13 Years Later

Originally published at Breath. Smiles. Tears.

"What you leave behind is the people you loved. You leave yourself in them."
- from Sisterhood Everlasting, by Ann Brashares

The sad times used to start in January.

I didn't expect it in the beginning. For the first few years, I muddled through the shorter days with a feeling of hopelessness that only made sense as I drew closer to the end of February.

"Oh, yeah," I'd tell myself. "It's not just the cold, or the reduced amount of sunlight. It's because, at some level, this is when I remember that she's gone."

Even that's not entirely accurate. I never really forget that she's gone. It's sometimes hard to believe, yes. There are moments when I feel like I do while searching for my car keys: if I just retrace my steps, eventually I'll arrive at the right point, and she'll be there.

I know that won't happen. I haven't forgotten that she's gone.

This is the time of year, however, that my memory sharpens to what it was before she died: when everything felt important enough to remember, as opposed to so important that it was scary to hold on at all, lest I know what it's like to lose something more. I remember the waiting. I recall what she looked like, eyes blank and directed at the ceiling while her mouth was unmoving and ajar, and how it felt to sit by her bedside, waiting for her to go.

Eventually, I learned to recognize when time seemed to slow down and everything around me seemed impossible. I gave myself permission to feel miserable, with the acknowledgment that, once the anniversary date had passed, I'd feel better almost instantly.

This year, I didn't start to feel awful until a little more than a week before. It's an improvement, I suppose, and probably an indication that, eventually, I'll process this like my sister said she does: the actual day will hurt a little, and then my life will go on.

I've decided that I will be okay if and when that day happens. For awhile, I didn't want to be like that, because I was afraid I would forget. Once I realized I would never forget her, I felt that I didn't deserve to move forward. Now? There are people in my life who I love with a depth I never imagined, never mind thought I was capable of. If there were words, feelings, and apologies we somehow didn't get around to expressing, I wouldn't want them to stagnate. I would want them to keep living and be joyful and exuberant enough for the both of us.

I'll abide by that wish, too.


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