bentangle

Archive for February, 2016

Leap On

by on Feb.29, 2016, under About Me, family

On this day 36 years ago my life changed in a way it would take decades to fully appreciate. I welcomed a second little sister into my family who happened to be one of those “leap year babies”. As with any new sibling, reception is mixed and it takes time to see the good in it. My sister had a new compatriot, which gave me occasional respite from her iron will. And I gained an ally against that iron will when it got out of hand (which it often did).

One of the truths of being a leap year baby is that birthdays are a pain. For all the great uniqueness that comes with it in years when the day occurred, also comes a hollowness to celebrations in years when it doesn’t. We’d always make the jokes about it (her only being a quarter of her actual age, not being able to drive being “only 4”, etc.) as humor was a common way to skirt reality in our household. But as much as most of us used that humor as a salve, for my sister growing up in it, it was real. She was a soul of delight and mischief who rarely went down the dark path – always a paragon of hope and optimism.

But then at the ripe age of 4 ¼ (17 in real years), darkness found her. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor – one that was nearly impossible to treat and even harder to remove. In spite of this turn of events, she remained bright and hopeful. She coerced her biopsy surgeon to do minimal shaving so that she could cover her scar with an updo for her senior prom mere days later. She happily moved in with me and my wife in our inarguably shittiest apartment ever so she could have an easier commute to her regular radiation treatments. Even at her lowest – having the swiss cheese memory of an advanced Alzheimer’s patient, she still made jokes and kept us hopeful for her state of mind and recovery.

And despite a bleak prognosis as a teenager, she made it to her 5th and then her 6th “real” birthdays, fighting the good fight all the way. At 24, while she was reliant on a battery of medications to replace every regulatory hormone her body stopped managing (she lost her pituitary gland with the radiation) and had double knee replacements due to the compound effect of her body failing to take care of her own joints or metabolism, she stole the show at her own sister’s wedding by walking down the aisle unassisted.

Twelve years later I still think of that day. And the day that came a month later when she passed.

I think of her in those times bucking every odd stacked against her. It’s easy to look back and feel sorrow for the years lost – both those she half-lost fighting her ailments and those she lost in losing the fight. It’s easy to feel saddened that we can’t still have her presence in the world. It’s easy to look at the day she left us and feel its loss.

But her light wasn’t lost: that light she showed on her prom night, at our sister’s wedding and so many other times in between. There is hope and optimism in me that I don’t think would be there if not for her. There is hope and levity and light that I pass on to my children (without the spectre of being about misdirection and avoidance, but rather about acceptance and joy of life) that I don’t know that I’d have in me if not for seeing it in her.

As much as I miss her, there are some truths that are more important about my relationship with my littlest sister: for the time I had with her in my life, I am better, I am stronger, I am bolder, and I am happier because she existed however briefly. I am a better person than I would have been if the world never had that leap year baby. And I may well be a better person in spite of the loss of her. There are so many things in this world that remind me of her and remind me that I miss her. But in that absence I know better than to regret it or be subsumed by it – she taught me that.

I’m sure not a leap day will pass in my life that I won’t be thinking of her. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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