When I was nine, I found my baby sister dead in her crib.
I knew something was wrong right away. She looked like, just a body. Life had left her. Or maybe she had left life. I'm not sure.
Her lips were blue. When I turned her head, it flopped to the side. My stomach heaved. I was surprised that when I called 911, the phone rang and I had to wait. The idea that they weren't immediately available to help me was horrifying. I hung up. Someone called back immediately. There was some relief. They were going to fix her. Take the blue away.
I can still feel the hard wood of the pews where I sat, and there was her impossibly tiny coffin, consumed by enormous sprays of cut flowers. My mother stood there. I knew even from my vantage point, she was stuck. Unable to touch the coffin, but unable to leave, she just stood. The flowers seemed like servants, ready to follow my sister into death, bound by the shortening of their own lives.
Eventually someone came to sit beside me. A woman. She smelled like hotel mints, artificial and strange.
“Your mother is sad. I can't imagine what it is like, never to see your child grow up. All that possibility, lost.” She sighed, patted my hand and left me.
I wish I could go back and ask her what she meant. Possibility…Did she mean potential? Achievements that never came to be? Love, unfulfilled? It seems so easy to think about the should-have-beens, rather than what simply was.
Indeed, that had been the major hurdle to clear once we thought my son had Down syndrome. It was hard to let go of the could-have-should-have-been ideas on what my child would be, no matter how flawed I knew those ideas were.
What simply was. My sister lived a few weeks in this world. My son has an extra chromosome. It simply is.
I took the kids to my sister's grave last week. I packed us lunch, and we made the long drive to the cemetery where my sister is buried. My eldest had picked a bouquet from our garden and held it carefully the entire way, nestled in a small plastic cup with water.
As we drove into the tiny cemetery, I bit my lip in anticipation, waiting.
I didn't cry.
The girls ran around in the open grass, the baby played with my shirt and blew raspberries on my shoulder, the sun heated our bodies, and it seemed alright. More than alright.
I see it a little better now.
There's no linear path; no end game. Every moment we live is a prism of possibility. I grieve my sister's death simply because her life was important. Her birth, joyous, simply because she existed. She was all the possibility she should have been.
I've wondered before, why she died when she did. When we found out about our son’s Down syndrome, I wondered why. Neither matters to me much now. Morning glories open at daybreak and die in the heat of the sun. Redwoods live for centuries. They live out their possibilities in a fleeting moment or over lifetimes. Each life, just a moment in the womb or for a hundred years, leaves seeds of possibility behind. One of those seeds that my sister dropped bloomed in my heart that day. I will try to remember every time I look at my children. Love simply, without conjecture, explanation, or justification.
Love simply, just because.