I am the only one left. The greatest lesson my sisters’ deaths gave me.
I’m 37 years old, and both of my sisters passed away before the age of 35. This has become the greatest travesty of my life, and also the impetus to live a life that honors them. I was born the middle child of three girls.
My older sister, Erin, passed away in 2013 at the age of 33. Seven years later, my younger sister left this world too. I am alone. I am now an only child. As I grieve these great losses, there are so many questions I ask myself each day, like: Why am I still here? Am I next? Will I be enough for my parents? Have I been the disappointing daughter? With whom will I share my childhood? Are these questions selfish? Maybe.
To some degree I was, and still am, your average middle sibling and child. I sometimes felt ignored, was fairly well-behaved, and left home as soon as I was old enough. Our childhood was rife with struggles, disappointment and a lot of wonderful memories. Growing up with instability and abuse, however, scarred the three of us, all in different ways. As early as the age of eight I did my best to control what I could by obsessing over my food intake and exercise. Since we came from a long line of addiction, developing disordered eating habits came as no surprise, and is something with which I struggle to do this day. To get out of my family’s grasp, I left home for school a few hours away as soon as I graduated high school, moved to a city nearby upon graduating, and shortly thereafter moved out of state. Being ten hours away from my family and their problems made me feel secure, at least for a little while. My sisters found their paths, and obsessions, in pain medicines and food.
Although I didn’t live near my sisters, they were my sisters. It’s lonely to be the only left in this world who shared the same household as me when I was growing up. I can’t talk about life and loss without talking about my sisters’ lives to some extent. I don’t want to provide short shrift on either of them, and will save their extended stories for a different day.
Erin, my older sister, struggled with addictive behaviors for as long as I could remember. From smoking cigarettes as a young teenager, to finding a work buddy with whom she embezzled a good bit of money, to finally finding her way to her addiction to always being sick and painkillers. People said my sister was weird, and a strange bird. I remember this to be true. She was different, and didn’t quite understand social norms and cues that most others understand. That’s who she was and it was challenging to watch her go from weird to disconnected to becoming her addiction. I remember we tried all of the strategies, she wound up in rehabilitation a few times, but could never find her way out. I remember her telling my mother that “she just didn’t know how else to be.” For those who have experienced addiction, or have watched a love one go through it, you know exactly what she meant. Fate took my sister’s life on January 8, 2013, also my husband’s birthday.
Kim, my younger sister by 5 years, struggled with self-esteem for as long as I could remember. She was a super cute kid growing up, but was often teased at school. Kids can be cruel, and they called her fat. She gained weight, dropped it, and loved to eat (who doesn’t!). She was what one considers a late bloomer, and stayed at home with my mother for a long time to work and start community college. Once she finished, she moved out and finished her studies in psychology. While there, she met her husband, and I believe she felt she found her tribe, a place and group where she finally felt she could be herself. My sister was insecure, a little bit of an introvert, smiled tons, and was always checking in on others. She had a big presence, and a big personality. She left this world on May 6, 2020 during the chaos that is COVID-19. I had spoken with her only hours before her death. She was 32.
This is tough. It’s tough to digest, to comprehend, and, sometimes it’s still so difficult to believe. I am reminded every moment of everyday that I am on the only one left. It’s scary and burdensome at times, but, thankfully, serves as an impetus to help others find balance.
The greatest lesson that my sisters have given me is you have to have balance in your life. Tragedy is unavoidable, although some of us may be a little bit more fortunate than others in this area. You can’t have a good career or a great marriage unless all of the other things are in balance too, like good health, and a good support system. People experience trauma every day, and we all deal with it so differently. Even as individuals, one loss may look and feel very different for us depending on the experience. I can definitely say that the loss of my older sister versus my younger sister feels different to me. Some of us avoid it, some of us wallow in it, and we oftentimes try to put an expiration date on it. Tragedy, loss, and grief are all a part of the moments that define who we are. They aren’t good or bad, but oftentimes we try to put it in a box and tuck it away instead of using it for something good in our lives.
While I would give anything to bring my sisters back I can’t. However, I can take what they’ve taught me and shown me to help others.