She took her last breath at 6:30am on September 6, 2020. She was my little sister. Funny how we do that, no matter how close to seniors’ stage we are – little sisters will always be little sisters to the older.
Reva was beautiful; exceptionally beautiful. She certainly had no problem turning heads and often invoking envy. She was smart, a doer and a dancer and she was funny too. She held our family sense of humor, honed in the history of pain and endurance, in doing whatever it took. She wouldn’t have recognized how that humor and ability to persist was ingrained through many generations reduced to survival.
She didn’t much talk about our Indigeneity; it was not something we consciously talked about. We just were and mostly, we tried to forget about it. Mostly we had associated every awful and humiliating moment of our childhood with it.
We went through the fostering system together, until the day I ran away from it and she aged out of it. Even then, we weren’t really free. We still had the weight of all we’d gone through before, during and even after. In our own ways, we decided the only path out was to pursue the model of success that was firmly impressed on us throughout those years. We only had to just work hard; very hard. We only had to have a nice home and maybe husbands and kids and maybe a car too. We only had to be respectable.
My journey with that empty misconception ended with several years of help to undo those generations of trauma. She sought help where she most felt at home. I don’t know how stable or even healing that was for her. I think it mostly hurt her, really. Yes, she was beautiful and smart and so, so complicated.
It wasn’t always easy to love her. I suppose they would say that about me too. I just like to think all that therapy gave me some measure of genuine peace she didn’t have. It’s in that, as a big sister that I find most painful. It’s not much different really, from all those earnest wishes for happiness and safety we have for our babies.
We achieved those goals to similar degrees. In the end, it was our children and homes that mattered most, but the ugly monster that was our childhood never really left her. She never quite found the combination that would allow her to be, to just be, in ease and in the ability to admit failure. That sometimes made her a pretty tough judge and not everyone was interested in hearing the verdicts. Sometimes other events hardened hearts indefinitely. It’s one of the most miserable of human experiences to simultaneously love someone so deeply while fighting the soulful wish to feel only indifference. Hopeless dreams.
Still, she held out her hands, arms and whatever resources available to help anyone she could. Generosity was hers too. Her heart would melt at the sight of impersonal suffering. She was a force and it was a good feeling if she was on your side.
As a sister, there was plenty of special too; the way we knew what the other was thinking by locking eyes. Breaking into gut-busting laughter over things only we could understand. It was an indescribable comfort to know she was there when I was scared. It was gut-wrenching when her pain became mine.
I hadn’t been talking to her for some time when her boy found her on the floor. She’d been rushed into surgery to remove the discovered brain tumor that they said was going to take her in a matter of months, and that’s when I got the call.
It doesn’t seem real. It didn’t then and it doesn’t now. One moment often replays in my mind. It was when I arrived at her home and saw her sitting in the corner of her couch, so small and quiet and beautiful, even with all those metal staples down one side of her head. She didn’t say anything, but I felt it all. I felt her fatigue and confusion; I felt her fear.
I could only go to her and take her in my arms and tell her that I loved her. In only a moment, all those years of trying to figure out life and our issues were done. One single, damned moment. One single, holy moment.
We had her for eight and a half more months; somewhat short of the 24 they told us was possible. I think we just knew, this time the possible was not an achievable goal. We were back to survival mode, where the practicality of what had to be dealt with in undoing an entire lifetime was paramount.
Her sons and I packed up boxes and tried to plan as best as possible for her youngest son’s eventual move to his father’s and her older son’s grappling with the baggage of the past and the infuriating circumstances of the present. Broken hearts can’t be boxed.
We spent the last few weeks just talking until she lost most of the ability. Then she would mostly just look at us as we’d try to regale her with any stories of normalcy.
Two days before she passed, I obsessed over the thought that I needed a sign when she was on the other side. I asked her to please show me something purple. “I don’t know why I picked purple, but will you”? I pleaded. She nodded, yes. She knew why I picked purple, but she wasn’t able to tell me. I didn’t even remember until she was gone, her birthstone is an amethyst. Anyway, when she nodded, I knew she would.
Eight and a half months to live what matters and even if she couldn’t say it often, I know she loved us hard and no one as much as her sons and grandson. I know this is mainly what she thought about in that time and if she could have made everyone’s wishes come true then, she would have. She had so many dreams…
In the end, she lived up to that final promise to me and I know she will for others. I can promise that. Another thing you could always count on her for was, keeping her word.
A couple weeks after she passed, I went for a walk. It was late September and the leaves were turning color. The wind that rustled fallen leaves was distinctly cooler. I plodded on, lost in thought until I was stopped in my <insert whatever cliché>.
Even if they had noticed, it might not have made much of an impression on anyone else. It was unusual to me though, and it happened to be one of my favorite flowers; a Lupin, a flower that blooms in spring. Of course, it was purple.
I didn’t have a thought. Not that I recall. I do remember the way it felt. It was like my entire being was suddenly filled with warmth that I find hard to describe. I instantly and absolutely knew my little sister was home and she was safe. That was all I really needed to know since I first got that call, and of course, she knew that…