grief. So much pain and anguish. How do they possible go on?

I thought of this community, and all the women I know who’ve lost babies. I wondered if I really belonged there, leaving a pinwheel for a sister I don’t think about every day. Part of me felt like I was leaving a tribute for my mom’s grief as much as a remembrance of someone I lost. Since I became a mother, her suffering has come into sharp focus. What was once just an amorphous haze around her now takes a shape and has a name. Her loss is a tangible ache in my heart, one I can’t fathom that she survived.

I’ve thought more about my sister in the last four years of my life than I did in the previous 30. Perhaps that is why I felt the need to see her. And yet, it took four phone calls to finally let it ring and ask my mother where she was. I couldn’t find her on my own, but the idea of asking my mother was almost impossible. We were leaving in two hours and I hadn’t even started to pack so she was understandably confused about why I was there. But she told me the section and the plot and I looked for a while, until I found her.

Somewhere out there
If love can see us through
Then we’ll be together
Somewhere out there
Out where dreams come true

And I cried, for my sister, for my mother, for all the baby loss moms.

And I left a yellow pinwheel, and quietly got in my car and went home.

6 responses

  1. I just want to acknowledge this post. My heart aches for the women who have experienced such painful losses. I’m so sorry for the loss of your sister as well. Beautifully written.

  2. This is one of my wonders for the future. How will Gus, and eventually Lucy, think about and behave with their dead siblings. Will they still speak about them? Will they think about them? Will they do things in their memory? I love that you left a pinwheel for your sister. It may not be the same grief as your mom’s, but you still have grief-you lost a sister.

  3. My inlaws lost two babies before my husband was born. They don’t talk about it but I am sure they still think about them all the time. A few years ago, husband and I visited the children’s garden in our local cemetery to find them. He never knew his brother and sister but I’m sure he thinks about them more now that he’s a parent himself.

    I can’t imagine what your mom (and my mother-in-law) went through. As a mother, it is my worst nightmare. I’m glad you got to visit your sister’s grave.

  4. G and I went with my MiL to the cemetery on the anniversary of her father’s death. G got a little antsy and wandered around. Damn if that kid didn’t find every baby gravestone in the immediate vicinity. It was a hard day for everyone.

    Sending love to you, your sister, and your mom.

  5. Thoughtful piece. I wonder what my daughter, 19 and 23, think about their stillborn brother who was born between the two of them. I know I always wondered about my mother’s 4 losses, at least one a stillborn girl. She was horrified that I held him, named him and had a funeral, as she was told that was bad. Instead, she didn’t’t know where they put her baby. She had passed on now and hopeful reunited with 4 of her 10 children.
    Thanks for writing.

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