A Cruel April 1

“For there is no friend like a sister in calm or stormy weather.”  —Christina Rossetti

A Cruel April 1

I never liked April Fool’s Day.  I suppose it’s because I am a very serious person, probably too serious many who know me would say.  Still, I don’t like seeing a person made a fool of unless they really enjoy it, and who does?

In 2005 on April 1, my sister died of breast cancer after a fight that began in 1999.  I spent the last ten days of her life in the hospital room with her, and I am still haunted by those final days.  April 1 no longer signifies April Fool’s Day to me.  It is the day I lost the only sibling I had.

My sister’s breast cancer recurrence was found in October 2003, the same month I was also diagnosed with breast cancer.  We fought the disease together, supporting each other all the way until the end.

I sometimes read about sisters who don’t get along, sisters who don’t keep in touch, sisters who don’t even like each other.  I can’t imagine it.  We didn’t always get along, but she was my big sister, the one I looked to every day for strength and guidance.  I thought she was the strong one, the loving and giving one, the one who knew how to face a challenge and win out over it.  Instead, she died and I lived.

The cruelty of her death on April Fool’s Day is also ironic.  It was a day I already disliked, but now when the day arrives, it hits my heart like a catapulting rock.  Throughout my sister’s illness, there was a place within me that hurt every day, a fear that kept growing and growing as I watched her health deteriorate while her optimism, sense of humor, and courage grew.  She hid her fears from all of us.  After her death, that spot in my heart was filled with grief, a grief I still have not gotten beyond.  I struggle every day with survivor guilt.  I lived and she did not, and there are times when I believe the wrong sister died.

I won’t be playing any jokes on anyone today or on any April Fool’s Day in the future.  I know many people, especially children, love this day.  It’s such fun for them to pull a prank on someone and be able to justify it by saying, “April Fool’s!”  I don’t begrudge them their fun.  But today I will buy some flowers, and my mother and I will take them to the cemetery as we always do.  We will put them in a green plastic cone at the side of the headstone marking her grave, and I will walk away as always wishing I had her still by my side to guide me, to make me laugh, to keep my focus on the good things in life instead of the bad.  I want her to call me like she did every day.  I want to giggle with her like we always did since we were little.  I want to shop with her and find bargains, a special talent she had.  I want to be with her the way we once were before breast cancer.  I don’t want to go every year on April 1 to the cemetery in order to be near her.  I want to hear her laugh, see her smile, and watch her hold her grandchildren.  I don’t know where she is, and I am left with this emptiness that nothing seems to fill.

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Spring Grief

It’s still cold here in upstate New York with piles of hard, dirty snow along the sides of the roads and a messy blanket of icy snow littered with pine cones and branches all over the front and back yards.  It’s hard to believe that spring is here and April will arrive with its promise of better things to come.

Six years ago this week was the last week of my sister’s life.  I spent the days and nights with her in the hospital watching the agony of her final days.  I thought grief had some kind of end, some point in time when reconciliation to loss would come.  It hasn’t.

I remember her doctor told me after her death that he had estimated she could live until April.  She had an idea that April would be her last month of life.  So when April 1 came, so did the end of her life.  She died from metastatic breast cancer after a five -year battle.  It seemed ironic at first, some kind of cruel April Fool’s Day joke.  I never did like April Fool’s Day, since somehow I frequently was on the receiving end of someone’s well-thought-out joke.  I always wished I could enjoy the day more, not be so uptight about it and just laugh more at the jokes, but I never was able to do it.  Now I never will.

On Friday, April 1, I will take flowers to my sister’s grave.  I will choose pink and white carnations as always and try to get the plastic cones into the hard, winter ground.  I know many people who say they visit their loved one’s grave for a while at first, but then eventually they taper off and rarely go.  I know she is not there.  I know when I go, I don’t really feel closer to her.  The emptiness is overwhelming.  But I go because I have to.  I go because I don’t know what else to do.  I don’t know how to overcome this grief.