March 24 is the birthday of my sister Julia who died in 1974.
She was 4 years old when an accident suddenly took her life. I was 4 1/2 months old.
I named my son Julian to acknowledge and honour my sister Julia. I don't know what he will someday think of the source of his name. All of my children are named for my deceased female relatives, so perhaps he will see that every name in our family has a story.
About 4 years ago my mother passed to me some clothing that had once belonged to Julia. It was the first time since 1974 that she had looked at or touched the items. There was a set of flannel pyjamas that were just the right size for Anna and I put her to bed in them one night. As she lay there asleep, I suddenly began to sob. I cried for a sister I never knew. I cried for a mother's heart broken. I cried over the unfathomable possibility that I could ever bury one of my daughters. I cried because I needed to know the story of that little girl with the red hair who was my sister.
In that moment, I grieved.
I still grieve. My life was shaped by her death; how could it be otherwise? But who would I have been if she had lived? And who would she be in my life? Would she, like my brothers, deem me unworthy of her time and affection? Or would she have been my friend, my role model and my protector?
Because of her, I take nothing for granted. If my children whisper "I love you", I am overwhelmed. When I stroke each little forehead before I go to sleep at night, I am filled with gratefulness. When they recover from an illness or suffer only minor scrapes and bruises, I am relieved. When we travel busy highways and arrive safely at home, I am able to exhale. And when I am tired, frustrated, annoyed, angry or petty I remember that I AM LUCKY to have these 4 children. I remember that my mother has a child who is never coming home.
I grieve. And I am grateful. And I take nothing for granted.