Rachael was my only full blooded sister, and though I am blessed with another half sister that I don’t feel is any less of a sister to me than Rachael, I do share much of the same upbringing and experiences with Rachael. The age differences between the three of us are large: 12 years between me and my older sis, and 7 years between Rachael and I. Most of the time, it hasn’t felt like the age difference has mattered. Rachael and I still shared clothes, listened to the same music, liked the same things, and I always knew I could count on sharing a Margherita pizza with her at any restaurant. Along with dark hair and hazel eyes, we must have also both inherited the same taste buds. She was truly my best friend.
On October 18, 2010, she had an asthma attack that rushed her to the hospital and put her in a deep coma. She lost all brain activity and could not recover. She was taken off life support on October 24th, 2010.
Sometimes, I forget the anniversary because it is hard to pin down what day she left. The entire time period was awful for me and my family. I feel her loss everyday and I think about her all the time even 8 years later, so a death anniversary doesn’t necessarily mean much to me anymore. But what does mean something to me is her birthday, November 1st. She didn’t quite make it to her 20th birthday, but this year she would be 28! She would be older than I was when I lost her. As time goes on, it really sinks in that her life was in the past, and that reminder hurts. When she died, she and all her friends were typical 20 year olds who were experiencing adulthood for the first time and spent most of their time going to college, working hard, and playing hard. They spent all their time together, and they cherished their social connections most of all. Today, her friends are all adults in much of the same way that I am. They are getting married and having families. They are buying houses, traveling the world, and advancing in their careers. It is hard to imagine Rachael doing those things. But as the years have gone on, I have found a renewed desire to celebrate her life not just as a sad event that is passed, but as a wonderful remembrance of my love for her.
I feel more of a personal connection with Rachael because she is my sister, but losing her has played a big part in my desire to learn about my ancestors. Of course I want to learn about them; they are with her.
Ideas to Remember Ancestors
SING HAPPY BIRTHDAY
Every year on November 1st, which is also All Saints‘ Day and the day before All Souls’ Day and Dia De Los Muertos, I either buy or make a birthday cake for my sister, Rachael. For me, it brings my love for her into the present. To sing to her on her birthday celebrates her life. It brings warm feelings of remembrance and love for her.
If you can manage it, try and make it to their grave once a year. Bring them flowers or a trinket that reminds you of them. Or, bring them their favorite hoagie, and sit and have lunch with them. Make yourself comfortable. Speak to them in the same familiar way you would if they were sitting beside you. You might cry, but I promise you, the tears are cleansing and cathartic. You will leave feeling joyful, as if you were in their presence once again.
HANG A PHOTO OF THEM
I know it isn’t as common these days to display photos of ancestors in our homes, but maybe we should. I am a big believer that home decor should be personal and authentic rather than just trendy and generic. What if you downloaded some photos from Ancestry or FamilySearch and printed them to put in a decorative frame in your home somewhere? It is a great conversation starter, and it helps your children learn about their ancestors. I know their have been many times when I have looked into the faces of my people and said to them, “I hope I make you proud.”
DO WHAT THEY DID
Did your ancestor have a hobby or a profession that defined them? Perhaps they were a great writer, or they loved to sew or knit. Why not take it up yourself? Maybe it’s in your genes and you will discover a talent you didn’t know you had. My great grandmother was a nurse, and so was my grandmother. I wish I had gone into nursing when I was in college. Maybe someday, I will go back and do it. My grandmother also loved to write, and I think I definitely inherited the love of creative writing from her. By learning a skill that they had, you will gain a sense of identity and feel a connection to them.
WRITE ABOUT THEM
What if you wrote a biography of your ancestor or relative and published it? On FamilySearch, there is a Memories section where you can upload or write about your ancestors. Perhaps there are already stories about many of your ancestors, but I am willing to bet that you hold some precious memories that no one else has but would be cherished by others, including even some of your distant cousins you didn’t know you had. Most of what I have learned about my ancestors has been because of what others have shared. I am so glad they did!
These are just a few suggestions. I’m sure it doesn’t even scratch the surface of all of the good ideas out there.
I promise you that as you seek to learn about and grow to love your ancestors, you will receive a greater assurance that your loved ones you have lost will feel more close by, and the pain of losing them will feel less like a goodbye and more like a see you later. 🖤