Vancouver, March 24, 2011
After my mother died I feared it would be the end of my family. Not the end of the family composed of my husband and daughter and myself, but of the family I grew up in with my sisters. I didn't fear this after my father died because my mother remained as the glue to bind us together, but with her gone I didn't see how five diverse women with busy lives would maintain that connection. We would always be siblings, of course, as you cannot break that biological bond, but would we be family?
The night my mother died we met back at her apartment to eat pizza and share some wine (as an aside what amazes me now is that during that time no matter how much I drank I could not get drunk, no matter how hard I tried, and I tried, trust me - it seems fresh grief dulls the effect of alcohol). We began to talk, all of us exhausted, all of us having experienced the same thing but in our own way, and someone suggested a way to maintain our family ties - a sister trip. It might have been one of my sisters who suggested it, or even my brother-in-law. It might have been me. I don't recall, and it doesn't really matter, because it turned into one of the best ideas to ever come out of pizza, wine, and grief, in my opinion. The idea was that once a year, perhaps around the time of year our parents died, we would meet in a place and spend some time together. Just us - no husbands or children. We also decided to include our mother's beloved sister, an aunt who we all really consider another sister.
The discussions about where to meet in 2011 began way back in 2010. I suggested Vancouver as my husband had taken me there in March 2010 and I knew my sisters and aunt would love it. I knew it would be spring there at that point. I knew they would love the hotel I suggested, and I knew the city well enough to feel comfortable recommending things to do and places to go. I was pleased when my suggestion was accepted by all, and so on March 24, 2011, we descended on Vancouver.
I arrived fairly early and met my eldest sister at the airport. We shared a taxi to the hotel and as there had been a mix-up with her airline booking she needed to find the local CAA office. We decided to walk there, and between my iphone GPS and her paper map we found the office. It was a long walk, but it gave us a chance to talk about her life post-retirement and about my life. We took a taxi back to the hotel and waited for the others to arrive, which they soon did. We spent that evening in the room my middle sister and I shared, drinking wine and making plans for the weekend. And plans we had! Shopping and art galleries, sea buses and North Vancouver, George Bernard Shaw plays and garden tours. We dined in restaurants where people wanting a quiet dinner asked to be moved to other tables (we are not a quiet group, which is likely the understatement of the year). We went to bars in Gastown with our nephew, who was remarkably tolerant of his goofy aunts and mother. We enjoyed our own personal guide in the form of my dear friend Jack, and we put him to work keeping us supplied in sea bus tickets and dinner reservations. I am pleased to report that we six women burnt the candle at both ends and likely all arrived back home exhausted.
What is especially lovely about my sisters and aunt is that we all genuinely like each other. We all have our quirks, no doubt, and we can get on each other's nerves - but we have a genuine fondness for each other that knows no bounds. They tolerate my shallow love of shoes, clothing, and shopping, and I find amusement in their list-making. I find that around them I become the family clown, the one who is always angling for the punch line, and often at my own expense (call me the jester, if you wish). I also find, though, that I delight in showing them how grown up I am, what with all that hailing of taxis and ordering pizzas for the entire group in restaurants (I may be an adult but in some sense I will always be the youngest sister trying to show them that I can do this stuff, too!). I admire each and every one of them for different reasons, and their sistership - their friendship! - makes me a better person. They know I am not perfect - that I can be overly loud and boisterous, that I can drink too much (and did on this trip - my poor liver has asked that we take a break for a few days now), that I can boast, and that I can be obsessive about things (Irish much?) - and yet they love me regardless. How spectacular is that?!?
They encourage me as I hope I encourage them. They support my desire to do the things that matter to me, like writing and seeking fabulous shoes. They don't mother me, and they don't smother me, either - they let me be who I am. They give me the room to grow, to be as foolish as I choose to be, to be as serious or shallow as I wish - and they don't judge me, condemn me, or think less of me. I do the same with them, because I think they are all incredible in their own ways. I am so incredibly blessed to have these five women in my life, women with whom I can laugh and shop and drink and dine, women with whom I feel stronger and smarter, and women with whom I am proud to share a genetic pool. I miss my mother and father every day, but the legacy they left behind sustains me and lessens the sting of their loss, because just as my parents gave me a sense of family and unity so do my sisters and aunt. The family that I feared would be lost forever is as strong as it ever was, and perhaps, tied closer through grief and loss, even stronger. We hold tight to each other now, because we all know that life is fleeting and all we have, in the end, is each other.
And so we have moved on to discussions of where to meet next year. Three of my sisters are planning a tour of China together, and I have invited my middle sister to join me when I take my daughter and niece to New York in 2012. The six of us, though, will also meet again in 2012, and the current destination of choice is Santa Fe. I think they are all excited about it. And me? I cannot wait.
This one is for you, ladies....