A Letter To My Sister

Dear Carrie,

Happy birthday. For the first time in 36 years, we will not text or talk on August 31st. To say that this day feels empty without you would be both an understatement and an untruth. Since you died almost four months ago, you take up less space on the earth but somehow, more space in spirit. I found these photos on your camera. They are the three most recent ones- the images that snagged my heart and pulled it into my throat when I saw them. I felt comforted to see the sky, through your eyes, that we have lived under together for so many years. And, I know that, though I still live under it, you are a part of it. It made me smile to see you happy in your Arizona playground- and also sad to realize you had a big life there I knew very little about.

Some days you find me. Usually in the early mornings when I’m alone, running. The sound of your mischievous chuckle, the slice of your wit and the quick cadence of your speech follows me around on those days. Even now, you are keeping me on my toes. I run faster. No one is quicker to catch a funny moment and certainly no one can string words together in a blur the way you can. Still. Thanks for visiting me on those days.

Some days I find you. I search. The prayer flags in my barn wave at me in still air. Gold finches come uncharacteristically close and are brazen and persistent outside my bedroom window and along the arena fence. The full moon makes my sleep restless and I dream of you. An old Care Bears coloring book peaks out at me from behind a magazine in a bookstore display. Once, you landed on my shoulder and stayed there for a very long time, Butterfly.

Some days, anguish comes in huge waves. YOU ARE GONE. I feel like I’m about to hit the ground off a horse or bracing for impact in a car crash. THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING. Shock and fear threaten to take my last breath. I have learned not to fight these waves now. Sometimes I cry just to know I can still breathe. Sometimes I let go- allowing myself to be lifted and dropped by the waves until there are only soft swells.

Some days you are nowhere to be found.  No matter how hard I try to conjure up your strawberry ponytail and sparkling eyes, I find only a void. I hear nothing. See nothing. Feel nothing of you in my world. The first couple of times this happened, my heart quickened in panic. The kind of panic a mother feels when she’s temporarily lost her child in the grocery store. I know now that it doesn’t last. I wonder- Are these momentary lapses of memory death’s cruel jokes? Maybe they are actually blessings bestowed upon me by grief.

Some days, you are a fixer. Last week, I was looking through a black garbage bag full of your things. Coulter has sadly outgrown his beloved rubber rainbow reins and I was searching my barn for some “that feel the same.” The first thing that caught my eye in the jumble of your old leather, bits and pieces was a brass plate that said, “‘No Problem!’ –Carrie Carstairs” Immediately, I could picture you saying that in just the way you said it all the time. Then, sure enough, my eyes landed on a beautiful pair of black, glove worn rubber reins. Just the right size and “feel” for Coulter. Call me crazy but your much loved saddles fit his hard-to–fit new horse and your GPA helmet fit perfectly when he’d outgrown every other hat in the barn. Just when your nephew is teetering on the edge of his interest in riding and could fall either way, you are there to cheer him on. Thank you for the legacy you continue to leave him.

Do you feel them too? These visitations of longing and grief and comfort and nothingness? Or have you transcended clumsy human emotion? Even now, I fear these words may be too sentimental. Your spirit is pragmatic as ever, keeping me in check- almost. Happy birthday, Care Bear. Until you find me again, Butterfly.