Today is apparently National Sibling Day. People all over Facebook have been posting photos of their siblings and expressing love and/or affection for them. I wish I could do the same thing.
Karen died in 1971, at age 24. We were 4-1/2 years apart and so that would make me about 5-1/2 or 6 in this photo. I was pregnant with David (who also died at age 24) when she died. I never saw her after she was shot, nor during the six weeks she lay in a coma in a convalescent hospital, or later when she lay in her coffin. My mother felt it would be too upsetting for me in my delicate condition.
I have many regrets about Karen. I regret that we were never close sisters. We were oil and water and I don't really remember doing much together, or doing those "sister things" that people on Facebook are remembering fondly today.
We had different clothing styles, so we never giggled over clothes and borrowed from each other. We never did each other's hair (my mother did hair for both of us until we moved out of the house). I don't remember us ever sharing sisterly secrets. We shared a room but I don't have those warm sister memories. When I listen to my mother talking about her many sisters, I am sorry that I don't have that memory with Karen. The only shared "thing" we had with each other was how to cope with our father's mercurial temper.
I also regret that we never had the chance to be friends in adulthood. When she left home, she led a very secret life for about 2 or 3 years and rarely contacted anybody in the family. We found out later she was living with a female lover which was why we were never allowed to visit her apartment. She even made up a name for her girlfriend and it was not until she finally decided to come out to my mother that we learned that she was living with someone we actually knew.
When that relationship broke up and she had another girlfriend, Bernie was instrumental in bringing her back to the family. We all grew fond of Bernie. I have shared before that Karen and Bernie came for dinner one night, their first visit to our house. I made a Mexican dinner and Karen brought the best salsa I had tasted. She was going to give me the recipe. I remember so clearly that we had such fun that night and as she left the house I thought to myself "maybe now that we are adults, we can finally be friends."
Two days later, Bernie pumped several bullets into Karen's chest and head and she never regained conciousness.
I felt guilt during the days following her death, as we made funeral plans. Everyone assumed this was a huge emotional tragedy for me and I felt guilty that it was not, that I was aware I was pretending grief because while I was sorry she had died, I did not feel the traumatic loss that I should have felt for the loss of my sister. My pain at the funeral and following days was watching my mother suffering grief, and my father, stone cold and withdrawn in his anger toward Bernie, shutting everyone out and letting us know this was "his" tragedy, not ours.
In the following months as my parents' marriage fell apart and both of them took to confiding in me, trying to pit one parent against the other, I remember standing at Karen's grave and mentally yelling at her for going off and leaving me all alone to deal with this mess. (I don't so much get angry with her now, but every so often when the situation with my mother closes in, I do send her a few angry messages for not being here to help me make decisions about our mother)
Even today, I posted a message about not having a sibling to share Sibling Day and many kind people sent words of sympathy and I feel guilty because I didn't need sympathy. It didn't feel right. It felt that everyone felt more sorry for Karen's death than I did. And that makes me feel sad and bad.
I may not have a sibling any more, but I made sure that my kids have siblings...even if they don't have as many as they used to.