I wrote an essay in 2018 reflecting on the 15-year anniversary of my sister’s death. I still think it’s one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve written. Today is her birthday. Amy would have turned 35.
I recently read this interview with Ocean Vuong, in which he captured the feeling of grief so perfectly and beautifully:
Oh, you know, you realize that grief is perhaps the last and final translation of love. And I think, you know, this is the last act of loving someone. And you realize that it will never end. You get to do this to translate this last act of love for the rest of your life. And so, you know, it’s — really, her absence is felt every day. But because I’m becoming an author again in another book, it’s doubly felt.
And ever since I lost her, I felt that my life has been lived in only two days, if that makes any sense. You know, there’s the today, where she is not here, and then the vast and endless yesterday where she was, even though it’s been three years since. How many months and days? But I only see it in — with one demarcation. Two days — today without my mother, and yesterday, when she was alive. That’s all I see. That’s how I see my life now.
So, here I am feeling the weight of today and the joy yesterday. Stuck in between these two lifetimes. Still writing this final translation of love, where my yesterday was not vast and endless, but much too short. And today feels like it will never end. Sometimes, despite the pain, I like to imagine how our lives would be together if my sister were still here. I can only dream of what she would have accomplished in these 19 years.
I can only dream of growing up together. I can only dream of where she would have gone to college. I can only dream of what kind of job she would have chosen. I can only dream of when we might have travelled somewhere together, just us. I can only dream of sharing and experiencing adulthood with her. I can only dream of what her favorite things might be, now. I can only dream of us becoming close friends. I can only dream about calling her for help when life is hard. I can only dream about her calling me when she also needs help. I can only dream of us visiting home together during holidays. I can only dream how my family wouldn’t be devastated. I can only dream of not having to carry this trauma. I can only dream of hearing the name ‘Amy’ without feeling overwhelmed and anxious. I can only dream of celebrating more than 16 birthdays with her. I can only dream of having the chance to say goodbye. I can only dream of yesterday, because these dreams are all I have left today.
Like the pieces of broken glass that I took from the wreck on the side of the road, these dreams are beautiful when held softly in the light. They shine and sparkle with hope and joy. But if held too tightly, their sharp edges remind me of the suffering from which they came. They get heavier and heavier as they slice open my palms and despair drips down the tips of my fingers. That’s when these dreams turn to nightmares. Best not hold them for too long.