"My Two Siblings' Enduring Legacy"
In January, a Community Manager with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation messaged me on Twitter. She read my blog post--written two years ago for a friend's CFF fundraiser--about my late siblings, Michael and Karen, and asked if I would be interested in republishing it on the national CFF blog.
One week before I clicked on Katrina's message, I celebrated Michael's birthday like I do every year--I cried most of the day and bought a cupcake and lit a candle and cried some more. I choked up during client sessions at work and felt the annual ache for years lost with my big brother and the annual hatred for CF.
I felt alone in my siblings' death most of my life. Grief isn't a popular topic of discussion in my family and, even though we were all broken in the worst ways, we kept our fragments piled high and to ourselves. My Dad divorced himself from the CF community after Karen and Michael passed and after he lost a dear friend to the disease on top of it all. For the last 20 years, I kept my distance as well. I wasn't ready to share and breathe in the same space with others who experienced CF.
But in March, the story of my sibs went live for the country (and apparently the world) to see, and my haphazardly caged grief flew the ever loving coop.
Within an hour, I received an email from Ger in Ireland. Ger had also lost two siblings to CF. A brother and a sister. He also had their names tattooed on his arm. He shared his struggles over the years with being a now-only child, trying to explain his loss to strangers when they asked about his family, and attempting to keep his siblings' memories alive. You guys. I sat on my sofa in front of my lap top and sobbed. Like, palms-to-face ugly kind of tears. I cried for Ger and I cried for me and I cried for my family, but . . . I also felt less alone in that moment than I'd felt in two decades.
Ger's email was followed by a string of texts from my best friend in Maryland, who took screenshots of all of the Facebook comments people left on the CFF page.
"...my little brother has CF and losing him is my biggest fear in the world."
"Recently lost my little brother to CF, I feel his presence everyday and miss him terribly. We talk about him constantly and miss him so very much."
"Love this story. I lost my sister to CF almost seven years ago. Always praying for a cure."
"May you continue to write your stories to keep their memories alive. I too, continue to keep memories alive of my late son Ilan."
A whole mess of things happened that day and it was all excruciating and raw and sacred. The connection I didn't know I needed tumbled out of hearts from everywhere and I found community in the very people I avoided for most of my life.
Every story is a gift--sometimes even to the owner of it. And sometimes it takes 20 years to arrive, but I promise it's just as sweet.
If you didn't catch it, click here to read Michael and Karen's story on CFF.org.