I Could Have Been a Better Sister #grief

I could have been a better sister.

I was only nine and you were nineteen when you married and left the family home.
As you took your vows, I sat in the pew, steeling myself to be quiet,
voiceless cries whirling in my head: “Don’t go! Don’t leave me!”

I was only nine and, although you left, you didn’t leave me.
Instead, you gave me
the gift of a strong, silent, and steadfast brother in your husband,
the gift of three tall, handsome, and intelligent nephews,
the gift of eight beautiful and gifted grandnieces and grandnephews.

You never left me. You never let me go.

I was the one who left, who packed up my few things and moved across the country,
first to the West, then to the South, never back to the North.

You never let me go. Your letters followed me everywhere.

If only I had thought to tell you that I kept all the letters and cards you sent me.
Over thirty years of missives about the weather, the farm, the boys, your work, your life.

If only I had thought to remind you of your funny stories,
like that time in a hotel when you got locked inside a bathroom
and it took four men and how long to get you out
while you sat on the toilet and patiently waited.

Or how you used to joke about wanting to experience an empty nest as
your two oldest sons cycled through your house as they cycled into adulthood,
first one and then the other,
rinse and repeat,
testing your patience but never your love.

You were always there for your sons,
for your husband,
for our father,
our neighbor,
your friends,
our mother,
our siblings.

For me.

Family was your mission in life.

I could have been a better sister.
I am afraid of life without you.

I wanted to take for granted that you would always be here for me,
that you would never leave me.

When your husband called to say you were in the hospital again,
I felt that nine-year-old girl uncurl in my heart,
her hot fingers clenched as this time she screamed the words, “Don’t go! Don’t leave me!”

You are gone. Not from my heart, not from my memory, but from my future.

I could have been a better sister.
But I could never have been a better sister than you were for me.

In memory of Shirley Marie (Bailey) Auspelmyer
August 2, 1946–July 1, 2022

My sister Shirley circa 1992.


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