31. Rest in Peace

31. Rest in Peace

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

Rest in Peace

A sister is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost.

~Marion C. Garretty

“Practice what you preach,” I muttered to myself shortly after I’d learned of the death of my sister. “Forgive and forget. Let bygones be bygones.”

In childhood and early adolescence, I’d always looked up to my big sister. Her beauty and talent were an important part of my early years. I’d even published a story once about how she won a WWII War Bond in a talent contest when she was only six years old, belting out a bluesy version of “Don’t Sweetheart Me.”

Something happened, though, as we grew up. She never became the role model I’d hoped for; instead she became an embarrassment. She insulted our parents, their friends, and her teachers. She got expelled from junior high and, before abandoning her education, two high schools. Eventually, after an epic disagreement with our parents, she moved in with another relative. She found a job in a bakery. I wished her luck… and hoped she’d stay miles away.

Maybe that was a harbinger. Within a few years she severed her connections with our family entirely, disappearing one spring, abandoning her two small children with an ex-husband’s sister.

“Be careful what you wish for,” I reminded myself as the decades passed. I often thought of how I’d wished earlier that she would quietly disappear. I never suspected she really would. In the beginning, our family waited for a phone call or a letter. We figured she’d be in touch as soon as she needed money or a place to crash.

“It’s not as if she can cope on her own,” we’d reassure one another.

But years passed and we heard nothing. We worried if perhaps she’d died. Before the Internet, it was far more difficult to track people down. We tried, but finally gave up.

Three decades later she resurfaced, with another life and children and grandchildren. Unbeknown to any of us, she’d settled in a seaside community five hundred miles to the north.

Although I lived in another country at the time, one of her children finally contacted our little brother. When I visited California, I welcomed a chance to catch up on our lives. We visited for a few hours one evening, and I met two of her grown children who our family had never known existed.

Eager to learn what she’d been doing all those years, and why she’d never tried to contact us, I confessed that our mother worried about her throughout her remaining years. My sister just shrugged. She had no kind words to say about either of our parents.

I left the States again for another overseas job. I’d expected we’d keep in touch. Though I wrote long detailed letters about what I’d been doing, where I’d traveled, what I’d read, how I’d lived, my sister rarely responded. She’d send a greeting card on my birthday, with news of her grandchildren.

I longed for her to fill in the gaps. I’d pepper my letters with questions. Why had she fled to the north? Who was the man she’d married? What were their children’s early lives like? Didn’t she ever think about the two she’d left behind? All my concerns went unanswered.

When I returned to this country, we made plans for a Thanksgiving reunion. I drove hundreds of miles to meet her, but at the last minute she cancelled the date. She wasn’t well that day, she claimed. I remember trembling with disappointment.

Though we spoke on the phone from time to time, I kept hoping for a face-to-face visit.

Then I got the phone call with the news she’d died.

All evening I simmered. Instead of grief, I wallowed in unhappy memories. How had my sister wronged me? I counted the ways. My resentment grew with each unpleasant incident that I recalled. I couldn’t even cry, knowing that any tears would be shed more from self-pity than grief.

I know that clinging to grudges diminishes a person’s ability to function in a healthy way. Life, unlike a computer keyboard, doesn’t come with an “undo” button. Why just recently I’d helped a friend forgive a husband who had a fling with another woman on a sales trip. She’d finally realized that it would be better to accept his abject apology than to continue to seethe with resentment.

But for me, “forgive and forget” didn’t seem to be working. I’d had big expectations of my big sister, ever since she had steadied me when we were toddlers riding tricycles together in Grandma’s orchard. None of those dreams I’d had of us sharing an ideal lifetime of sisterhood had come true. Now they never would.

Then one afternoon I turned on my car radio and heard the old B.J. Thomas tune, “Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song.” I began to giggle. Good grief, I’d fallen into the trap of thinking of myself as The Injured Party.

I turned off the radio. Suddenly another phrase popped into my head: rest in peace.

Why not? If I could concentrate on invoking peace for my sister’s soul, maybe I could find peace within myself, the kind that comes with letting go.

Right then I took a deep breath. I repeated to myself, “rest in peace, rest in peace, rest in peace.”

Peace came. I remembered my sister when we were children again, pushing our twin baby dolls around Grandma’s orchard in their tiny buggies. We’d been close for those first few years. I have chosen to remember her that way. So rest in peace, my sister. Rest in peace, and I will too.

I can practice what I preach.

~Terri Elders

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