Thursday, December 8, 2011

Christmas: A Time to Remember

How do you remember someone you didn't know?
How do you miss a person you never had a relationship with?

I have been pondering these two questions for the past few years as I've tried to resolve and understand the  death of my 4-year-old sister when I was just 4 1/2 months old.

My family has rarely spoken about Julia, her life or her death.  I have never known much about her yet I've always felt an emptiness in my heart because of her absence from my life.  In the past year, I began to talk to my mother about her and I began to think more deeply about my own beliefs about life and death.  I began to develop a deeper understanding of my mother and I adopted a new attitude towards the Purpose of Life.

Last summer my mother, her sister and I visited the cemetery where my sister Julia is buried.  My mother told the entire story of the day my sister died, the following days and the funeral.  Most of the details were things I had never heard before.  My aunt was also a valuable source of information, filling in her own perspective as both a mother and a sister.  I wept for 3 solid hours.

Before we left, I read a letter to my sister:

Dear Julie,
I came here today with our mother and our aunt to honour you, your life and your memory.  You have always had a big presence in my life.
In the past year I have taken several steps to honour you:
  • I have put framed pictures of you in my home.
  • I have started to talk about you as one of my siblings.
  • I have started to say that I come from a family of 5 children and to regard our mother as a mother of 5.
  • Not insignificantly, I have named my son Julian so that a member of our family will always be linked to your memory.
I much to thank you for, so I offer you these thoughts of gratitude:
While our mother grieved for you she was nonetheless able to be tuned in to her true mothering instinct while she cared for me.  I was breastfed past my 3rd birthday and I slept in her bed until our brother Ben was born.  Because of the extraordinary love and protection that our mother was able to give me as a baby and toddler, I have a deep well of love from which to draw on my own mothering instinct.  The abundance of love that she gave to me has multiplied into my love for my children.
I also thank you because your memory reminds me to never take my children for granted, to be grateful for every moment, to give my love freely and to celebrate their authenticity.
And third, I thank  you for giving me a reason to deeply contemplate the purpose of my life, what is death and the meaning of love.
Finally, I came here to tell you that I LOVE YOU.  Through much pain I have learned that once created, love lasts forever.  I give my love to you today as your sister because we don't have to be together to share the deep connection of being sisters.

Then I left a picture of my 4 children on her headstone.

Christmas always seems like an appropriate time to honour and remember those we love who are no longer with us.  While death may create a permanent absence, perhaps by reconnecting to the love we shared with our dear ones we can enjoy bringing honour and meaning to their lives.  

I'll be lighting a candle throughout the holidays in honour of my sister Julia, and I will a take a few moments here and there to connect to the love I feel for her and to the bond of sisterhood.  I will draw my children closer and I will commit more fully to creating Peace and Joy for others to share.  I will rid my heart of darkness and I will offer up Light and Love within my home and community.

Will you be honouring anyone this Christmas by reconnecting to the love you shared?

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