Dear Readers, It’s my Little Sister’s 64th birthday. Those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile, know I’ll most likely pack a lunch and head to Lake Michigan. There I’ll wander the beach, keeping an eye out for a meaningfully-shaped rock or a piece of beach glass, a reminder the broken can be made beautiful.
The breeze, the earth meeting the sky, the waves kissing the sand in a steady cadence, an opportunity to find another bit of beach glass – all of it soothes my heart. Always there is quiet remembering as I let myself feel whatever I feel.
I invite you read a letter I wrote to Brenda Jane on what would be her 64th birthday.
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August 28, 2022
Happy Birthday, Little Sister, on what would be your 64th birthdayA couple of days ago, I suddenly wanted to cry. I knew it meant something was bothering me but wasn’t sure what it was. I wrote in my journal about something that had made me sad the day before. The next day, tears threatened once again. And then I knew. Tomorrow would be the anniversary of your birth followed seven hours later by your death.
I was aware of the significance of the day coming up but hadn’t taken time to acknowledge it other than to note the date and make plans for my usual trip to Lake Michigan. Often my body and heart know something before my mind catches on.
We were in Pennsylvania the summer of 1959, visiting Grandma Hertzler at her beloved farm. Oh, how I loved that dairy farm. All of us did.
No one knew you would come so soon. You were to arrive in December, maybe a Christmas Baby like Mom. August 27, I went to bed, probably thinking about the baby I hoped would be a girl, only to wake to news of the tiny baby sister who came and went while I slept. Born four months too early you couldn’t stay.
And now it is August 28, 2022, sixty-four years later. I’ve been to Lake Michigan today.
The breeze, the earth meeting the sky, the waves kissing the sand in a steady cadence . . . all of it soothes my heart. Today is no different.
Now, here I am at my favorite coffee shop, writing a letter to you
and wondering . . .
Would you have brown hair like me and Ronnie or strawberry blonde like Gordon and our Hertzler Cousins?
Would you have ADHD like Dad and me –and his dad and least half of the Longenecker’s it seems, although no one knew that then. Or would you have shaken your head and wondered along with Mom why I lost things, forgot things, couldn’t focus or organize my life?
The stories about the Longeneckers are legend. Our Grandpa Sam told Daddy one day: “Now Harold, you’re going to have to learn to remember things. What I do is I tie a string around my finger.” Dad wrote things on little scraps of paper and stuck them in his shirt pocket. Sometimes Mom found them before he did. I am much like our dad. I have learned how to compensate for it, but still find myself in predicaments. Sometimes I just have to say, “Silly me.”
Would you be an Enneagram “Two” like me? I love my “Two” friends. At our best, we are empathetic, sincere, and warm-hearted. I love all my friends, but it’s always good to have a healthy “Two” or two sprinkled in among your friends.
Would you see me as the Bossy Big Sister? (That could have been entirely possible being almost twelve years apart. Knowing me, I’m certain I could have played the role quite well.) ) Or would you have adored me the way my Granddaughter Maylie adores here two big brothers and sister.
Would we have grieved the loss of Gordon together? Or would we have grieved so differently we wouldn’t have been there for each other. How I wish you and Ronnie had been here then so we could have grieved together.
Would you have married? Had children? I have one niece and one nephew. I often wonder who is missing. Dad said, “One of the things that hurts when a child dies is we do not get to see who they would have become.”
It’s as if a dream dies with them. For me, the dream was a large family, with lots of cousins for our children. Our cousins are still a part of my life. This has not changed as I have grown older.. Our family reunions were the highlight of my growing up years as we made our annual trek back to Pennsylvania. One of the things I have grieved with your loss is the people you might have brought into my life.
At times, I feel alone even within my own family, especially after Mom and Dad died. Some days I still do. It isn’t anything my family does or doesn’t do, but no one can understand what it’s like to be the only one of your family left until you are the only one left.
Would you have loved the water like me? What would be your favorite color? Would you have houseplants like mom and me and our Grandmother Hertzler? I remember the delicate Baby’s Breath and her magnificent ferns.
Would you have been the daughter who carried on the quilt-making tradition passed on to our mother? She would have made a quilt for you and each of your children. It was her love language – All of those tiny stitches lovingly hand quilted. She wasn’t impressed with machine quilting.
Or would you make scrapbooks and digital books for the family like I do. (my love language.) I wish I could have become a quilter but the attention to detail and all those tiny stitches frustrated me.
I notice I’m making things either/or, when most likely there would be a lovely blend between the two of us. It’s no use trying to figure out how it would have been. All I have is your footprints from the hospital.
Since I never knew you, I can make you be whoever I’d like you to be. I think I’ll choose strawberry blond hair, brown eyes (a stunning combination) about my height (5’ 6’’) and let’s see, how about you be an Enneagram “Seven”.
“Sevens” are spontaneous, playful and lots of fun, and I like to have fun almost as much as I love one-on-one conversations. I’m comfortable in larger gatherings, but sometimes find it hard to focus the conversation I am in and soon I’m saying “Wait, what were we talking about? My brain started listening to all the other conversations going on and forgot to listen to the one I’m in.” It’s another “Silly me” moment.
Yes, there’s a lot I don’t know, but this one thing I do know. I wish you were here, and we could have met here at my favorite coffee shop, or at least had a phone call.
After I left for college, I didn’t see Gordon on his January birthdays anymore. (We only had two birthdays with Ronnie ). The Fall of 2004, we talked of plans to go to Yellowstone Park with Gordon’s family over his birthday. SIL Carol said it would be fun. She is great at planning adventures. But it had been a difficult few month with Mom being seriously ill. Gordon’s family made an unplanned trip from Montana at Christmas because we weren’t sure how long we’d have her. The thought of a trip to Yellowstone ten days later overwhelmed me. I said “no” to the trip. By the end of that year, Gordon was gone.
I have struggled with the thought I just didn’t care enough and yet, it’s true I was exhausted. I’ve learned to let myself off the hook for the decision I made that seemed best with what I knew at the time. Yet I am sad about the missed opportunity
Somehow the grief of losing you gets mixed up with the grief of losing our two brothers. Yes, my story would have been different without the loss of the three of you. I also know my story has shaped me into who I am today.
Have a great day celebrating you with Mom and Dad, Gordon and Ronnie. Someday I’ll join you again. Until then, pull an empty chair up to the table in my honor.
Your ever-lovin’ Big Sister
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And now Dear Reader, I am wondering if/how you mark these days of remembering. I have found it healing to remember and celebrate these special people in my life. In the early days of loss, these days are marked with sadness. As time goes by the sadness becomes mixed with the gratefulness for their presence in my life. Always there is the quiet remembering.
A few years ago I found this precious piece entitled of artwork “Two Sisters” What a privilege to meet the artist, Marilyn Cueller. I had been looking for something like this . . . It hangs on my wall with a gentle reminder of Brenda Jane, the Little Sister I never knew.
Feel free to share how you “remember.” You might give someone else an idea.
And in case you wonder about the above lineks, they are letters I wrote to my two brothers on one of their birthdays.
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Stay tuned. Next week is a reply to my Little Growing-Out-Of-The-Rock-Tree.