Guest Blogger, Erica brings us: I Have A Sister.

When people ask me if I have any siblings, I’m totally stumped. I become a mute for about 15 looong seconds, and then I say, “Welllllllllll . . . I lost my sister when I was twenty.” Like I misplaced her and can’t quite remember where. It’s the polite thing—the easy thing to say, so that I don’t cause their eyes to widen in horror and then downshift quickly into a sickening pity. Because yes, I have a sister. She just isn’t here anymore. And such an innocent question leads to such a harsh truth. She’s dead. Someone decided that he could choose if she lived or not. And he chose not. So there’s that. And when someone asks me, I know I brush it away. I give the easy little explanation and promptly change the subject. So . . . it could’ve been sickness, right? Car accident? I let the assumptions hang in the air, unanswered. If pressed, then it happens. The pity. The horrified look. The stammering and inability to “say the right thing.” What’s worse, that or having it go ignored? No questions? No outward compassion? Distance? Yeah. That’s probably worse.

My sister was murdered in her apartment. When she was just 22. Weeks away from graduating from school—a nurse/midwife-to-be. Yes, she was my older sister. Yes, we were very close. I miss her every day (I usually leave this part out—too vulnerable). It was 1997. God, could it be? That long? I almost hate to admit how long it’s been—I’m afraid it makes people think that I should be “over it.” Or that at least it’s less painful. (What Other People Think Of Me Is None Of My Business). Admittedly, of course it is. Painful, that is. I don’t live in such a raw place on a daily basis, like I did back then—one, two, five, eight years . . . But now, this will be fifteen years? Fifteen. Such a round solid number, fifteen. Fourteen seems like a lot, and then . . . fifteen.

And here it is: I DO miss her every single day. I DO sometimes cry because I want to talk to her so fucking badly it makes me taste metal. I hate that I sometimes can’t remember what her voice sounds like. I hate how much I miss her spindly fingers digging into my hand as she squeezes it to violently show her love for me. I hate that she never did get to pay for my first tattoo. She wanted to. But thank SIPNEL I didn’t do it then. At eighteen, on spring break from my freshman year of college. Visiting her in Albany, and the two of us taking a road trip from her apartment through Massachusetts, Vermont, and back home again. Stopping at art galleries, little coffee shops, head shops, museums, a Buddhist temple, and . . . a tattoo parlor. Oh, it would’ve been quite the sun/moon eighteen-year-old-hippie-chick tattoo, I’m sure (shudder). I’m quite sure she was so enthusiastic to “get me my first tattoo” just to drive our parents through the roof. She had a special kind of talent for that.

So the crux of it is . . . how does one “deal?” I don’t know. I haven’t any idea. Ask my therapist. What I do know is that, over time, I have found myself adopting women. Sisters. Even before she was gone, I met three women who became sisters to me as I started life in college. They were my roommates, best friends, and fierce advocates. They were with me when I found out. They were awakened by knocks on our apartment door at six in the morning on November 7, 1997. They were in my bedroom standing next to my bed when my parents told me. They held me so tightly over the following weeks, months, years—they still do. And then there are the others, the women in my life, who may not even know. The parents of students who have become friends. The women I have met through my work, through theatre, through mutual friends. They inspire and support me, and probably have no idea.

I do it and I know I’m doing it. I look for sisters. I look for women who have a little nurturing gene, a penchant for taking care. And I snuggle into that. It is so comforting and makes me take a deep breath. I hold my breath so much, it’s amazing I can sing at all. And they exist, these women! Everywhere! In that, I know that even though I lost one, I gained many. And boy, if that isn’t just what gets me through the day.

This adoption process is just one of the ways that my loss manifests itself. I know I also have a tendency to throw love around like confetti. There’s just so much of it! Look! It’s so colorful! Prettyyyyy . . . See, there’s a part of me that just feels like life is too fucking short. We are all dying. Every moment. Right now. You’re dying! I am, too! But it’s ok. I have this deep need to let every person in my life who moves me, who is dear to me, who I love—well, I have to let them know how much I love them. All the time. I think it’s important. And I’m not sorry. I’m not going to put away the sparkly goodness, as my cousin Erin would say. It might be a bit much. It might be scary. It might make me too vulnerable. I’ll take it. Hit me with your best shot, life! I ain’t scared o’ you!

I have written about this many times, in many different ways. To write it here, and allow it out of reach into the scary, judgey interwebs is somewhat terrifying. I can’t help feeling that I’ve written better, that I’ve been clearer, more interesting. What is true is this: losing my sister at the hands of another human being did not make me hate, fear, or withdraw. It has made me cry, rage, question, and become fiercely assured that people are generally good, and that love is everything, and that hating will never solve anything, and that everyone deserves to hear how much they are loved. All the time. So hear it. It might just be coming from me.

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45 Comments

Filed under All of them., Women and friendship.

45 responses to “Guest Blogger, Erica brings us: I Have A Sister.

  1. Wow! Loved this post. Thanks for talking about your loss. Much of what you said rang so true for me as I lost my brother to suicide when I was eighteen and in college. I can totally relate to the, “Do you have siblings?” question. Sometimes I tell the truth and sometimes I just say I am an only child if I don’t feel like getting into it. Thanks so much for your post!

    • YES. I (sad to admit) have also just said I’m an only child. But only to those who I know I have no connection with, who I will never see again. It’s a tricky one. Thanks for reading… –Erica

      • Melanie Uhlir

        Love should absolutely be thrown around like confetti! Life IS too short! Everyone should ALWAYS let the people they love know how much they mean and how much they are loved! I am so sorry for your loss and pain but I celebrate your attitude completely! It is the only proper way to go through life! Love.

  2. Kristen

    So poignant, Erica! I am honored to be a new sister (a freshie?) in your beautiful way of taking pain and planting seeds hope. I love you!

  3. Susan Bronk

    Darling Erica, Jenna’s voice was soft. I’m not sure I can hear it, but even when I could, sometimes it was so soft that I wasn’t certain of what she had said.

    Your guest blog is a beautiful ode to sister-love. It reached the deepest part of my being, my heart.

    Showers of love,
    Aunt Sue

  4. Kate Johnston

    Erica – I was moved to the core by this. I am so sorry for this loss, which is never over and which shapes how you live your life- with grace, clarity and love. Thank you for sharing. You are a great soul and a wonderful writer!

    Kate

  5. Rebecca Meinking

    Wow Erica. There was love for Jenna in every single word you wrote. Absolutely beautiful. I wish I had the opportunity to know Jenna. But I’m certainly lucky to have the opportunity to know you. And that you can rise above it all and still see all the good in people is a testament to you, to the person that you are. Jenna would be SO VERY proud of her little sister. You are an amazing woman.

  6. Kerri Kowal

    Beautiful writing, Erica. I remember both you and Jenna growing up. What you’ve written feels so grounded and pure, and it reminds me to slow down and soak in the goodness and love that I’m so blessed to have around me. Thanks. You’re quite very awesome.

  7. Maureen Papovich

    That was beautiful Erica. I’m approaching the one yr anniversary of my older brother’s sudden death. Very different situation but still nice to read this as I prepare for what I’ve decided will be his “angel day.” (the day he became an angel.) Anyhow, thanks for sharing. If I knew you, I’d hope that you would snuggle into me and add me to your list of sisters. 🙂

  8. Jordan

    Erica – I think of you, of Jenna, and of your family so often. I am so glad we have re-connected after so many (many!) years. Your story has really touched me to the core and what you wrote here is so powerful. Thank you for sharing and continue on with that sparkly goodness and love. You are amazing.
    Jordan

  9. madeline young

    Erica – beautiful and eloquent. Thank you.

  10. tiffanie reid

    I love you, Erica! ❤ ❤ ❤ It's so strange how fate brought you and me together to be friends, and that we both suffered tragic, sudden losses the same month of the same year… before we knew each other. Each November, you are in my mind as someone who has felt a lot of the same pain. And, as awful as it is, it's a connection that you and I have that comforts me. I feel consolation knowing that someone "new" to my life understands that part of me without having known me at the time. .

    So wonderful, though, that we met at a time that we were able to welcome our first babies, just a month apart…. anything but traumatic (well, except all the crying!!) I love what we share with each other. ❤ ❤ ❤ Miss you.

    Beautiful piece.

  11. Erica, I went to high school with your parents. My brother died when I was 8 years old (he was 15). It was so important to me that people recognize his life and not pretend that he wasn’t part of our lives or that he didn’t exist. Years ago, people thought it was better to conceal feelings and never bring up tragedy (thank goodness we have learned a little more about grieving). I understand your hesitation about the sibling question, but after all the years (54) since Neal’s death, I continue to want to celebrate the wonderful person he was and I miss him every day. He will always be a part of me, as Jenna is a part of you. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Janice Geddes

    I feel compelled to state publicly that I am incredibly proud of you and so grateful that you chose to be a survivor and huntress of “sisters” which, in turn, gives me that many more “daughters”. Good job. On all fronts. You are my amazing (and sparkly) girl.

  13. Barbi

    Thank you for writing this . You open doors to places where people don’t know how to enter. Your honest feelings and love for Jenna is more than beautiful. I agree with your mom, on all fronts you are amazing and a very sparkly girl. I believe with all of my heart that God is blessing both you and Jenna and all of the people that are connected. He gives us so much, especially hugs and love to snuggle into. I cried when I read this, but as I’m replying, I’m smiling! I know Jenna is too! She must be very very proud to have a sister like you.

  14. mike neely

    Beautifully written Erica! As always…
    It feels like I need to say something, and I’ve wanted to say this for awhile; it makes me sooo happy to be re-connected with you and your mom, even if it is only on FaceBook. (due to the many miles between us) I think of Jenna everyday and many times find comfort in just seeing a ‘recent post’ picture of your precious little boy. Oh, how he would love his Aunt Jenna!
    Nestled away in my dads attic are all the notes she wrote me in high school. I guess being a pack-rat does have advantages! When I read her notes I can always hear her soft voice as if she were reading them to me. I hear her voice often-but she’s not always saying what I want to hear…

  15. I am glad Allison posted a link to this on Facebook. You and your family are truly remarkable! In everything that happened and everything that has come about to hopefully never let this happen again, you all have been amazing.

  16. Adrienne O.

    I am humbled and awed that you so eloquently have shared this deepest tragedy of your life. Of course I had some knowledge of your dear sister and of your infinite loss. But I know much more vividly your fierce embrace of life, your own mother/nuturer tendencies, and the incredible web of love that you seek out and surround yourself with. You, my friend, are an amazing and strong woman.

  17. You know, you are essentially a very pretty Buddhist monk. Spreading love and compassion is the answer to everything. I’m just sorry for what you had to go through to get here. But you’re here. Thank you.

  18. Sue

    Erica, simply a beautiful tribute a beautiful person who I only knew for far too short of a time. I was moved to write because in a much different way, I lost parents, (they are still here but for very real and hurtful reasons, I cannot have them in my life) and similarly, I look to replace that loss every day. Thank you for letting me know, I am not alone in this quest.

  19. It warms my heart to see all the “kids” from our past who you and Jenna brought to our family. And to see all the folks who love you who are new to your family. I guess it only proves again that we are all a family and those with special gifts, and a beautiful sister, like yours only help remind the rest of us. Thank you schweetie!

  20. Erica, thank you for sharing this, braving the scary open interweb vacuum.

    Having lost my brother, I have similar struggles with strangers & new friends: how much to share? I am struck by how time passing (19 years now, half my life) does soften the sharpest of the edges, and I’m certainly able to access the blessings (because, unbelievably, there *are* gifts to be gleaned from tragic loss) more easily. A well-honed sense of mortality allows – no, forces – us to eat life fully, love as freely as we are able.

    Reading your post, coupled with utter lack of sleep of late, has left me a bit wobbly. I hear Jason’s voice best in my dreams, and last night I dreamed of him singing a gyrating, full-on joyful rendition of, “I’m Too Sexy”, something he graced me with the last time I saw him. What a goofy, wonderful gift. Who knew. Who ever knows? And so we live on the best we can. There is no getting over it, just a need to keep letting the hardest won lessons inform our daily lives and loves so that we are the better for it.

    Xoxoxo

  21. Shae Jewell

    this is beautiful, and it’s one of those beautiful friends, who were there when I found out, holding me, who showed me this. I have so much respect for you, and thank you for writing this. It gives me hope.

    • Erica Steinhagen

      Dearest Shae, I hope we can connect soon in person and talk. Hope is everything, love is everything. Hold those dear ones close and let them hold you. Sink into their love.

  22. Melanie Beck

    Erica,
    I am so humbled and moved by your openess and honesty in your beautiful but heart breaking words. I think you are a phenomenal person and your strength is truly incredible. You have been such a role model for me for over 5 years now (crazy!!). It’s been a while since we had lessons in the Ithaca practice rooms, but please know I love you, emulate your talent and spirit, and I am sending you so much love right at this moment.
    mwah,
    Melanie

    • Erica Steinhagen

      Sweet Melanie, thank you. I loved our days together, and I love hearing you now. So so so much love to you. This means so very much. No words are enough. lovelovelove to you.

  23. Greta O'Keefe

    Erica –

    This knocked me over – your heart for the world to see – so beautiful and sad at the same time! You are such a passionate and loving person, and I truly wish I knew you better.

    Greta

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