A Cairn for Chris



My sister Chris died one year ago yesterday. A year seems like an impossibly long time for her to have been gone, and also impossibly short.  That’s the thing about death and the physical absence of the person — it can feel unreal, and so time gets distorted. Chris had been part of my entire life.  She was two years older than me, so she was here when I was born and somewhere in my sense of the world she is always here.

Except now she’s not.  Of course her absence feels much more acute for her husband and her boys — a life partner and a mother are gone, and I know how completely disorienting the loss of a spouse is.  The built-in companion on evenings at home, the warmth next to you in bed, the other parent to sort out worries about the kids — all gone. How to even make that work?

It was a great struggle for me and there are enough people in my life now who are living the same struggle that I know my experience wasn’t uncommon.  Others at the time who reached out to me, who’d lost a partner, confirmed it then.  “It’s like an out-of-body experience, isn’t it,” a colleague said to me at work one day.  His wife had died the year before.

It’s been ten years since Eric died and I’ve long since come back into my body.  But I remember being out of it, I remember being manic and obsessed with writing The Truth About Death, I remember drinking a lot and eating hardly at all, working out whenever I could and talking, talking, talking, as I tried to make sense of what my life was going to be. Losing a sister has been much less brutal — sad and disorienting in its own way, but not cry-myself-to-sleep-alone-in-bed sad.

There was a family trip to Chris’s memorial bench in Scituate, MA yesterday that I couldn’t be at, but I’m building a cairn for her in the woods, on the rock where I’ve built cairns for Eric.

My younger sister Meg texted me first thing yesterday and suggested we talk on the phone and read each other our letters — Chris wrote letters to her husband, to each of her boys, to each of us sisters and to our parents.  A common theme in her letters, and which she talked about at the end of her life, is her belief that she’ll always be with us.

“Know that I am not gone, only my physical presence is missing.  In the space I left is my love, energy, memories and shared history.  Things I would not trade for anything.  Enrich that space with new people, events and shared history.  I will be close by your side,” I read to Meg and she read similar words to me.  We cried.  We miss Chris, but she was right. Yesterday she was with us in her words and in the memories of her that Meg and I shared. She was with us as we talked about our commitment to being in the moment as much as we can, a lesson Chris worked hard to keep at the center of her own journey.

I just put another rock on her cairn, topped with a heart stone from the beach in Humarock, a favorite place for Chris.


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