Bracha Goldstein
Heart Full of Words; Soul Made of Ink

My sister and the grief she left for me

It is June two years ago and I am walking on broken glass. My mother calls. 'She's ready.' Okay, I say calmly. I’ll be right there

Grief registers as experience.

It does not stick to memory with fading edges and a look back in time.

Grief lodges itself in the part of your brain that feels the moments ripping through you, the particular smell of approaching death, the shaking hands, and the overwhelming emptiness that passed through you then. You cannot forget because you visit it year after year after year.

Grief is a gift.

Because when Death slams the door with your loved one in tow, you remain begging for another look, beating against the gate for another caress, another twinkle you can cherish forever.

You live on in other moments, always looking for that memory, when you are doubled over by the experience of loss as the days line up to that time so long ago that is happening in a loop, and you are eternally grateful that you cannot forget.

* * *

It is June so I am walking in my footsteps, living each day again and again with all the words I should have said, the time I should have spent bottled inside, festering for two years, knowing it will rise without consent and confront me with the ghost she has become while I dared to live without her.

I will walk her last week in the pain she no longer feels, no ketamine will ease death from my bones, and I will welcome grief with open arms.

It is June 2, and in six days my sister will die two years ago.

* * *

It is June and past and present mix up with every moment my memory walks in my shoes.

My ticket is booked and I will fly across the world to see her on her birthday in two weeks two years ago. She is hanging by a thread but she can speak and the words she chose to say were loving gifts of thanks to our parents. It was a goodbye cloaked in tenderness so soft it veiled the truth of the shell that held her.

They posed for a picture, displaying her love and appreciation and it takes two years to see death’s arm draped around her.

I knew I was packing for a goodbye trip, that I would not see her again, but I am calm because I have spent 22 months split in two and my children don’t understand urgency.

I will tell the airline she is dying in a few days, but for now, I mark the date and we wait.

It is June 3, and in five days my sister will die two years ago.

* * *

It is June and I am floating in my torment.

She posts for the last time and in retrospect we know she knows. She’s too weak to type but she insisted on the words.

hudis_storch I can’t even express how much I love my mother and father. They’re just the best. Thank you mommy. Thank you tatty. You are always always a&f with me. ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

We are overcome with how much she’s grown. Cancer sped up her maturity a lot faster than the gap year she’s planned forever that would have brought her to me. She was always ahead of her grade anyway.

She knows she’s writing her last words and we smile and laugh and call it cute.

I call home and I hear her voice in the background and it is not her voice but what is left of her pain.

I’ll be there soon, I said. But she never hears me.

It is June 4, and in four days my sister will die two years ago.

* * *

It is June, and I cannot run away.

She is sedated, but I am unaware because my son’s tooth fell out and we are a day ahead, and when you live across an ocean the phone lines stretch so thin it makes anguish sound like disappointment.

I couldn’t know if they didn’t know.

She sent a picture and they’re smiling around her, singing and laughing as they rub her feet and wipe the drool escaping her open mouth.

I can see she’s between worlds, but I don’t say anything.

Should I have said stop pretending she’s going to make it? Should I have yelled across my safe time zone far enough in the future to protect me from the shadow death cast over them?

No. I am silent. They could not bear it as well as I. Death and I are friends — we’ve danced together and felt each other’s passion. I know that if I were there, I would have let Death in.

I’ll be there soon, I say, leaving Death to linger outside.

It is June 5, and in three days my sister will die two years ago.

* * *

It is June and my soul is on fire.

I watch my little girl on stage again. This time she is confident and sure. She shines up there as bright as the first time she let her voice carry her away.

She was Elphaba, green and scared. When she sang, my knees buckled. She’s so grounded, I say. She channeled her fear into her voice and it shook with power. Was she able to hear it through the haze?

They play it for her because we have been talking about this night for months and she promised she would cheer her on.

9 years old and so excited about her first moment, she jumps into my arms. Did you send it to Hudis? Did she hear? Do you think she liked it?

Of course she liked it, sweetie. She loves to hear you sing.

And I, losing ground rapidly, end the day the way I have for 22 months. My body clenched, my heart stopped, my breath held, I float across the world and wait.

Tomorrow my mother will call. I will be expecting it. Still, it will press against me forever.

It is June 6, and in two days my sister will die two years ago.

* * *

It is June and I am walking on broken glass.

I gasped for air when my mother called. You can hold your breath for a long time when you occupy the space between things.

She sounds different. She finally has something concrete to say.

We’re calling everyone home. She’s ready.

Okay, I said calmly. I’ll be right there.

I call the airline. I switch my flight. They waive the fee because death can only cost so much. I book the seat next to me for my brother. I arrange for my children to go to friends.

My children. We spoke about cancer and death. We said words you should never have to hear at 9 and 6. They know pediatric oncology. They know transfusions and chemo.

Why are you going?

I’m going to be with her when she dies.

Tell her we love her.

I record their goodbyes and send it across the ocean. They are played next to her ear while I sit trapped in the sky. I’m not sure I’ll make it on time. I look out into the blackness and clench my fist.

It is June 7, and in one day my sister will die two years ago.

* * *

It is June and I am in the afterlife.

Our flight comes in late afternoon and we run through the airport and to the waiting car and drive for eternity.

It is 12 minus three. We pull up and run inside and now it’s 12 minus one. I race upstairs and fall onto her bed. I don’t know what I say but I feel her cheek against mine and I can hear my whispering words echoing into time.

We sang while she died.

One says go without me I’m not going to make it and I’ve already said goodbye. Twelve minus one gasping for air. Eleven minus one fill their lungs again. Twelve minus one now as a car door slams. Ten little monkeys jumping on the bed. Two built the bed. Nine left and lived. One stayed and died.

The smallest one of all and then the biggest one because when you die first you can have the first piece of bread and take the best portion and kick your feet however much you like and no matter what you do you will be loved forever because you went flying past us all.

We sang our baby sister to death.

I loved my sister to death.

Death loved her more.

It is June 8, and today my sister will die two years ago.

* * *

It is June and eulogies cannot express what it is like to keep living without her.

They read this to her body. I am shaking on a chair with my view obstructed by a wall and I am angry because only I should be reading my words to my sister.

But I am quiet because she wants me to be.

And I follow the rules and they put her in the ground and the men send up prayers and the women don’t matter and we refuse to fade.

It is two years and I am louder than I’ve ever been.

It is two years and I sing and shout and do not care who hears me.

It is two years and my sister is still dead, dead, dead.

It is June 9. She will never turn 20 in seven days. She will never see colon cancer punished. She will never know that I have been walking in my footsteps, living each day again and again with all the words I should have said, the time I should have spent bottled inside, festering for two years, knowing it will rise without consent and confront me with the ghost she has become while I dared to live without her.

* * *

It is June and it is also Sivan so everything is happening at once. The sun year and moon year are fighting for my attention.

It is June 16 and my sister should be celebrating. It will still be the day she was born as night brings on the day she died. Life and Death dance like that.

They will be carrying a Torah scroll out from the house she never left alive. They will carry it through the street and they will sing and dance and they will remember how they carried her body out.

I am across the water, tied to a piece of earth she occupies so far away from the land she wanted to make her home. I am here and there and then and now and forever and always a speck in time.

You are always always a&f with me. ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

* * *

Thank you for letting me walk through this suspended experience in this public way. When you are in a fog, you cannot see the hands pressed against the delicate glass surrounding you. You know they are there, and you are comforted knowing that those who have been encased in this dome are surrounding you with the understanding of loss, the appreciation of grief, and the breath of life for when your lungs can fill again.

About the Author
Bracha Goldstein is a creative writer and artist living with her husband and two inspiring children in Israel. She writes reflectively, using her unique perspective to bring emotional thought to life.
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