I Often Wonder
My sister’s life was cut short. She passed away at just 33 years old, two weeks after delivering her only child.
Oh, I will never forget the day that my sister came to my place of employment to tell me the news that she was pregnant.
She asked me to walk to her car where she immediately placed a neatly wrapped package in my hands. The wrapping paper was so pretty and delicate with a little ribbon tied around the square item that I now held in my hands. I looked at her with this big question mark over my head, I’m sure, as it was not my birthday or any special occasion so I could not understand why she was presenting me with a gift.
I slowly started to unwrap the present as I glanced up at her. She was standing in front of me with the sweetest smile forming on her lips. I carefully ripped back the paper to reveal the back of a picture frame. As I turned it over and feasted my eyes upon the picture that this silver frame held, I could contain my excitement no longer. Inside the picture frame was an ultrasound picture! Without saying a word, I KNEW!
After several squeals of delight and wrapping my arms around my sister’s neck to give her the biggest hug ever, I stepped back to examine my little niece or nephew that I would meet in a few months.
Oh no, I will never forget the day or the way she announced her pregnancy to me! Her way of doing this was extra special.
My sister allowed me to be a part of her pregnancy. She kept me informed of doctor appointments and the results of testing as well as when other ultrasounds were scheduled. I had the honor of throwing a baby shower for her, just as she had done for me four years prior when I was pregnant with my oldest daughter. We shared so much during those months of her pregnancy. Time that I treasured and wish I could have slowed down a little more to have enjoyed the last months of her life. I had no idea at that point in time that as much as we were eagerly awaiting the baby’s arrival with the days seeming to crawl by … we now wish they would have gone a little slower so we could have savored more time with her here on this earth with us.
Ah, but there was no way for us to know.
I was allowed to be present for my sister’s delivery. While I was not in the room, I was standing just outside of her hospital room when my niece took her first breath in to release the sweetest little cry which was music to our ears! I remember literally jumping up and down in excitement right there in the hall when I heard the beautiful sound of her baby crying.
Within moments, the nurse was coming out of the room to let us know that my sister delivered a little girl. When the doctor had her ready, I was allowed to take my place by my sister’s bedside as I gushed with pride at the pink, wrinkled bundle of joy that she held in her arms. What a precious, precious sight to see. My sister … the one that once tormented me to no end in our childhood days … was now a mother!
The nurses were ready to take the little bundle to the nursery to weigh her and put her cute little baby footprints on the page in the baby book that I had given my sister a month earlier. Her husband allowed me to be present in the nursery as they did all of the necessary things that are required for a newborn. There I was, smiling widely as I snapped picture after picture, standing next to my niece anxiously awaiting the moment I would be allowed to hold her for the first time. That would have to wait, though, as there was business to tend to.
I remember looking through the glass of the nursery and seeing my parents and her inlaws smiling back as they ohh’ed and ahhh’ed over the pink, wrinkled skinned baby girl laying there in all of her glory. What a precious moment that I was allowed to be a part of.
Later, we returned to my sister’s side with her baby all cleaned up, and then it happened. I was given the green light to hold my darling niece in my arms! Finally, I could hold this little angel and look into her sparkling brown eyes while using the lightest touch possible as I stroked my index finger across what little bit of brown hair covered her tiny head.
That’s all we had with my sister after the delivery of her daughter. Our happy moments were soon a distant memory as we learned of my sister’s passing. Death came knocking that scorching hot and humid July day.
I will never forget fearing something was terribly wrong and racing as fast as my Honda Civic would go own the country roads to my sister’s house that day. I could not get there fast enough. I had such an urgency in my being after not reaching her by phone all morning long. That day was the first day her husband was returning to work after the delivery of their daughter, and I knew something was wrong when she did not answer the phone despite my practically ringing it off the hook. I called the doctor’s office as she was supposed to call for an appointment that day, yet, they had not heard from her. Sharing my concerns with them, they, too, began calling her but were unable to reach her. When the nurse asked me if I thought my sister might harm herself or the baby, I practically threw the phone on the floor as I raced out of the door at my office and got behind the wheel. THAT was my biggest fear. It had now been spoken out into the universe, and I had to get to my sister … right … then!
We knew that my sister was having a little trouble. She wasn’t sleeping. We knew she had concerns as to whether she was being a good mother to her newborn daughter. YES! She was such a good mother, and it showed in how she gently and tenderly cared for her daughter. She did not sleep due to standing over her daughter’s crib as she was afraid something was going to happen to her baby. Sure, we tried to relieve my sister so she could get some sleep, but we saw her shadow across the threshold behind the closed bedroom door, and we knew that sleep had not come after all. That was why she was making an appointment first thing that Monday morning when the doctor’s office opened up. And yet … the call was never placed.
Back on the road, my thoughts were consuming me, and the urgency was rising up within me even more so than before. I HAD to get to her. Speeding down the road, I soon saw a gray car in my rear view mirror. This car was so close to me with flashing yellow hazard lights behind me. I just knew it was an unmarked police car. Regardless, I would not stop. NOT even for the blue light that I was anticipating at any given moment. Instead of the blue lights, though, the gray car attempted to get beside me. I stomped the gas pedal even closer to the floor as I thought they might be trying to get around me, and I was NOT stopping for THEIR emergency. I had an emergency of my own!
I turned the corner and everything seemed to go in slow motion at that point. I could not believe my eyes. There was yellow caution, police tape around my sister’s house, and her house was surrounded by police cars. And then, the gray car pulled in behind me, and as I turned around, I saw my dad rushing to stand before me where he grabbed me … and I knew. Instantly, I knew … our greatest fear had become a reality. Without my dad saying a word, I knew that my sister had ended her life. As his strong arms were wrapped around me as tightly as he could hold me with the palm of his hands on the back of my head, I sobbed deeply into his chest. There were sounds that day that I could not identity as I had never heard them before – or since – and I pray I never do again. Those sounds came from me. Heart wrenching, deep from the core of my being … sobs and wails … as my heart shattered into a million pieces inside of my chest as my daddy held me up in his embrace.
That was – without a doubt – the worst day of my life when I lost my sister. My only sibling. The only other person that could identify with childhood memories. I lost my best friend that day.
Thirteen years have passed now, and I remember this all as if it was yesterday. When it happened, I did not know how I would make it from one minute to the next. I had no idea how I could possibly draw my next breath now that she was gone. This hurt and pain was unlike anything else I had ever felt before in my lifetime. It was as if someone snatched me up with lightning speed and threw me full force into a brick wall. I hurt, I ached, I shook. Sleep would not come for me as nightmares took its place. While I did not see my sister end her life, I had this horror movie that played on repeat in my brain that I could … not … shut … off!
Post traumatic stress syndrome. We learned what that was after my sister’s passing.
And as badly as I was hurting, it was magnified for my parents. My dad, I later learned, had witnessed the aftermath of my sister’s suicide. He and my brother-in-law were the ones that found her. My dad had rushed to my sister’s house after I told him I could not get her on the phone. He heard the baby crying but could not get into the house. He called her husband at work, and he rushed home to meet my dad. Together, they went into the house where they found my niece in the bassinet that I had given my sister. There my niece was laying in the white bassinet, crying. They made their way down the hallway and into the master bedroom where they found my sister. I can not begin to imagine the horror that my dad lives with to this very day after what he saw in that room. While my brother-in-law ran screaming from the room and later fainted on the kitchen floor, my dad stayed in the room crying over his daughter. Not wishing for anyone else to see my sister this way, my dad took a sheet and covered my sister’s body.
Yes, thirteen years later, and we are the survivors that have had to find a new sense of normal. We had to learn how to walk around with our hearts shattered now that my sister was gone. We had to learn how to act again, and how to function with such a big part of us missing.
I often wonder what it would have been like if my sister had reached out for help that day. Instead of taking matters into her own hands, I wish she would have called me and let me know that she was struggling as she had never struggled before. Oh, how I wish she had given me a little insight into the pain that she kept hidden from us all in those two weeks. Yes, we knew the lack of sleep was an issue, but we did not know the emotional turmoil that she was feeling. Until it was too late.
We were only allowed to be around my niece a handful of times through these 13 years. That added to our pain as the only part of my sister we had left, we were not able to be with. We were not allowed to be an active part of her daughter’s life. We were not allowed to be there for her, to bond with her, to love her and show her the depths of our love for her. We were forbidden, for the majority of these years, from interacting with her.
My niece will be 14 years old in July. I often wonder how things would have been different if her mother had been here all of these years. I know I would have had a closer relationship with her as my sister would have made sure that all of us saw her more and got to spend quality time with her.
I often wonder what we could have done differently to have prevented my sister’s suicide. For a long time, we carried so much guilt and shame for not knowing … not seeing … not stopping … this heart breaking, tragic event that took my sister from us all.
Oh yes, I often wonder what life would have been like. I sure do.
May 13, 2015 @ 4:07 pm
Thank you of sharing your sister’s story with us. May God continue giving you, your and your family comfort in real and tangible ways.
May 14, 2015 @ 11:44 am
Thank you for your kind words, Jolene. That is how I have made it thus far, with God as my strength and Him providing comfort as only He can.
May 13, 2015 @ 10:14 pm
Thank you for sharing your sister’s journey, the raw pain and vulnerability. Postpartum depression is something that was rarely discussed fourteen years ago, but so very really for many mothers. Keep those memories alive of your sister, one day your niece will want to know about her mother. “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, but love leaves a memory that no one can steal.” ~ Irish Headstone
May 14, 2015 @ 11:44 am
Jackie, your words brought tears. Thank you for what you said, and yes, I strive to keep my sister’s memories alive just for that very reason. I have pictures of my sister holding her newborn baby moments after she was born … and then when they came home from the hospital. These pictures that once brought so much joy, brought so much pain afterwards. I have them in a safe place to one day, hopefully, share them with my niece.
May 13, 2015 @ 10:24 pm
Oh my, Shirley! What heart-felt – beautifully written – words; such pain and heartache at this tragedy in your life and that of your sister and your niece and your whole family…then to not even be able to be around this niece of yours, the only part of your sister that you could have; yet, you couldn’t…
I don’t know what more to day other than thank you for sharing this post…yes, we DO often wonder, don’t we?! May God continue to wrap His arms gently around you and comfort your heart.
May 14, 2015 @ 11:42 am
Thank you so much, Barbara. The pain is so great at times, even after 13 years.