Note: This piece was written three years ago, on the first birthday after my sister’s death. It was unpublished until today, on what would now be my sister’s 52nd birthday. I still wish we could have gone to Florida.
Today my sister would have turned 49. It is impossible for me not to think of all the things that I miss about her today, all the things that I feel like I lost on that day back in May, the things that we were already losing on her 48th birthday when the cancer was slowly taking over.
Today I grieve that I cannot phone her on her birthday. I grieve all the phone calls I could not make this year, and all the ones I will never make. I miss hearing her voice. I miss listening to her bustle about her kitchen as she told me about her day.
I miss going to the Village Mall at 9:00 p.m. just “for a little look around.” I miss waiting for her to try on “just one more top.”
I miss venting to her. I miss that person who understood exactly what it was that was driving me crazy.
I miss Aunt Roxanne. I miss her cards and messages to our kids. I miss the way she loved them so well. I miss listening to her read them stories. I can hear the echos of her voice in so many stories that I read to them, remembering just the ways she would have read them. She did the best dragon voice for the “Paper Bag Princess.” I miss her dragon voice.
I miss brainstorming with her. I miss discussing what Ralph the Raccoon could talk about in Sunday School. I miss analyzing a skit for music camp or a costume for the school play. I miss her awesome ideas.
There is so much I miss – her laugh, her dimple, her joy, her love.
But today, what I really miss, is Florida. Which is funny – because I never went to Florida with Roxanne. I went to Florida when I was 15 with my best friend, and I liked it well enough. I never had a particular desire to go back. And now I miss Florida very very much.
A few weeks before Roxanne died, I spent 10 days in Newfoundland at her home. They were a whirlwind few days. Her health had turned quickly, and as people realized she was in her final days, the visitors never stopped. She was no longer fully herself. She was too tired, too exhausted from trying to get through each day. She was not up for sentimental conversations, even though everyone wanted to have them with her. On my last day of that trip, I knew that I might never talk to Roxanne in a real way again. I prayed for days about what our last conversation would be like. I asked God to grant me the right things to say. There was so much to say. And I’d already realized that those “last conversations” rarely happened in the way movies tell us. You know the scene – where the dying cancer patient is somehow well enough and coherent enough for a heart felt good-bye before slipping away peacefully while wearing Christmas shoes? Yeah, having been at a few deathbeds in my profession, I can tell you that doesn’t actually happen that way very often. Like so many other terminally ill people, Roxanne just didn’t have it in her for those kind of talks over and over with everyone who wanted them. But I did hope that I at least could have some time alone with her, a few moments just to connect together.
She was actually well enough to sit in her living room for a few moments on that last morning before I returned home. Her husband was out shoveling snow. And there we were with our few moments alone together. We talked a little bit about how she felt about things. She shared again that she was at peace. We chatted a little more, and it was obvious she wasn’t in the mood for another heart wrenching good-bye. Then I found myself blurting out: “Roxanne, it just really makes me sad that we won’t get to be old ladies together.”
And she smiled a little and said: “We could’ve gone to Florida.”
It still brings tears to my eyes to remember it. Not because it was a sad moment – but because it was true! In that moment I could picture us as two old ladies – because after a certain age 13 years of age difference isn’t noticeable anymore – gallivanting in Florida. Going to outlet malls. Wearing big hats. Eating at a lot of restaurants. All of Roxanne’s favourite things. And I can assure you that old lady Roxanne in Florida is just about one of the most fun things that I can picture. I can assure you that THAT would have been one great vacation. Or perhaps yearly vacation. Oh, how I would have loved to have gone to Florida with old-lady Roxanne. How I would have loved to be old ladies together. How I would have loved to be ladies still hashing things out on the phone, still discussing whether a new top really suited us, still hunting for a bargain. How I would have loved to hear Roxanne planning a party for the Seniors group at her church. How I wish it had been able to happen for us.
It probably sounds silly that, with all the things I grieve, that I grieve for Florida. I grieve for a trip that never happened, but the image of which in my mind is as clear as if it happened yesterday. I grieve for all the things that won’t be. I grieve that we never will be old ladies together. I grieve because 48 years were good – but they just weren’t enough.
Because we could have gone to Florida.