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Coping With The Death Of My Sister

Coping With The Death Of My Sister

My future children will not have an aunt — unless I marry someone with a sister. Where is her body? Is it in a hospital? Will I have to ID her? Was someone with her?

I will never hear her laugh again. Was she scared? I have failed at my duties as an older sister, to keep my little sister safe. What were her last words, last thoughts, last sights and sounds?

Who will I dance with ever again? Who will understand my sense of humor? What is going to happen to her pets? Was she drinking? Who witnessed this?

What is my mom going to look like when I see her for the first time after she has lost her youngest daughter? Who should I call, in what order, to notify? I don’t have a sister anymore. I don’t have a sibling, at all, anymore.

It seems as though this list of thoughts could fill up an entire day’s worth of thinking. They happened in less than five minutes. My mind was on overdrive, like an old-time movie reel clicking forward with no one to stop it.

These were the first few moments after I was notified that my little sister, Chloe, had died in a car accident. These were the first few moments after I heard a part of my mother’s heart leave her chest forever, as she cried, “My baby, my baby!” over the phone. And then I knew, without a single detail being shared, that Chloe was gone.

Packing a suitcase for any trip is bad enough. I stared at my empty suitcase, as it filled with my salty tears, and all I could logically conclude was that I would need to pack a black dress. My mind could not execute any higher functions at that very moment. So I placed my black dress and black shoes in the suitcase and began the unknown journey of grieving as I drove from Gainesville to Orlando.

A sheriff’s deputy came to my family’s home in Orlando to tell us, my sister’s boyfriend and his family that Chloe’s car went 18 feet underwater into a retention pond. It was a pond that I used to drive by every day. Some “pond” — it was 18 feet deep and should be considered a lake. It mysteriously engulfed a four-door car along with my sister’s beautiful body and soul.

I couldn’t explain the rage I had toward the deputy, who was a complete stranger to Chloe but had the privilege to know more information about her death than I did. He had come to help us, and I envied him. It was illogical as many things would turn out to be in the next two years without Chloe.

Tears filled the room as no one knew what to do next, except missing her desperately. The deputy pulled me away to give me a bag of her belongings that they had pulled from the car. It included Chloe’s glittery high-heel shoes, that only she could pull off wearing, along with her soaking-wet wallet, purse and clothes. I immediately started laying everything out to dry as if it would give me a clue as to what happened, or maybe even bring her back.

It was only a nauseating two hours before news teams showed up at our door. What could they have possibly expected from a family whose hearts have been ripped out and minds can’t focus? We weren’t eating, we weren’t sleeping, we were in shock. But it would make for a good news story.

As the news spread, neighbors, friends and family came by. The statements “How are you doing?” and “I am sorry for your loss” never seemed more idiotic. My eyes were swollen, my nose raw, my stomach in knots and my chest so tight. Despite my physical pain, I knew I had to be the grounded one, the one to ask, realistically, what do we do next? Is there a “Death for Dummies” book?

Learning to plan a funeral is not the same as learning to play an instrument or learning to ride a bike. You have one shot to create the last memory of someone’s life. On top of it, there was no will. We did our best to honor what we thought Chloe would want in celebrating her life. Would she have been proud? We will never know.

Originally Published in the Self Narrate Column in the Gainesville Sun

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