A Letter to My sister

Dear Esti,

I was straightening up recently when I came across an overturned picture. I don’t know where it came from, but when I turned it over, I saw that it was a picture of you and me leaning in toward each other, with our heads touching and your hand around my shoulders.

I spent a few seconds looking at it, remembering where and when it was taken. It was at a melave malka in my house. A short time before daddy dropped dead.  About a year before you died. Suddenly, I threw the picture down. I couldn’t look at it anymore. Already then you were so thin, and your skin didn’t have a healthy color.

But we were having a good time. You were going to be okay.  Even if medically it didn’t make sense, somehow you were going to get better.

I picked up the picture again.  The truth is that if I’m honest with myself, I can feel the heaviness and fear inside of me as we spent time together that night. I knew how sick you were. I knew what the prognosis was, and I saw you slipping away.

If only we had more time. If only we could talk some more –  a heart-to-heart talk. I am not even sure of everything I’d want to say, but there is so much.

Losing you meant losing a very strong anchor in my life. You were my sister, friend and confidante. With you as my older sister, I felt so secure. I looked toward you for social cues. For styles. For direction. It’s kind of funny because we were always so different. But even with our differences in style, entertainment choices, hashkafos, and even with me getting married first, you were still my leader.

I glance at the picture again, and I feel so sad. I miss you so much.

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (perek 4: mishnah 20) says:ראש לשועלים”   “הוי זנב לאריות ואל תהי— It is better to be a tail of lions – a humble follower of great people – than to be the head of foxes – the leader of lowly people.

Esti, you were my lion.

Many didn’t know what a lioness you were because you were so humble. I remember when enough of your hair had finally grown back, and you came out of hiding. Many of our aunts, well-meaning and loving, but at the time annoying, would comment on your short haircut. Why would a beautiful girl in shidduchim, with beautiful hair, cut it so short? I wanted to scream at them to just be quiet already. “Even if you think you know everything, you don’t. You don’t know that she just finished chemo. Leave her alone with her short hair.” But, Esti, you just shrugged it off, hardly getting upset. There were no hard feelings. There was no resentment. I don’t know how you managed that.

The last few weeks of your life you were like a feather – so light that a slight wind could have toppled you over. I remember that your assigned parking space was quite a distance away from your apartment. It was a windy winter, and it was really hard for you to walk from your car to the building. You were deciding if you should tell the manager about your illness and have him give you a closer space. You didn’t want to cause a chillul Hashem by causing other tenants to wonder why “the new young tenant” was given such a close spot.

I remember asking you to help me out financially. I had a plan to pay you back in a timely fashion, but typical for me, my plan did not work out. When I tried to discuss it with you, you replied, “Someone once said that if you ever lend money to a family member, consider it a gift. Family members don’t usually pay back,” and that was that.

Esti, I want to talk to you some more. We never had a heart-to-heart about you leaving this world. But I wish that we could talk about it now. I want to ask you if you thought about it and if you were scared. I want to tell you how afraid I felt to go on living without you. I want to sit next to you, like in the picture, shoulder to shoulder, with our arms around each other, and talk about what a lioness you are to me.

How can it be that when I came home from my third date with my husband you were so excited and started planning my wedding? Weren’t you human? Didn’t you feel at all jealous?

How were you so happy to come to my house for Shabbos and babysit my four young children so Eli and I could get away for a desperately needed break? I know you were yearning for your own family. Wasn’t it painful for you?

How was it that one of your best friends was a very frum, yeshivishe lady whose husband has a choshuve position in a yeshivah, but at the same time, another one of your very close friends was no longer frum?

From where did you get the ability to accept everyone, without judging?

What was it about you that made everyone love you? Whenever you came home, you took a challenging woman shopping, making her so happy. I never did that.

How were you able to always see what others needed and selflessly give it to them?

Everyone loved you. But not everyone is your sister. And I am the only one in this world who is the sister right underneath you; we were only 18 months apart. It’s been a few years since we could be together. Usually I take my pain and lock it up. I can’t think of living life without you, so mostly I would rather not think about it.

But today I look at this picture, and I ask myself if this was a goodbye picture of sorts. You knew you were slipping away. We didn’t know how much time you had left. But you wanted me to know how much you loved me. You wanted me to remember you and to love you back.

Esti, I will always be a tail to your simchas hachaim and to the pull you had on so many people. You created joy and goodwill all around.

You are simply my lion. I love you. I miss you. And that will never change.

Reprinted with permission from Links magazine.

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