Today, I worked for several hours listing items for eBay. One was a stone statue of a family carved by an Inuit artist. As I photographed this piece, moving it several times to get different angles, a vivid memory washed over me. I was fifteen again, visiting the Royal Gorge with my sister Leslie, her husband Ray and their two children. We were walking toward the Gorge when Leslie saw two nuns in habits walking back towards us. “Hello, Sisters,” she said. They seemed pleased that someone had spoken to them. “Hello!” they said and passed on by.
I remember thinking at the time that Leslie, eleven years my senior, knew how to navigate out in the world. She wasn’t shy or intimidated. I felt proud of her for that. I lived in a little Texas town of 7000 people at that time. I may not have ever seen nuns in person before then. If I had, I certainly wouldn’t have felt comfortable enough to speak to them. Leslie was already married, had two kids and was moving from Salt Lake City to Chicago. She was miles ahead of me in terms of experience. She was one of my keystone people, one of my guides out in the world.
That memory brought on a wave of grief. I so miss my big sister. She died several years back and because of scarring on her brain from a bike accident twenty years prior, she slowly began to lose her memory about ten years before she died. It started with not being able to keep up with her paperwork as a psychologist and ended up with symptoms of full-blown Alzheimer’s disease. In other words, I lost my sister long before she died. She had moments of clarity, but they became less and less. The person who had changed my diapers, carried me on her hip, taught me about menstruation and then explained the details of sex, that person who had shepherded me through adolescence and young adulthood slowly faded away before my eyes. I grieved, but it was over a course of years, not at the time of her actual death. By that point, I felt relief that she had been liberated from a mind and body that were no longer functioning.
Sometimes I can look in the mirror and see my sister in my reflection. It is not always. I don’t know if it’s the way the light hits my face or if I happen to be looking at myself with a certain expression. Whatever the case, I am always happy when I see Leslie in my own face. I feel comforted and not so far from her.
Maybe the Inuit carving of the family intuitively reconnected me to one of the key figures in my own family. Or maybe for some reason, today was the day that I needed to think about just how much I loved (and continue to love) my big sister. Whatever the case, I’m glad to have had such a deep connection to another human being from such an early age. I feel grateful for that gift.
Here is the photo of the carving and also one of my sister, Leslie.