Vicki Cabot

Memory as a blessing

Night sky.
Evening sky (photo by Vicki Cabot)

On the day before my sister died, I painted my toenails purple.

It was towards the end of a difficult couple of weeks when she was gradually fading, and I waited thousands of miles away for the dreaded call telling of her demise.

She had been declining for years, struck with a devastating disease that gradually diminished her, leaving a little less of her there each time we visited.

So it was, during the agonizing wait, that I impulsively chose purple that day, the deep hue reminding me of my sister’s fondness for rich colors and sparkly accessories, of her big smile and generous spirit, of her courage and strength, and of her infectious laughter and the sheer joy she radiated.

And a remembrance of amethyst, her gem of choice, her birthstone, and our mom’s, who was born on the same day as she was.

Estelle was fun, and funny, smart and accomplished, a devoted wife, mother, friend, a superlative teacher and counselor.

And my big sister.
And everyone needs one, especially me.

In our family, we had always been the four girls. The four daughters, the four sisters.
Growing up we shared dolls and tea sets, then clothes and make up, then tales of dates and romantic suitors, and happily ever after lives imagined ahead.

But she was the first, the trailblazer, the eldest, the one charting new territory, the first Tangee lipstick, the first eyelash curler, the first pair of nylons, the first boyfriend, the first to go away to college, the first to marry and move far from home.

And she was the source of advice on everything from which fraternities to date, to which college classes to take, to how to negotiate with loving but overly protective parents and navigate then overly restrictive campus rules.

And later, as she became a teacher, a wife, and then a mother, how to make a brisket, how to find child care, how to deal with a difficult student, how to keep in touch even as the miles separated us. Gifts and cards for every occasion, recipes, handwritten notes and envelopes stuffed with Instamatic photos of her children as they grew.

And more.

And so dealing with her loss, has been hard, the four of us then that are now only three.

So I struggled those first days after her passing and found solace in my own way in the age old Jewish ways of mourning.

So it is that our tradition is rife with ritual that helps to ease the pain of a profound loss.

The soft glow of a memorial candle for seven days a comfort, so, too, the words of the ancient prayer for mourners, recited traditionally within community, the first day that becomes a week that becomes a month. Shloshim, the thirtieth day when the mourning period ends.

But the time to reflect, to grieve, is eased by the memories it evokes.

By the blessings I have for having had a big sister, my big sister, in my life.

So as shloshim nears, I paint my toenails a soft mauve, a color my sister also often wore, a tint that reminds me to look up to the pale pink that lights the early morning sky as another day dawns or the iridescent glow as dusk falls.

Perhaps it is not a coincidence that her name Estelle means star, that her middle name Claire means clear.

And I imagine her spirit aloft in the heavens, in the clear light at dawn, in the first star in the evening, and her memory as a blessing.

And I hold it dear.
And may it continue to be so.

About the Author
A writer and editor, Vicki has been recognized for excellence by the American Jewish Press Association, Arizona Press Club and Arizona Press Women. Her byline has appeared for more than 30 years in Jewish News of Greater Phoenix and in a variety of other publications. A Wexner Heritage Scholar, she holds masters degrees in communications and religious studies from Arizona State University and a Ph.D in religious studies also from ASU.
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