In May of 1991 I groggily crawled out of bed and headed toward the pounding noise coming from my front door. At first, I thought the pounding was coming from my head. My husband and I had been out with friends and co-workers the night before and I had partaken in my share of toasted almonds. I was already tired and grouchy, possibly a little hung over, and it was freaking Sunday! Who the heck would be so rude as to wake me up on my one day off? I grabbed the door knob completely prepared to “unload” on the unsuspecting and obviously moronic culprit still knocking incessantly.
If I could go back to that moment, the moment before my world tilted in a way that my short 22 years had not yet prepared me for, what would I do differently? Could the peace that I carry through my life now have helped me then? Would I have been able to muster a clearer view? Could I have been more caring and less selfish? Would I have been able to love others through the pain? The loss? And if I could go back, would I change the circumstances that awaited me on the other side of that all too mundane apartment door? Yes, I know that if I could go back with the answers that I have since attained and the knowledge that I now possess, I would handle everything differently. I also know that I would not change the circumstances. Those circumstances are what set me on a path of searching. That Horrific day in 1991 led me, well, ultimately, here.
I opened the door and there stood my mom. And I remember very clearly thinking “My God, she looks ugly”. I have probably forgotten many details of that day and many of the days that followed, but that first thought, that one, plays through my mind like a symphony. Mama said, “can I come in?’ I remember just turning my back and walking to the kitchen table, she of course, followed quietly.
You should know that I’m not cruel by nature. At least, not any crueler than most. My mom and I had developed an extremely strained relationship when she left my dad. And I was and am and ever shall be, a daddy’s girl. Ironically, I was currently living in the apartment next to hers in Tampa, Florida. I ended up in Florida because my younger sister Kim had called me and asked me to come. Kim was a mess. Kim was 15 and I was 17 when I quit my job and moved to Florida to save her. For years I had tried to help my sister. We had always been the closest siblings by age and the closest by choice. We played together, went to and from school together, we were even pregnant together. Kim giving birth to my niece, Christina, 3 months before we welcomed my oldest daughter Rachel.
I sat down at the table, my forehead resting in my hand. My mom sat down across from me. I looked up, ready to ask what the heck could be so important this early. Her face was distorted. Just completely not natural.
“Kim is dead”. Three simple words. I just sat staring. Trying to comprehend what she was saying. My mom kept talking, but I remember none of what she was saying. I recall seeing her mouth move. I’m sure filling me in on the details surrounding my baby sisters’ death. I remember feeling nothing but numbness. I remember standing, walking to my bedroom, crawling in my bed next to my husband and then I screamed.
I wish this were a dramatization. I wish that my response and many responses since that day, had shared more of a resemblance to a Hallmark movie and been less like an after-school special. I wish… I wish that someone who had walked this path had been there to reassure me. I wish I had been stronger. I wish I had known how to comfort my mom or step dad. I wish that someone else could have been the one to make the long drive to tell my daddy that his baby girl was gone. I wish I had known how to comfort him. I wish that the whys and what ifs had brought answers. I wish I had been able to formulate an answer when my three-year-old, Rachel, wanted to know where Kim had gone. Where had Kim gone? Gone. The end. Kimberly Anne (with an “e”, like Anne of Green Gables) was gone.
I was the person it fell on to drive 12 hours to share the news of Kim’s death with my dad. Just me and Rachel. Just me and Rachel and miles of road. And Rachel never stopped asking the questions. She would sit in her car seat and state innocently and honestly, as only children can, “Kim is dead”. “Mommy, Kim died.” “Where’s Kim?” “Mommy, Christina is sad. She was crying because her mommy is dead”. “Mommy, are you going to die?” “Mommy, can we go visit Kim?” “Mommy, where is Kim?” Where is Kim? Where is my baby sister? Is this the end? Is this all there is to it?
As moms we want to be able to answer the questions our children toss at us. We feel as if we should be able to answer those questions. Rachel, my oldest, has always been my challenger. She pushes me to be better through her unending inquiries and ongoing goal setting. But I had absolutely no answers for her on that car trip. Every question that she posed was one I was already asking myself.
I want you to know that I did find answers. I want you to know that I eventually got answers to every question. It didn’t happen overnight. The “finding” has been a long and winding road. I have lived through many more “world tilting” days. But that is the point isn’t it? I lived through them. I remember wishing that someone who had walked that road before me had been there to guide me.
Your “world tilting” day will come. It might be a knock on the door, a phone call, twisting metal, or legal papers…. But it’s coming. If any of the answers I’ve obtained or lessons I have learned can walk one person through to the other side, then perhaps that will be part of the only answer I still seek about my sister. Why?
“Mommy, why did Kim have to die?”
Rachel, maybe part of why Kim had to die is so that when others are lost you and I will be strong enough to help them through to the other side.
That’s a good start, anyway.
This was the beginning of my spiritual Journey. The beginning of why I am who I am.