The caboose posed with ancestors, me (in the arms of Gryla), Jorunn, and Stella. Akureyri, Iceland approx. 2018)
My sister Stella was my sister-in-misbehavior and sister-in-laughter. As I cross the bridge of grief, I am thankful we walked life’s journey together. When a person dies, the memories you shared depart with them. Those remaining are left longing to share the memories, not in a tweet, but with all the words it takes.
Jorunn, Stella, and I were the caboose in a family of six children. In my earliest memories, we are dressed identically—because we often were. The three attic bedrooms and skylights were our domicile. It was rare that our parents invaded our sanctuary. If mother came upstairs, it was to throw bread crumbs to the pigeons. Stella and her best friend, Anna, used the same window to crawl out on the roof for a smoke and a front seat to a spectacular view of Surtsey, the birth of a new island forming in the Atlantic.
For a short while, Stella and I shared a bedroom. It’s where intimate conversations took place, like the one where if you hold a lamp in one hand and touch the metal brim of a window, you will die. Predictably, Stella would pick up our lamp and reach out to the window with her terror-stricken little sister pleading she give life another chance. It’s where Stella told me that Jorunn was in love with Höskuldur, a boy she suspected was a thief, and that I was adopted. Jorunn’s love aspiration took second place to the adoption news that turned out to be false.
Christmas Eve, standing at the hall window where dad’s “Christmas house” was on display with candles, cotton, and sparkles, we waited for the extended family to arrive. On New Year’s Eve, in dark and freezing weather, we went to the massive bond fire to say good-bye to the old and welcome the new. I lack the words to describe the atmosphere and feeling the holiday season created. It was the spirit of the past reaffirming who we were, strong and full of life and anticipation of what was yet to come.
Stella married and left our little island, and moved to the USA. Soon I followed. Together, we encountered the turbulence and insecurities new immigrants must brave. Stella, still a teenager, now a mother, quickly got a job as a lab tech (drawing blood). Months would go by without hearing from her family, yet she forged ahead, and soon she and I were walking to the construction site of their first house, thanks to the VA and Norm’s service time.
Returning to the attic time of our childhood, I recall one particular game the three sisters found to their liking. At the end of the day wrapped in a duvet with a book in hand, we competed to be the last person to say good-night. Later, my two sisters, when in their seventies, tried to resurrect this sister contest from opposite sides of the Atlantic to be the last one to tweet a good-night emoji. But without the fire of youth, it fizzled. Instead, they rekindled their sister-ship with their love of Lopi and knitting.
Now it’s time to say not only good-night, but good-bye. Her passing leaves great sadness for the present and emptiness for the future. It is the price we pay for love. But we will get across the Bridge of Grief and again laugh as we used to when she was with us. It’s what she’d want us to do.