by Melissa Face
The day I dread most is on its way.
It is the one day out of the year when it’s impossible for anyone to do the right thing for me. If people don’t acknowledge today as the day my sister died, I will feel slighted, even more than I already do. For most people, it’s just another August day spent swimming, back-to-school shopping, or vacationing. For me, this is the day a downpour and a minivan ruined my family.
This is the day nothing feels tolerable.
As annoyed as I am by people overlooking it, sometimes that is actually the better option.
Let’s say someone does acknowledge this anniversary by sending me a text or Facebook message. They tell me I’m in their thoughts, they know today is difficult, and they are here to talk to me if I need them. Their messages are heartfelt and well-intended.
But what they don’t realize is that this year, I was trying to forget today’s significance. And they just helped me remember.
There are so many things I still remember that I’ve been trying to forget.
I remember the phone call from my mom about a terrible accident. “It’s very bad,” she said. “She didn’t survive it.” I remember calling back and asking for my dad, hoping he would tell me something different, something better.
I remember the rain and how it poured my entire drive from South Carolina to Virginia. I remember that rain was one of the last things she saw before she was taken from us.
I remember the line of people twisting out the doors and around the church at her visitation. I remember smiling and shaking hands with some people I hadn’t seen in years, people I really didn’t need to see and probably wouldn’t have seen again – if my sister hadn’t died.
I remember tomato pie on my parents’ counter, more food than their deep freeze could hold, and not being able to eat a single bite of any of it.
I remember smoking cigarettes, one after another, until my throat burned. I remember half attempts at hiding them, yet not really caring if anyone knew I was a smoker.
I remember picking out a gray suit to wear to her funeral because I didn’t own anything appropriate for the occasion. I hated my funeral suit, and I threw it in the trash a few months following her service.
I also threw away sympathy cards people sent me that were filled with ridiculous and uplifting poetic messages. Hallmark writers don’t know how it feels to lose a 19-year-old sister. No one has accurately captured those emotions on a greeting card.
I remember the look on my dad’s face before I returned to South Carolina. “You’re leaving us, too,” his expression conveyed. “When will we see you again? WILL we see you again?” He hugged me and watched me back out the driveway.
I have no idea what the following days and months were like for my parents. They didn’t have the luxury of leaving town like I did. They were left to face the constant reminders of her room, her clothes, her friends, and the maintenance of her gravestone.
They had to answer the phone when an old boyfriend called to see how her summer was going. He had been away in the military, so he didn’t know. They had to tell him she was dead.
They had to deal with insurance, legal matters, and the disposal of the car in which she died.
I had the privilege of leaving it all behind. I was in a position to try to forget.
But I still remember.
I regret the times I have denied my sister’s existence, even though it stings when others don’t acknowledge her life or her death. Being asked if you have any siblings is a common introductory question, and I don’t have a pleasant, honest response. It’s easier to say that I don’t. The person I’m speaking to doesn’t have to feel awkward or apologetic. And I don’t have to open up a wound that is partially healed.
If I’m being completely honest, some days it doesn’t seem like any healing has taken place. Today is one of those days.
It’s a day I’m trying to forget, and I can’t help but remember.