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.