The other night, over happy-hour priced white wine, my good friend Sarah told about something very personal that she was writing about. A once in a lifetime epiphany that was about to shake up her world. Today’s guest post is from her, in honor and memory of her sister, Tali.
One summer when I was about ten, I had been away at sleep away camp but apparently while I was gone, my older brother had gotten into Teletubbies.
He was 17… it was weird. But he thought they were hilarious and his favorite was Dipsy. My then 14-year-old sister, Tali, played along and decided her favorite was Laa-Laa. As soon as I heard this, I told her that Laa-Laa was my favorite and she couldn’t have her. I had never seen Teletubbies and didn’t know Laa-Laa from Adam but such was my life as an annoying little sister.
This became a source of a good amount of contention between she and I for years. My take on it was that I was the youngest and she was too old for Teletubbies (although truthfully so was I) so I should get first dibs on Laa-Laa. Her take on it was that I only wanted Laa-Laa because she said she wanted her. She was correct but again, I was too busy being annoying to care.
On January 27, 2012, Tali was struck by a car while jogging and tragically lost her life. “Lost her life.” I’ve always hated that term, like her life was a pair of keys at the bottom of her purse. It was obviously an event that has rocked my family and one that we will never be able to fully recover from. Tali left behind a legacy of love and service. There is a shelter in Kenya for young girls that is named after her and her last act on this earth was to give five people her organs so that they could live longer and better lives even though she could not.
I have never written about the personal heartbreak or the immense good she left behind because my parents are far more comfortable and capable taking on that public role. I am a fairly private person so I preferred to let them handle that. However, I am choosing to write about it now because I have a perspective that is solely my own, that no one else in my family can relate to but that I imagine many other people have experienced.
On December 9, 2015 I will officially become older than my older sister. I know this because apparently I’m a crazy person who decided to do the math (well not really, I let a computer program do it for me but still). Tali lived for 9,789 days and on December 9, I will have lived 9,790 days.
I knew this would happen and on my 26th birthday it hit me hard because I knew that that was the last birthday I would celebrate as being younger than her.
I thought about all of the times that she was there for me as a big sister. Like the time she and my mom taught me how to shave my legs in a hotel room bathroom in Atlanta. Or the times I called her when either my father or mother decided to mortify me in public (one of which was so particularly emotionally scarring, I don’t even feel comfortable writing it but let’s just say it combined a group of my peers, the definition of kosher, and a male bodily fluid). Or the time I was struggling with finding a job after college and she would email me places to apply and talk to me on the phone about how she dealt with the same thing after she graduated.
I thought about all of the times, I had been a little sister to her. Stealing her clothes and her favorite pair of J. Crew flip flops whenever she made the mistake of leaving them in plain sight. When I followed her around an entire summer at camp and embarrassed her whenever she sat next to a boy. Or when I was four and dialed 911 and blamed it on her because my brother dared me to.
And then I thought about all of the times where she acted like the little sister or I acted like the big one. Like the time she told on me for using too much Drain-o when trying to clear out our shower drain because she thought I was “trying to poison her.” Or the time I taught her how to blow dry and straighten her hair because after 20 years on this earth, she hadn’t figured out how to tame her frizzy locks.
She was four years older than me and was always more mature, organized and together than I was. But at times (few and far between), I had the privilege of being the one that told her she was being a little snot and to pull it together. Those experiences have helped me come to terms with the fact that while she will always be my older sister, I am the one now that has to mature and grow into a person that we would both be proud of.
So I have spent the past year trying to make every decision and experience count. As a result, I have had one of the best years of my life and I owe a lot of that to Tali. I thought about how I had less than a year to be the youngest and how I should spend it. I decided that the best thing to do, was what she had often accused me of doing: whatever I wanted (but with a slightly edited approach). I did whatever I wanted not in the entitled younger sister sense but in a “carpe diem” kind of way. To not sweat the small stuff and to appreciate and take advantage of every new adventure.
This wasn’t without its challenges. I was in an 8 year relationship that ended but I spent almost no time wallowing in what could be and chose instead to rejoice in what was. I traveled to Abu Dhabi, Dubai, San Diego, San Francisco, Sedona, the Grand Canyon. I went to shows and concerts, knocked so many things off of my bucket list, said yes to so many new experiences, met so many cool people and have found a type of happiness that I know would make us both proud.
It’s those experiences that have made me ready to become the older younger sister. I’ve matured and learned more in the past year just by living my life and allowing myself to be truly happy than I have in any year before. Sometimes it takes a true tragedy and a shaking of your soul to appreciate all that you have or how beautiful life can be.
I’m not trying to be her or live life as she would. That would be a disservice to us both. In all honesty, I’m pretty sure her type-A personality would not have been able to handle my year of YOYO (You’re only young once or in my case you’re only younger once).
Tali had so many amazing qualities that I don’t possess and even though we are sisters, we were always very different. What I am trying to do is simple; be happy. Be happy enough so that if she is watching, she doesn’t have to worry, that she can be proud and that she can know that she has had the greatest impact on me that an older sister could have and in her passing has given me the greatest gift I could ever ask for: perspective.
I know that that’s not what every kid waking up on Christmas morning hopes to find under the tree (I assume, I’m Jewish so I’m a Festival of Lights kinda girl) but I’ve found so much comfort in the understanding that life is both short and long and beautiful and ugly and exceptional and ordinary and the only thing that truly matters is that you do what makes you happy and proud. She made the proud part easy but finding happiness was a little trickier.
So Tali, I love you and while I miss you every day, I promise I will make you proud as your older younger sister. I promise that I will be happy and live a life for both of us. One of compassion and love and hope and faith and dreams. Maybe occasionally, I will try to throw a middle child tantrum for you too, just for old time’s sake. And Tali, Laa-Laa can be your favorite…I will just take Dipsy away from Jesse (Po and Tinkie-Winkie are of no interest to me).