Many people are familiar with the saying, “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” Having gone through losses, I learned the truth of statement. I also learned something else along the way: the importance of having a sister in the midst of such loss. My sister is ten years older than me. When I was ten, she married and moved to Virginia to be with her husband who was in the Navy and stationed in Virginia. She came home from time to time. My mother and I visited her once. She moved back to Massachusetts and raised her family.

Our lives were intertwined, of course, but we were more different than alike so didn’t have many of the same interests. We were close, but not best friends or confidants. After I moved to Florida we saw each other about once or twice a year when she and her family or she and her husband came down to visit.

In the early morning hours of February 14, 2006, my partner Karen was admitted to the hospital. She died a little over three weeks later on March 10. Throughout the time Karen was in the hospital, I spoke to my sister quite often. The night I found out that Karen was going to die, which was in the evening on March 8, I called my sister before I called Karen’s my mother.

In the weeks and months and yes, years, after Karen’s death, my sister listened as I went through the various stages of grieving. She listened to the sadness, the anger, the frustration of losing Karen. She listened to the joys and laughter Karen and I shared. She listened over and over and over. Nothing she said could have brought Karen back or ease the pain so she did not always say much.

Even though she was miles away either in Massachusetts or central Florida, she was still there to listen. On the fifth anniversary of Karen’s death, my sister and brother-in-law joined me, my mother (who lived with me) and some friends to honor Karen’s memory by going to a Florida panthers hockey game. It was wonderful night. My mother had never been to a hockey game and we all enjoyed being together as a family.

Two months later, I had to call the ambulance for my mother. I knew when she went in the hospital that she would not come home. I called my sister and of course, she and her husband flew down a few days later. She and I were with our mother when she died. Having a sister meant that I didn’t have to go through the loss alone, especially because just thirteen days before my mother died, our three cats had died all due to respiratory illness. They were eighteen years old. my mother was eighty-four years old. I understood that they were all older and had lived good long lives.

I was suddenly faced with living completely alone for the first time in my life. Again my sister was there to listen to my sadness and my joys. She never thought she really did much because she was far away. But I learned the truth: she listened and that really can be enough and is a gift in and of itself.

Patricia Smith
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