There have been times in my life when I've felt I was not a very good sister, but there is one that stands out bright and clear and shouts, "Wow, you really blew it." I knew I was being non-supportive at the time, but I didn't care. That was me when I was 17 and a junior in high school. I was absolutely self-absorbed and oblivous to my sister Lisa's trauma. I kept her pain in my periphery while I stayed rooted in the swirling motion of my teenage world.
In talking to my sister recently, she says she doesn't remember me neglecting her. She says she has no ill feelings about anything I did or didn't do. That she doesn't understand why I'm feeling badly about my behavior 25 years later. I don't know either. I don't know why I think I need her forgiveness when she thinks I did nothing that needs forgiving. But I still want her forgiveness. I still want her to know that I should have helped her deal with her trauma in all its tumultuous layers, instead of minimizing and diminishing the death of her best friend.
Lisa was almost 16 at the time. She was only a grade behind me, but we couldn't have been more different. We looked different, cared about different things, and had completely different friends. I remember my social life and my life were far and away the most important things to me. My friends were paramount to my happiness. My world revolved around a certain boy and those friends we both hung out with. I did my homework, went to church, got a good grade point average, was a class officer and worked for the student newspaper. My family was four other people I lived with, sometimes harmoniously, sometimes not. Above all, I refused to let them get in the way of my life.
My sister had a friend named Kathy. They were quirky together. They were two peas in a pod. They were the sisters that Lisa and I weren't. Kathy's Dad had run rivers with our Dad in the "olden days." When both our families got together for a river trip when Lisa and Kathy were about 10, they clicked. They didn't go to the same school, so our parents shuttled them back and forth between houses for sleepovers and other get-togethers.
Whenever Kathy was over, she and Lisa were up to their eyeballs in writing and performing plays. These were hilarious, dramatic, over-the-top productions that they both put their hearts and souls into. When it was time for a performance, everyone who was home at the time would have to sit down on the couch to watch and watch and watch. If you had something else to do, forget it. One would be singing opera and playing the piano while the other did a companion act on the side. Sometimes a violin was involved. Then they'd switch. There were other river trips during those years where they could be together 24/7. They loved it.
Their friendship was true and fierce but short-lived. Because half-way through Lisa's sophomore year, Kathy was in a terrible car accident and was on life support. This is the part that is vague to me. The most horrific things always are. After Kathy's parents had decided to take her off life support, my parents dispatched me to break the news to Lisa on that Friday afternoon.
It was a cold and dreary January day. Lisa was at the high school basketball game. I walked into the gym and our eyes locked. She later said she knew instantly that Kathy had died because I wasn't supposed to be at that game. My arms wrapped around her and she sobbed all the way to the car where my Dad was waiting. Did I cry too? I don't know. Did I try to glimpse at my friends in the bleachers before Lisa and I left? Probably. Was I absorbed in trivial, insipid thoughts? Most likely. I drove the car while Dad held Lisa in the back seat. At home Dad held Lisa on the couch while she cried her eyes out.
It was the same week my grandfather had suffered a massive stroke and was in the hospital. He was not doing well. Now Kathy had died. It was January, the worst month of the year. I'm sure I had plans that evening and I'm sure I went out. I should have stayed home to cry with Lisa, to be with her, something I would absolutely demand of my own children now. I'm sure I went out an was congenial and outgoing as ever with my friends. Even when it was cold and dark and my sister's heart was breaking. I'm sure I slept well that night, maybe didn't even remember that Kathy had died first thing in the morning like Lisa did.
Kathy was part of a beautiful youth bell choir called the Wesley Bell Ringers. Their music could melt the coldest hearts, warm the dreariest January day. At her funeral, the bell choir, dressed in flowing golden robes, rang out a stirring tribute to her life. I remember thinking of the lines, "Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead nor doth he sleep" from the familiar Christmas carol. The choir were angels with tears streaming down their cheeks, chiming the message that Kathy's life was a celebration. With each note they demanded that we immediately see the loveliness in her life.