Friday, August 22, 2008

Sisters...what a concept.


The only sister I ever had was born on October 21, 1979.
I remember that when my mother was pregnant with her, my dad would come tuck me in at night, and I would pray that the new baby would be a girl, and that we could name her Marilyn. (I thought I had made that name up, but my parents say they had told me of their plans to name a girl baby Marilyn.) My dad would say "A boy would be nice, too." but I knew better. I already had three brothers, thank you very much. That's enough for any girl.
My parents used to tell me that eventually the baby would share a room with me. I was so excited! My baby sister, sharing my room! I had never wanted anything so badly.
I remember when my father came home from the hospital after the baby was born. He was wearing a white button up shirt and brownish pants. I remember his excitement as he stood between the kitchen and the living room and said "It's a GIRL!" My little brother and I had been playing in my room, and we ran out to hear the news. My grandparents were at our house taking care of us. Dad had just stopped by to share the news. They named her Marilyn Elizabeth. I remember asking "Well, where is she, then?"
And when she did come home...I remember that I just wanted to hold her and look at her. I was instantly in love and mesmerised by my new baby sister...if someone else held her, I would sit right next to that person and stare at the baby and touch her. In all of the pictures taken at that time, I am staring at the baby. I only looked at the camera if I was instructed to do so, and I couldn't wait for the picture to be taken so that I could go back to staring at the baby...again.
I remember my Dad telling my younger brother and me that something was wrong with her, that we were only going to get to keep her for about 10 days. I knew that this news was cause for panic, but I also knew that 10 days sounded like a long time to me. I am grateful that our parents were honest with us and explained it to us the best that they could, in the way that a 3 and a half year old girl and her 2 year old brother could understand. I don't believe in lying to children.I think when you explain things to them, they understand and have a peace about the situation that they don't have if they are lied to.
Something was wrong with Marilyn's heart. It wasn't anything genetic. It could happen to anyone. It was just a fluke. I think it's a fixable fluke these days, but in 1979, it wasn't.
I remember people coming over and taking pictures of the 7 of us. Everyone took turns holding the baby, and my arms just ached until it was my turn to hold her for the picture; then, I was finally happy. But I do remember the sense of foreboding; that we had this precious baby now, but there was a certain panic ahead. Even at such a young age, I felt it. I remember the doctor making a house call. She was wearing a brown dress with a white print. She had a nurse with her, maybe two.
During this time, I remember asking my mother when the baby was going to start sleeping in my room. My mother told me that since Marilyn was sick, she would not get to ever share my room.
I remember helping pick out a headstone at the cemetary. They were all some sort of marbled stone, and I wanted the one with pink in it. It was much prettier than boring gray and white.
I remember the funeral. My sister was laying peacefully in a white box in the front of our church. She just looked like her normal, sleeping self to me. This is another thing I am grateful for...the fact that my parents did not try to keep us from seeing her body. It gave me a point of reference for later in life. If I had not seen her after she died, it would have been like she just disappeared from my life without any sense of closure, and human beings need closure. It didn't occur to this young child's mind to question why a baby would be in the front of the church. Kids are pretty accepting of these things.
The last time I ever saw my sister was in the funeral home before burial. My parents had purchased a bonnet for her to be buried in, and we were coming to put it on her tiny head. I remember that her face looked powdery. I think I must have been asking why we weren't taking her home, why she wasn't coming with us, and I though I don't remember what the exact words were, I do remember that at that moment, a woman walked by the room we were in. She was wearing a purple 70's style dress, about mid-calf length, and she had a blonde Farrah hairstyle. That was the moment when the truth that everyone had been trying to prepare me for finally hit me, finally sunk in. "Oh. she's not coming home with us this time. She's never coming home again."
It's funny that my memories of the time with my sister are so detailed and clear, but that as soon as I knew she was gone, my memory goes black. I think that is very telling. My parents have told me that they tried to talk to me in the following days, tried to get me to express my feelings, but that I just seemed happy. Some people think that children don't grieve, that they bounce right back, but it's not true. Children feel the grief as deeply as grown ups do, they just don't know how to express it or what to do with it, so often, as in my case, they bury it, and deal with it later in life. There is always a part of that child that longs for and misses the missing person. Looking back, I see that my childhood was shadowed by the the loss of my sister, but at the time, I wasn't necessarily aware of how deeply it affected me. I think that my parents did the best that any parent can do in that situation, and I am floored when I try to imagine being in their shoes. I just can't. I am proud of them for gently talking to their children about what was happening, for telling us over and over until we could understand, for being truthful and not hiding it from us, but doing so in a gentle way.
My sister died on October 29, 1979, when she was 8 days old. I am now 32, and I will always miss her. I will always wonder what she would look like and what it would have been to grow up with her. Would she look like me? Would she be a goofball like me? Would she be a mother now? What would she be passionate about? I will always have questions about her life. I will always relate strongly to songs about grief and nostalgia. In the past, well meaning people have said things to me like "I know how you feel. I always wanted a sister, too." but they are wrong. They don't know how I feel. I HAD a sister; She had a face. She had a name. She had a personality that I never got to know. I held her, loved her, lost her. I wanted HER. I grieved for HER. Grief never really goes away. It changes and shifts, but you always have a tender spot for that person. Since I lost her, I have always had a deep heartache for her. I can talk about it matter of factly, but I can also cry about it anytime, if I want to. It's healing still.
I am now a mother of 4 children. I have 2 boys and two girls. I love them all dearly. I celebrate them for who they are, for I believe that they are individuals that God has plans for, that I was the vessel to get them here, and I'm curious as all get out to see what He has planned for their lives. It's not about me. But for now, it is my job to nurture and care for them. I would have loved any combination of daughters or sons. All parents love their children no matter what the mix of boys to girls. I am no different. But when I found out that my last child was going to be another girl, it seemed impossible. The idea of raising sisters seemed too good to be true. But friends, this is one time that God was better to me than He ever had to be. You see, I found out I was pregnant with little Natalie on February 28, 2006, my 30th birthday. We knew that this baby was going to be the last member of our family regardless of gender, and we were in love with whoever we were getting. Natalie Angell Burrill was born on October 23, 2006, 27 years and 2 days after my sister. All I can say to that is "Thank you, Lord, for my little birthday gift. She's not a replacement of my sister, but she is another girl baby to hold in the same arms that held Marilyn, and now I get to see two girls grow up as sisters in my own home."

**(I'm glad that all of my kids get to experience both a brother and a sister. Imagine that! )

"Then I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten...you will...be satisfied and praise the name of the Lord your God, who had dealt wondrously with you;..." Joel 2:25&26

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6 comments:

Christopher said...

Interesting post with cute baby pictures!! Thanks for sharing!!

Deanne said...

Touching story. I, too, am amazed at how your parents responded and how they continued to care for you and your siblings during that time.

Anonymous said...

hi mish,
even though i've heard your story many times, it still made me cry. (i've been getting better at crying this past year, too! isn't that good?)
here's to many picnic's and birthdays with marilyn and chocolate cake and blue corn chips.
loves
vic
ps-thanks god that you gave michelle her "sisters" to raise!

Val said...

Wow! I've never heard that full story before. It makes me realize even more how lucky I am to not only have one but two sisters. I truly am very lucky to have them both.

Anonymous said...

Dear, dear Michelle,

You will never know how your dad and I longed for you to have a "sister baby", as you called her. I especially did, because I have a younger sister. And as the years have passed, I have come to appreciate her more and more. I know you would have been a wonderful big sister. I commented to Kim once, that it was sad that you never had the experience of a younger sister, as Kim and I have.

I was so glad when Natalie was born. I know you are enjoying, more than most, watching your two girls grow up. I know that because of your experience, you will help them continue to develop into kind and loving sisters.

You do a real good job with your boys too.

Love, Mom

Verlana said...

OMGoodness, Michelle... your story brought me to tears. I don't cry often, but in your telling, I could almost feel your heart being pulled out. Wow. How overwhelming of an emotion for such a young heart. God Bless You, Babe.