The alarm clock goes off on my Mother’s phone. It’s somewhere around 5:30am. Probably earlier. Samantha is in one bed with her and I am in the other bed just a couple of feet away. For some reason, the night before Samantha said she wanted to sleep with Mom. We’re in a hotel room in Mobile, Alabama. It’s May 29, 2011. Mom quietly gets up to start making sure the final things are packed up before we head back to Charlotte, NC. The night before we celebrated the nuptials of my cousin Patrick and his new wife, Kristy.
The day before, the three of us were roaming through a Walmart picking up some random items. Mom and Samantha got into an argument – like most 18 year olds do with their mothers. Always testing them. Seeing how far they can go. Samantha almost got left at the store. Before we knew it, the two had made up – like most 18 years olds do with their mothers. Let’s be serious, Mom wasn’t going to actually leave her there…and she knew that.
Before heading to the wedding.
At the ceremony, Samantha would subtly snap pictures of me crying. That way she would have proof and be able to make fun of me later. Of course, she was laughing as she took the pictures. At the reception, we’d hop in the video booth to “perform” Sir Mix Alot’s Baby Got Back. After you finished, you were given a copy of your performance on a CD as a take away. This was before the days of Instagram, Snapchat and Boomerang. Oh, the fun that we would have had with those…
Moments from our time spent in Alabama replay in my head as if they happened yesterday. Moments from the drive down to Alabama, eating at a Whataburger for the first time, watching Lady Gaga’s “From The Inside Out” in our hotel room, spending time with family members in a place that we had never been… All moments that seemed so ordinary and simple as they were happening. Little did I know that each second spent with her was bringing us closer to the last moment we would have with her.
After the wedding, Aunt June, Mom, Andie, Samantha and I went back to spend some time at a friend of the family’s house. Samantha and Andie were in the kitchen. Mom and Aunt June chatting in another room. I was in the same room, half asleep on the couch. I vaguely recall bits and pieces of the conversations that each pair were having. I vaguely remember hearing a can crack open. Hmm. Wonder who was drinking soda? Or a beer? Mom, Samantha and I would make our way back to our hotel room. At 12:21am, Samantha would respond to the Facebook message I had written on her wall about our favorite part of the Lady Gaga special that we had watched earlier that day.
We grabbed our bags and headed down to the car. I’m sure we complained about the early start. I’m sure that Samantha, who had just finished her freshmen year of college, probably hated the early morning wake up call more than I did. I hopped in the passenger seat, Samantha in the back seat, right behind me, and she reminded us to wake her up when we decided to stop for breakfast.
As far as I can remember, those were the last words I ever heard her speak. We started on our journey back to Charlotte. Once we were back there, I would head back to Charleston, where I was living at the time. Mom, Dad and Samantha would continue on with their plans.
We plan and plan and plan. You can have so many plans in place and they can all go away in one split second.
The morning dew. The fog. The first hours of daylight when the sun is waking up the world. Everything happened so fast. The brightest lights I’ve ever seen. Time stopped and yet it was going a million miles a minute. All concept of time entirely lost. Standing on the bridge. Outside of the car. Complete denial. Shattered glass everywhere. The phone calls. The sirens. The blur of the next 24 hours as each motion was made from one location to the next. Hours turned into days. Days turned into weeks. And so on.
I grew up regularly attending church with my Mother and sister. When I went to public school, I attended CCD classes (yes, I just googled it to make sure that I could confidently say it stands for ‘Continuing Catholic Development’). I was in private Catholic school from K-2 and again from 9-12, in which Religion courses and masses were incorporated into our curriculum. I said my prayers with my Mom and Samantha before I went to bed each night. I’m not sure if this stopped, for me, at some point during High School or this continued on? I made my way to college and I found that I worked most Saturdays and Sundays. Church took a spot on the back burner.
College was a whirlwind. There’s so many things about the four years, one year in Providence and three in Charlotte, that taught me so much. Taught me a whole lot about what not do as well. School. Work. Friends. Family. Me time. It’s a tough balancing act. Or is it? Then, life post college. Trial and error. More life lessons.
On May 29th 2011, I had been living in Charleston for seven months. I had moved down there not knowing anyone for a job opportunity that I was thrilled about. I had moved down there in October. That week, Samantha’s school had “Siblings Weekend”. I remember hating that I had to miss it. Looking back, I would give anything to go back and have been there that weekend.
Over the past 5 years, I’ve learned to not have too many moments of the would’ve, should’ve, could’ve thoughts. They won’t change anything. Feelings of guilt will not make anything better or bring her back.
I’ve always wondered if people know when they are going to depart this world. It seems illogical to think that. If someone knew that, then clearly they would ensure proper goodbyes were given and any unfinished business was complete. Yet, there’s little moments that when you look back that seem entirely out of the ordinary. As if you should’ve stopped and questioned what was happening. Why those decisions were being made. Why those particular photos were being taken. Why those kind words were being said.
You may or may not have a religion that you practice. You may or may not believe in God or some higher being. You may or may not believe in heaven or something beyond our existence on Earth. Either way, you probably have seen heaven depicted with certain attributes to provide a visual. The blue skies. Golden gates. Bright lights. Some upward guide – perhaps stairs or a reaching hand. All meant to give us a sense of peace. Acceptance. Where we all hope to end up.
Many of our friends and family leave this world unexpectedly. When someone leaves us far before their time, it often becomes even more challenging to understand and accept why this has happened. As heartbreaking as it is, we will never get those answers.
Over the past five years, I relive memories that I have had with my sister each and everyday. Photos and shared stories with friends and family memories allow for us to have her live on through all of us. The first few years were the hardest. Five years later, losing her doesn’t get any better. For eighteen years I had my sister here with me. The good times. The bad times. As each year unfolds, I have her with me in a much different way. It’s not the preferred way, but it’s the only way.
My heart breaks when I think of all the parts of life that she never got to experience. That she was never able to fulfill her dreams of being a nurse. Selfishly, I cry when I remember she won’t be there on my wedding day to be my maid of honor or that my future kids will never get to meet their Aunt. Most of all, my heart breaks for my parents for losing their child.
The morning dew. The fog. The first hours of daylight when the sun is waking up the world. There are not golden gates, but the arches of the bridge stand in front of the backdrop of the blue sky. The blinding bright lights have seemed to fade a bit as the sun is making it’s way further and further up the sky. Time is at a standstill. Our world has been turned up side down. How will we go on without her?
Some people believe in signs. Others think it’s a way of making yourself feel better and that people see what they want to see. You can think what you want to think and perhaps see what you want to see. We all have our own ways of coping, dealing, accepting, remembering… It’s a process. It’s a journey. A part of you that never goes away. It will constantly test you, challenge you and teach you.
From my sadness I try to allow gratitude to emerge. Gratitude for the time that I had with her. I feel honored for all of the memories and for all that I have been able to learn from her over the past 23 years. Her absence here physically is a constant reminder that my time, as well as everyone else, here is limited. Life needs to be lived. People need to be appreciated. Love needs to be given…because sometimes there are no second chances or no tomorrows.