I Wish I Had A Sister



It’s a gray day today and I’m actually grateful for that. I love the sun. Love it. And we’ve had a winter full of it here in Santa Barbara. But somehow, the grayness is helpful today, it’s soothing and calming like a gentle hug.

I offer those kinds of hugs quite a lot these days, mostly because I need them myself. I think I’m lonely, to tell you the truth. It’s not overwhelming, it’s not even terribly sad, because overall, my life is rich and good. But there’s a part of me, deep inside, that is lonely.

I never had a sister. I raised two girls and a boy, and my mom had a sister, so I’ve seen real sisterhood up-close-and-personal, but I’ve never experienced it myself. I do know that for some, “sisterhood” is more of a curse than a blessing. Sometimes personalities clash, or shared history is dark and dangerous, or jealousy inserts itself in an ugly and corrosive way. But the sisterhood I’ve watched in my own family is a lovely thing to see.

We lived near my mom’s sister for about eight years of my childhood—just three blocks away. We could walk to each other’s houses easily and often. My mom and my Aunt Eileen laughed with ease whenever they were together, sharing stories and jokes known only to them. I would watch them from a distance, feeling  a nostalgia for something I’ve never had and never will.

I wish I had a sister. I don’t know that I’ve ever said that out loud before.

I love my two brothers deeply, the one who lives 500 miles away and the one who is in heaven. Tom and I share a history that no one else on this planet knows about. That bond keeps us connected, even though we seldom see each other, hardly write and only occasionally talk on the phone. It doesn’t matter—we belong to one another in a very special way.

I have two absolutely divine sisters-in-law, one married to my brother and one a sister to my husband. I am more grateful for them than I can put into words. They have brought light and laughter, shared joys and sorrows and wonderful, rich stories to enrich and lighten my own life the last fifty years or so.

But I don’t have a sister, someone born into the same family I was, someone who knows me from the inside out across the long trajectory of our life together.

In some ways, my mom was like a sister to me. I know that sounds strange, and in many ways, it’s an oversimplification and an untruth—she is not, and never could be, my sister. But she and I share close connection over time, stories that no one else knows, and a tight bond of love that I’ve never felt with anyone else on this planet in quite the same way.

And though she is living and only about two miles away from me, she is gone. As surely as though she had died, my mother is gone from me. She no longer remembers that we are connected. Though she loves being with me and tells me she loves me, she has no comprehension of the mother/daughter  relationship we once shared. None. At. All.

He face is lined, her bones are weary, her hair is white. But inside her head, she is about ten years old. She has only one set of memories and they are shrinking by the day. She remembers one relative by name—her Auntie Mae, who was the light of her life. She does not remember being married, having children, growing old. She cannot recall what I told her 30 seconds ago.

All of the shared laughter and tears, all of the books we read together, the beautiful dresses she made for me, the wonderful, warm dinners she hosted, it’s all lost to her. The way she could stretch a dollar, the depth of her understanding of what it means to be a Jesus-follower, the insatiable desire to read, to learn, to grow, to change, to stretch—all of that is gone.

She doesn’t remember singing, “Whispering Hope,” with her sister, their voices spiraling out into the air in beautiful harmony while all of us kids mocked the syrupy lyrics. She doesn’t remember our annual treks to the beach, tumbling out of our packed cars, dragging sandy feet into rented apartments. She has lost the memories of creating fabulous, fast meals in a borrowed kitchen, slathering ourselves with baby oil and wading out into the broad, beautiful Pacific, her worry-tinged voice always calling out, “Now don’t go out beyond your armpits!”

But this she does remember, and it brings me to tears every time I catch a glimpse of it: she remembers the songs of her youth. And almost all of them are old gospel songs or hymns. Her current favorite is this one: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I know. Fills my every longing, keeps me singing as I go.”

I sing it with her, my stronger alto buoying her fading one, and she is delighted. DELIGHTED. My mother, my sister, my friend. Oh, how I love you. Oh, how I miss you. Oh, how I thank God for you. And just like that, the sun is breaking through again. Just. Like. That.

Diana Trautwein
Married to her college sweetheart for over 40 years, Diana is always wondering about things. She answers to Mom from their three adult kids and spouses and to Nana from their 8 grandkids, ranging in age from 3 to 22. For 17 years, after a mid-life call to ministry, she answered to Pastor Diana in two churches where she served as Associate Pastor. Since retiring at the end of 2010, she spends her time working as a spiritual director and writes on her blog, Just Wondering. For as long as she can remember, Jesus has been central to her story and the church an extension of her family. Not that either church or family is exactly perfect . . . but then, that’s what makes life interesting, right?
Diana Trautwein

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  1. Nancy Ruegg says:

    I, too, was moved to tears at the end of your post, Diana, as you sang that old song with your mother (I remember it well!), and celebrated your mother/daughter relationship, the love, and even the friendship that grew between you through the decades. Gratitude for what we have (and loving relationships–past and present–are at the top of the list) does bring out the sunshine in our souls!

  2. Your story brought me to tears, Diana. I never had a sister either, though I love my one brother dearly. Since my father died, I have grown closer to my mother, but we have never had, and probably won’t have, the kind of special relationship you have shared with your mother over the years. You are truly blessed in this, but I know you already know that. Thank you for sharing from your heart!

  3. Helen Burns HeleneBurns says:

    Oh Diana – what a stunning story you share with us. A story such beauty and heartfelt gratitude in the midst of an ache and longing. Thank you for the important reminder to never let the ‘moments’ slip away, but to embrace each one with deep appreciation for those we have been given. xoxo

  4. Oh, just beautiful. I also wish I had a sister. I wish I had the beautiful memories you have of your mother. (I was blessed to have a ‘good’ mother, but not a warm one.) No matter how strong the network of sister-friends I build may be, no matter how wonderful my mother-in-law is (and I hit the jackpot there), those are things which will always be missing from my life. And it’s ok, because the sun has so many ways of breaking through.

    • pastordt says:

      Exactly right, Rea. It is okay. It’s also good to acknowledge the losses in our lives occasionally, and then to look for the sunshine, even there.

  5. Joy Howard says:

    The depth of delight and the depth of sorrow in this piece is heartbreaking. To have such joy in your mother’s songs she remembers. Wow. And what a blessing that she does remember those songs. But oh, the ache of losing someone. Thank you for writing this.

  6. Me too, Diana. As an only child I so get this.

    • pastordt says:

      I hear you, Ashley. I think that must be the hardest part of being an only. There are gifts to it, too, but siblings can be among God’s richest gifts in life. I am grateful for mine. But I admit that I sometimes wonder what it might have been like to have a sister.

  7. This is one of my favourite posts of yours, Diana. Honest + poignant + beautiful + piercing.

    • pastordt says:

      Thank you, Idelette. I almost didn’t submit it – it seemed vaguely off-topic. But I liked it after I re-read it, so I sent it anyhow! Glad I did.

  8. pastordt says:

    Thank you, Morag. I’ve been blessed with sister-friends and sister-cousins, too, and I am grateful for them!

  9. Beautiful as always Diana. I wish I had a sister too, and I wish my mum had been closer to being like yours. In my school and college years I was often friends with girls like me who only had brothers, but then after having kids my friendships were with women who had sisters and they were so good at sistering me (sometime mothering me too) and I was thankful to be sistered well.

  10. lovely, just lovely. As always I appreciate your voice wherever you are writing.

  11. I wonder how many other longings have been “said outloud” for the first time in this safe space?
    Yours is beautiful, and as I also walk through these days of a diminishing mother, I’m buoyed by your heart full of love for and strong presence with your own mum.

    • pastordt says:

      Oh, good question, Michele! Quite a few, I’m guessing. I am almost always surprised by what comes out of my fingertips when I carve out the time to sit down with the monthly theme here. This one really stunned me, actually. I don’t think I’ve ever even tough that thought before, much less said it out loud. Love to you as you start down this road with your own mama.

  12. Angela M. Shupe says:

    What a beautiful relationship you have with your mother, Diana. She is blessed to have you as a daughter, sister and friend! This touched my heart deeply, reminding me of my own mother. Praying for you, as you continue this journey with your precious mother. Thank you so much for sharing this!


  1. […] This piece was written several weeks ago, before the one that went live this week. Both are about this long, hard, sometimes beautiful, always exhausting journey with my mom. At the time this was written, she was just beginning to sing again, after many months of not doing any of it. You can finish this essay over at SheLoves. […]

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