Sunday, August 13, 2017

10 Years After

Gruesome photo, I know.

Last month was the 10th anniversary of my sister's death.  As an Orthodox Jew with an Italian Catholic family, mourning Gina has been painful.  In Judaism, there are prescribed outlets for grief and for honoring the departed, which serve to comfort the mourner and wean him/her back to life.  For example, immediately following the burial there is shiva; 7 days of sitting at home accepting condolences of friends and family. For a year, the mourner doesn't listen to music or attend parties.  And every year on the anniversary of the death, we light a candle and commemorate the day.  Even during services on certain holidays, there are special prayers recited only by those of us who have lost members of our immediate family.  

I don't follow any of these traditions.  They wouldn't be appreciated by my sister, or father, who passed a year after Gina.  There's little comfort for me.  Most people in my community are not even aware of my losses.  I feel a stark sense of just how different I am.  Different from the members of my Jewish community, and different from my own family.

My kids and I have found a way to remember Gina on her death-date, because she died on July 11th.  So we toast her with free Slurpees from 7-11.  Gina was an incredible aunt to my children.  

Gina was 4 years younger than me.  She had a heart of gold and was always giving of herself to others.  I never heard her say an unkind word about anyone.  She married young, and divorced after several years.  She never had children of her own.  In her early 30's, she complained of a backache.  Her doctor sent her for surgery to repair a slipped disk.  When the surgeon opened her up, he found tumors growing on the nerve sheaths of her spine.  She slowly deteriorated.  She had 5 surgeries and a lifetime dosage of radiation.  She went from using a cane to 2 canes and leg braces, to a wheelchair.  The last thing she did before losing her mobility was take my kids to Disney World.  

Gina was in and out of hospitals and nursing homes for close to 15 years.  I always left her side with a terrible sense of guilt.  I had my health, a loving husband, 5 beautiful children; everything.  And she had nothing.  Then one day, my perspective changed.  She was down to 80-something pounds, in a hospital, on morphine, so sick.  The nurse brought her a cup of cold apple juice.  As she sipped the juice, her whole body relaxed, she smiled broadly, and said, "Aahh, so good".  She took enormous pleasure in that small gift.

Anyone who can feel such gratitude for life's small pleasures is not to be pitied.  Gina was clearly beloved by G-d, no less than me with all my blessings.  Gratitude recognizes how much we are loved; how very precious each of us is.

I miss my sister very much.  My children, parents, and I were all present when she died.  Before she became unable to speak, I asked her if she was afraid.  She looked me in the eye and said, "Not anymore".

I don't know what to expect after this life.  But if there truly is a loving G-d, I know that Gina is wrapped in His arms right now.


  1. This is a beautiful letter and tribute to your beloved sisyer. She was lucky to know you. Me too. ❤

  2. Such beautiful sentiments, Georgia, and so eloquently expressed. You were both fortunate to have one another as sisters. May she rest in peace ❤️