Ambushed by Chapstick

My sister Carrie.

My sister Carrie died eight days ago. I knew her from the get-go. I was eight years old when she was born. Even before that, I remember feeling her move in Mom’s belly. That was weird. After Carrie was born, Daddy came home from the hospital and a day later drove me and my sisters Amy and Jennie to pick up Mom and Carrie. I wasn’t that impressed. Carrie was scrawny. She didn’t do much. I already had two sisters.

I know about impermanence. I’ve watched my own skin change texture. I’ve held on to t-shirts until they were threadbare. Everything changes. All formations are transient. But my youngest sister? Her, too? Overall, I’m okay. I’m tired. I’m grieving. I went out to eat at Marco’s (now 828 Family Pizzeria) last night. I was feeling fine. Then, a tube of lip balm ambushed me. To explain: my family is addicted to Chapstick. Even if it’s Bert’s Bees brand, we call it Chapstick. Mom had some by her deathbed. So did my sister, Amy, who died in 2017. So did Carrie. Sitting in the pizzeria I was ambushed by Chapstick memories as I brought the tube to my lips. I took some deep breaths. I tonglened my way though the moment—breathing in wet, moist, grey grief for myself and for all who are grieving right now. I breathed out bright, expansive, sunshiny joy to all who need that relief.

I warmed up to her over the years. I helped brush out her hair when we’d get ready for school. Every single morning, she’d have a rats’ nest of hair scrunched up the back of her head. As a toddler she had a way of making a “V” shape with her mouth. She made this shape every time we asked, even a week before she passed. She was a funny, happy little girl who once wrote a story about Colorfus the Rooster. Carrie loved our cat, Smokey, who slept in her bed. She was generous and would bring little treasures to me when I was a teenager. She laughed easily when she turned cartwheels in the back yard. I drove her to swim lessons, dance lessons, and cheerleading practice. She wasn’t particularly good at these sports—although she had a good time! I bought beer for her. She bought her own pot. Mom never knew about the beer.

Sadness and grief are essential to the process of letting go. Letting the whelms of emotion cover me physically, mentally, and emotionally allows me to be present to what’s happening now. I miss Carrie. That’s true. I’m happy she’s not in pain. That’s true. I’m grateful to all who have reached out in love. That’s true, too. I still miss Amy at times and now Carrie is gone. We all wore the same size shoe. All of us Dollar Girls had the same size ponytail. Now Jennie and I are the only two Dollar sisters left. The only two with tiny, thin ponytails. They, too, will go. I hope not for a long, long time. 

Carrie died at home with her dear friend Dave, Jennie, and me close by. A van came to pick up her body to take to Bowman Grey School of Medicine. In her generous way, she donated her body to science. As the van drove away, I stood in the street and waved until I could no longer see the vehicle, the circle of coming and going completed.

In the meantime, while I’m here on the planet, I will be present to those I love. I will tell them that I love them. I will cherish my time with each person I’m with, knowing that each life is precious and fleeting. I invite you to do the same.