I feel like I don’t really know my sister Jen. Sure, I’ve known her her entire life, and even though I don’t remember a lot about our first few years together – I was, after all, only 4 1/2 when she was born – she’s always been my “little” sister.
Growing up, Jen was always the tag along, surely annoying my sisters more than me in that regard, but still seemingly always underfoot. We teased her relentlessly, as older siblings often do, and there were more than a few times where she’d run home crying from whatever house we were playing at, only to have our mother yelling at us to come home and answer for our crimes. I still remember my mother yelling Robert from the front porch, the indicator that she was truly mad and not just calling me home for some other reason.
But that was fine, right? That’s what kids did, especially kids when there were four kids born over seven years and we all just kind of took care of each other, much to our own chagrin. We grew up, played together less frequently, but Jen was always there.
Due to our age gap, once I left elementary school, we would never spend another year in the same school, and as a result, Jen grew up without me really noticing. She got to enjoy some time free from the cliche protection of her big brother, unlike Stef, who had to tolerate me a little more than she probably wanted to. But she started to thrive, found lots of great friends, and started to grow into the person she would eventually become, leaving Jennifer and even Jenny behind – mostly for good.
But not long after I finished high school, I fled, focused as one does on my own life and trying t find my path in the world. I missed a lot of Jen growing into her own self, and that makes me sad. Sad for not knowing that Jen as well as I probably should have. That period in my life was filled with lots of big brother guilt, guilt that took a long time for me to personally overcome. Guilt that I’m still struggling with right now, as I try to say goodbye to my sister.
Despite the age gap and not really spending a whole lot of time with each other, I see a lot of myself in Jen. There were initially three things that I thought bound us together, but then Stef pointed out another recently, so now there are four, but this is definitely not an inclusive list.
Like Jen, I didn’t want to stay rooted in Utah, leaving as soon as I could for what I think were the greener grasses of the east coast. Living in Connecticut. Going to Iraq (with a brief detour to Germany), short stint in Virginia and back to Utah, only to leave again, even temporarily, for Illinois. Back in Utah again, that wanderlust has come once more and plans are being laid to move on yet again, with an indefinite timeline but feeling that move closer than before.
Jen didn’t exactly follow my path, but she also wasn’t tied to Utah. I’m probably forgetting somewhere or going out of order, but she went to California for a bit, than Washington, DC. Spent time in Texas for training, back to DC, back to California, off to school in Scotland, and back to California once more. Now she’s free to go on the ultimate journey, one that nobody else will ever match no matter how hard they try.
But there was also a lot of sadness that inexplicably bound me and my sister. We both got married to people we thought would be our everything, but those things ultimately didn’t work out. So while three siblings have been married to the same people for over 60 years (I think), we kind of failed… not that there’s anything wrong with that.
We never really talked about it other than passing acknowledgements and maybe some jokes at our own expense. But I eventually able to find my actual person because that first marriage failed, teaching me valuable lessons that I obviously needed to learn. I always thought that it would happen for Jen again too, but alas… maybe she’ll find them on her new journey too.
Jen and I also share the bond of heading off to fancy colleges for fancy graduate degrees that didn’t really result in the immediate offers of super fancy jobs. And that’s okay! We’ve both been kind of unsure what to do when we “grow up,” but regardless of the work Jen was doing, she was always doing the best that she could.
Jen spent a lot of time thinking about what she wanted to do. We talked a lot about her decision to go off to Scotland for school, and she was worried that it wouldn’t be worth it. Despite those worries, she went for it, making great friends and learning a lot about herself in the process. And even though those super fancy jobs didn’t immediately open up, she went to work and did great things, and would have continued to do great things regardless of where she was working.
The last thing we shared in common – this is the one Stef pointed out to me – is a quick wit and (humble brag) intelligence. Jen was always quick with a sarcastic remark or joke, probably something she picked up from being annoyed with me all the time. But behind that wit was the knowledge to back it up. I really enjoyed talking to Jen about politics, especially our mutual hatred for people like Ronald Reagan or Thomas Jefferson.
Grief is a weird thing. I’ll grieve for Jen for the rest of my life. The time since Jen got sick has been background grief, trying to go through the ebbs and flows of life while keeping part of your mind on what is going on with your sister. But that extended period of background grief doesn’t really dull the pain any. You try to brace yourself for the worst while hoping for the best, even though the range of outcomes probably aren’t in your favor. But your also constantly reminded that Jen had a lot going for her and if anyone was going to make it, it could have been her, even if that percentage is a bit on the small side. But that creeping grief, that ultimate feeling that the inevitable is coming and you’ll have to confront the loss of your sister… nothing prepares you for that. Not the death of your father. Nothing.
As with life comes death. It is ultimately inevitable. We all hope that we end up going peacefully in our sleep after we’ve lived a full life with nothing left to give. That’s what makes this harder. Jen had so much life left to live, so many more people to touch. We’ll never understand why it had to be now, but sometimes it’s just a person’s time to go.
We’ll never know exactly when Jen left us for certain, but I like to think it was sometime on the 22nd of July, regardless of what any certificate tells us. Jen was there in that room, and then she wasn’t. But I know that I felt her presence in a dream that night, and she also made her intentions known in other ways around that time.
The thing about trying to figure out when to let someone go, someone that can’t tell you that they’re ready or that there is some specific indicator that lets you know definitively one way or the other. You have to trust your gut, or the “vibes,” or the energy or however you want to describe it. My dad tried to hold on long enough for Jen to get there; he decided it was time to go once he had a chance to talk to her on the phone. And I fully believe that he was there letting her know that it was okay to join him too, seven years and seven months to the day.
I don’t see myself as a spiritual person, or even if I believe in some sort of afterlife or heaven. But one of the things that has been helping me in my grief is that feeling that Jen has a couple of guides wherever she has decided to go. My dad, obviously, who continues to help us here in subtle ways despite being gone for almost eight years. And her trusty companion Mr Jiggles, who unfortunately for us, didn’t have to wait nearly as long.
I’m sad that Jen has moved on to her next adventures without us, but I also know she has some awesome travel companions to go along with her wherever those adventures take her. I also know that I will miss my baby sister, and hope that she can find some time while on her travels to stop by and say hello from time to time. The world sucks, and it sucks a little more without her in it. But I also know that she’s okay, dancing in the cosmos with my dad with Jiggles by her side once more.
I love you, Jen. Enjoy those adventures until our paths cross again.