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Happy Birthday, Lil Sis

August 24, 2007

Today would have been my sister's 26th birthday. Sadly, she died two weeks after her 14th birthday while I was away at college. It was, pretty much, the worst day of my life.

My sister was born with a tiny piece of her brain ossified. This essentially screwed everything up so bad that she suffered from seizures her entire life that were, to be quite honest, horrific and traumatic for everyone around her. To hear her wail when she had one was...well, words can't describe the empty feeling surrounded by helplessness surrounded by fear. As time went on, we grew to expect them and to cope, but it was never something that we were completely at ease with. Also, due to this congenital defect, she could never walk or talk, and years of inactivity on the couch or her bed caused her joins to atrophy. She basically had to wear diapers and be spoon fed soft foods for her entire life.

One amazing thing was that, despite her inability to talk, she developed ways of communicating with us. She would shake her head no or do a sweeping up motion with her head for yes, would hold her left hand to her mouth for food or drink, and could smile when she was happy or let you know that she wanted to do something, like have a story read to her or whatever. Her favorite toy was her glowworm, because the face lit up and because it was about the only toy she could get to play. It had a little music box sewn inside its nightshirt and would play "Rock a-bye, Baby" when she'd hit it with her elbow, and to make it "sing" caused her such great joy. Despite all that, even to this day, I wonder what sort of person she was trapped inside her body.

To say I miss her would be an understatement. For months after she died, I had dreams about her every night. Some were disturbingly intense, like how I had stolen her body from the funeral home and was looking for her soul to put back in it. Great fantasy storylines and such, but horrible if you're a grieving brother. I vowed after she died that I would think about her every day. That's slipped a little in the past twelve years, but whenever August 24th rolls around (or September 7th, the day she died), I always think of my little sister. I wish she was back, but I wouldn't wish her to be back in that condition. After all, I'm Catholic (in case you have forgotten), and so I believe she's in a better place, where she is free to roam and talk and do everything that her poor little tortured body wasn't able to do while in this world. If you want to take that and say that my religion is just there as a comfort, that's fine, go ahead. I'll think you're an asshole, but that's your choice.

One of my biggest issues with my sister's death, however, is that I was home from college for Labor Day at the beginning of my sophomore year. Normally, I would go and say good-bye to her, but this time I kind of walked out the door and gave her a wave and a "'Bye, Steph" rather than saying good-bye like I wasn't some kind of ass. Everything was fine, I drove back to St. Joe and then a few days later, my aunt and uncle show up to give me the bad news. You can probably tell why my guilt has eaten at me these twelve years.

One fortunate thing was that one of our close, personal family friends was the local mortician in town. He took care of everything, and the way he helped all of us cope was amazing. Sure, we had cards pour in from all over the area (including ones from two separate ex-girlfriends of mine, which, you know, was really cool), but it was Master Bruce's tenderness that helped soothe everyone over the first couple of days before we buried her.

However, if I ever doubted that St. Joe was the right place for me, it was made boldly apparent by the outpouring of well-wishers and kindness from the entire campus. A couple dozen of my friends drove across the state of Indiana to come to my house and to be there for me, and for that I'll be eternally grateful. We got flowers and everything from all over the campus, from the President's office, from the science department, professors, dorms...the list could probably go on. I think we still have all of the cards and stuff tucked away some where. Not that we want to be reminded of losing a member of our family, but the kindness expressed was just overwhelmingly wonderful.

Not only that, but I had a couple of high school friends who drove up from Indiana and from Purdue to come to her funeral. If it wasn't for the combination of my St. Joe friends and my high school friends, I don't know how I would have made it through the weekend.

All of these things are bubbling up now, so if my little story sounds a touch disjointed, forgive me. It's not so much a story about the sadness of my sister's affliction or for everyone's pity; more, it's a testament to the strength of friends and healing of the human spirit. So, thanks for letting me deal with a little personal pain. I'll get back to the normal stupidity around here tomorrow. For today, though, I'm going to keep things somber.

So, here's to you, my little sister. I truly hope that your soul is free of all harm and affliction, and that it may wander wherever and whenever it chooses. God bless you.

Stephanie Marie Jenks, b. August 24th, 1981, d. September 7th, 1995.

5 comments:

The Ex said...

That was sweet.

Will Shannon said...

At this time of bittersweet reflection, know that my thoughts are with you and your family.

Bob Rohrman said...

she's certainly smiling now. Most touching thing I've read in quite sometime.

Chemgeek said...

My thoughts are with you, my friend. I agree with Constant Comment, I'm sure she IS smiling now.

Anonymous said...

I agree. Very touching. - jct