How a Big Sister Changes the World

Dear Sister,

If I live to 192, I could never thank you enough for all you’ve done for me as a sister, friend, protector, companion, and an example of how to walk your path in the world while respecting, encouraging, and believing in your loved ones’ journeys.

You’ve shown me how to hold steady and how to let go when you don’t want to. Yet, you never told me, or even implied, that your way of loving, living, or grieving is the way I, or anyone, must emulate.

You live and love with open arms, even though those arms held your everything and fell empty. I know how broken you were when your husband of 33 years died. You climbed out of a steep, treacherous canyon.

I feel like I’m in Havasu Canyon following you up the switchbacks with a too-big backpack, boots with blistered feet, and no water.

You keep saying, “Come on, Alice. You’ve got this.” I’m muttering under my breath about how my feet hurt, I’m tired, and I want to sit down.

I haven’t tied my boots right, so I trip and fall, backpack of crap plunging me onto my hands and knees. I come up covered in dirt, like I’ve fallen face forward into an arroyo of mud and tears.

Although you’ve made miles ahead, you instinctively know. When I look up to see how far I have to go and possibly admit defeat, you’re there beside me, picking me up, sharing your water, and laughing about the mess on my face. You take a few things out of my pack and tell me I don’t have far to go now.

You say, “Just around the corner, the view is so beautiful, better than the Valle Grande!”

I know I must keep climbing, but I don’t want to.

“Is it better than the Great Barrier Reef?” I ask.

You laugh and say, “You’ll have to see for yourself.”

For 56 years, my dear big sister, you’ve helped me see the world for myself. Because of you, I envision a brighter, more colorful and expansive world, and I see the axis of my world spins into balance when shared.

Thank you for sharing the last seven years with me: opening your home, allowing me to be present in your intense grief (a great honor), witnessing you as an evolving, grown-ass woman mom would swell with pride for, showing me the epitome of partnership and generosity, believing in me when I doubted, encouraging me to risk and dive into the most exquisite experience of sacred love, being there for me when my beloved died and I fell deep into the canyon of grief, supporting me and my writing dream without ever insinuating quid pro quo, and always wanting me to be happy, but never at the expense of your own happiness.

I appreciate your honesty and directness, and I’ve become especially fond of the part of you that’s remembered how to play at life. Our now-gone brother Bill throws his head back in laughter, “Finally!” He’s been telling us, “Life’s a party!” and dances when we lighten up.

This summer with you, Sis—the one that lasted seven years—has been my favorite. Better than riding our bikes to East Park Pool as kids, swimming all day, eating green chile cheeseburgers, and getting our noses sunburned.

Today, I gather in my heart the gift of our shared experiences:  Australia, Pies & Pints, Jamaica, Florida Everglades, Bloody Mary Sundays, Outlander and This Is Us, walks around the neighborhood, you calling my dog “Wiggle Butt” and being there when she ate her first hot dog and took her last breath, trips to MI and time with your kids, road trips to NC, NM, and Nashville, beaches, bike rides, and beers, sitting outside at “The Pig,” writing and editing projects, movies and yoga, secrets and reflections of growing up in the 70s in Los Alamos, and 10,000 enlightening conversations helping me grow more whole, wise, and peaceful.

I tie a bow on these memories and wrap them in a blue sky, just the way you like. I decorate them with sunshine, and drop them into your heart with love, hoping they warm you and remind you of what a gift you are in my life.

Sister, you’re a star when my world is dark and the beach when it’s sunny.

I love you and being part of your world. Happy Birthday!

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