I wrote this last year. Today would’ve been my sister’s 68th birthday: She was born on 4/9/49–a fact that always made her birthday seem more special. She is missed terribly by all who knew her. There’s an empty place at the table on this occasion, and all others when her friends or the family–whichever parts of it–gather. Although there’s no way I could keep up her pace of activities and engagements, this week I will attend the ballet and think of her.
For many years, I gave my sister a calendar for Chanukah, along with other gifts of greater substance. She insisted on using the little checkbook-size calendar and accompanying notepad to record her many social events and the birthdays of friends and family members. I ordered her a calendar every year at the same time I bought the big, family-size one for myself—the kind that came with big squares, which we filled in with all the activities and events of a family of five. Every year the designs on the outside of these calendars changed: flowers, landscapes, animals, etc. Since she loved to garden, I usually chose a floral theme.
But in 2014, for some reason, I completely forgot to buy her the traditional gift. We had decided to scale back to nearly nothing that year—she wasn’t feeling well, and didn’t even feel like shopping online. We gave each other a pass, and instead just exchanged token presents. After the holidays, she brought out her little 2015 calendar and showed it to me: “I bought one for myself this time. You forgot!” And that’s when I remembered that I’d completely gapped on the calendar. “Oh,” I said. “Jeez, that’s a first!” And I felt bad about forgetting.
That was in December, after she’d been diagnosed with lung cancer. I didn’t want her to misinterpret my oversight, and hoped she’d chalk it up to the usual pre-holiday, kids-coming-home stress that blindsides me every year.
The first few months of 2015 were filled with doctor appointments, blood transfusions, consultations, scans, biopsies, chemo treatments. For her birthday in April, I’d given her a gift card to a local nail salon, hoping she’d be up for a couple of easy outings. I could park in front and she wouldn’t have to walk too far. It was a nice place that we’d been to just the month before, when she was feeling up for a pedicure and a little TLC. She’d had her hair cut short by then, and had begun to drop weight each week.
And then, in May, the cancer took its toll.
After Susie died, I was responsible for clearing out her home, paying her bills, dealing with all the little things that one must deal with. I went through closets, dressers, file cabinets, drawers, shelves and boxes. And I found her calendar, the one she’d bought herself because I forgot and she was determined to keep track of what her days were going to be like, same as always. Tucked away inside it was the gift card for the pedicures she wasn’t able to enjoy. I couldn’t help looking through the pages in the calendar. Her handwriting looked shaky. Not much to see past about mid-March.
I have to wonder now if I didn’t really forget, that I thought a year’s worth of days to plan for represented false hope. But the fact that she wanted to have those days, however many would be ahead of her, showed her spirit and determination. Did she think I was trying to spare her from what was coming, sooner than we ever imagined? I’ll never know.
I also found her calendar for 2014 among her papers. That calendar was full of her cramped up-and-down handwriting on nearly every day: lunch with friends, theatre, volunteering gigs, work, walks with friends, concerts, baseball games, shopping dates, travel—she noted both hers and mine—weekend trips with friends, opera, ballet and tap class.
Empty pages in a calendar; a life cut short. But the days of her life, the days she lived that last year and the years before—those days were full.