I found myself weeping unexpectedly a lot, in the months leading up to the third anniversary of her death. At my desk at work, while crossing the street, in the middle of chopping vegetables. I couldn't control it, because I didn't know it was coming. It had been a long time since I was like this, and I didn't understand what was going on. Was I anxious because I'd asked my mother to spend the anniversary with me instead of with the rest of family in Israel, for the first time?
I should have known. I should have remembered, because I know the last time I regularly burst into tears on the subway, years and years ago. This only happens when there's a grief I haven't voiced, a loss I haven't acknowledged, to others or to myself. After I say it, it gets easier.
So, here is my best guess.
There is nothing like having a sibling in some ways. No one else was there, watching from almost the same vantage point as you, while the experiences that shaped you were happening. There is no one else with whom you can re-examine the formative assumptions of your life, years later: was that really what our parents did? Am I remembering it right? Did I even perceive it right, while it was happening?
And there's no one else who can shoulder certain burdens with you. When tragedy strikes your family, there is nothing like knowing you are not alone.
I knew all that - because all that had already happened to me. It shaped my determination to have at least two kids, because I knew hard things would lie ahead for them, as they do for everyone. I knew I couldn't guarantee they would be there for each other, or even that they'd get along. But I knew I would do everything I could to give them the chance.
What I didn't know was how much my siblings were part of my identity, until one of them was gone. I don't mean part of my life, or even part of my heart; I mean part of my self. The self I think of unconsciously, fundamentally, as me.
She was the baby, so little for the first part of my life, I barely knew her. And yet the fact of who we were - that we were four sisters - was something I was so proud of. Always. As we both got older, the individual point on the diamond that she played became more and more important to me. She shaped me, there is no question. As much as I could ever have possibly shaped her. I know exactly how I am different, because I grew up with her.
In the first months after she died, when someone asked how many sisters I have, I didn't know how to answer. I couldn't bring myself to say two. Not because it was painful - because it was a lie. Now I just say, I'm one of four. That will always be the truth. The truth of us.
A piece of my self is missing, you see. I don't know where it is. I will never get it back.
I've been crying a lot less, since I said that to myself. So I think that was probably it.