It’s still hard to believe that my sister Jeri is gone … and that it’s been two years to the day since she lost her battle with cancer.
My sister, my big sister. My very first best friend; I loved her from the moment I was born, and I imagine she'd say she loved me from that second, too, even if I was 'the new baby.'
My sister, my big sister. We were very different; she was gregarious and out-going and had tons of friends and was always doing something. I was shy, almost petrifyingly so — my mom used to joke that I didn't start talking until I was eighteen — and I had just a handful of friends.
My sister, my big sister. She could be as stubborn as a mule, and had quite the temper, while I always tried to please, and be the nice one, and not draw attention to myself. We were as different as night and day, and as thick as thieves.
My sister has cancer. My big sister had cancer. But now she doesn't, now she's safe and free and doesn't hurt and has her hair, and might be sitting with my mother right now, talking things over, and reminiscing some. That makes me feel a little better.
My fondest memory of her is the day she taught me, without knowing it, how to say I love you.
That day she had called to chat and we talked about everything, from what we were doing to what the world was doing. As we were saying our goodbyes, she said, All right then, I love you.
And I said, Thanks.
Thanks? That was my response to my sister saying I love you? I mean, I guess I meant to say Thank you for loving me but that isn't really the correct response either, is it? So, as I tend to do, I sat there after that phone call and wondered why it was so hard for me to say those words, and I realized that I come, came, from a family that didn't really ever 'say' the words. We showed our love; we knew we were loved; I guess we all felt we just didn't have to 'say' it.
Add to that the idea that I also thought, subconsciously, at least back then, that I didn't deserve to be loved because I was the 'different' one; the gay son. I mean, my parents knew I was gay, and they were fine with it; they loved me. But I’ve always wondered if they ever hoped that I wasn't; no matter how much you love them, as a parent, you realize their lives would be easier if they weren't gay. So, I felt loved, but at the same time, unworthy of being loved because I wasn't the 'expected’ son.
My sister, thankfully, thought differently and could say I love you so easily and simply, without force, that it made me realize that I was worth it. And I thank her for that. See, after that conversation, and after my introspection, I listened to what she was saying: we all knew we were loved but she wanted us to hear it. And that made a huge difference.
Now, I didn’t change overnight and turn into one of those people that say I love you at the drop of a hat; it took time. I think the first time I said it back to her I probably choked on the words a little bit, as though they were somehow foreign to me, but it got easier and more natural.
I always knew my sister loved me, and I always will know it, it’s just that she made me realize I was worth it, and I could say it, and hear it and mean it and be it. That's just one of the lessons my sister taught me.
My sister, my big sister. My hero.