Today is International Women’s Day. During Black History Month and these first couple of days in Women’s History Month, I have uplifted women, mostly women authors. Today, though, I want to uplift a woman near and dear to my heart, the heart of our family, my sister Jeanette.
At 19, when our mother died, Jeanette became the Matriarch of our family, the connective tissue that held us together – at this time, we said, “We only have each other.” And although our father was alive – he would die almost four years later – and was always there for us, he was an old school Native Southern Son who limited his role to Provider. We don’t argue about that. His role didn’t change when our mother died, but Jeanette’s role dramatically changed, including deferring her dreams.
At 19, Jeanette became the “mother” to our younger siblings, my “Irish” twin, Cheryl (17), Wanda (13), and our baby brother Whitney, “not Houston” (10). Whitney, more than our other siblings, in part because he was the youngest, truly became Jeanette’s child.
I don’t believe that life is a Tragedy, but that there are tragic events in our lives. Less than a year ago, Whitney passed away, the greatest tragic event in our lives, and twice as tragic for Jeanette, because not only was Whitney her brother, but also her “son.”
Less than a year ago I didn’t know there are levels of grief. Losing a parent when you are a teenager is a deep and profound form of grief, although parents do not expect to outlive their children, and children do not expect their parents to die. Still, there’s no preparation, no playbook, for dealing with this grief, not as a teenager, and not as an adult. On another level of grief, losing a sibling is like losing a body part – one hears those stories of people who have lost a limb “feeling” it (muscle memory?) long after it is gone – a member of the family. It cuts even deeper than the loss of a parent. Losing a sibling, the youngest in your family tree, produces a grief far more profound than losing a parent. I cried more in the week after our baby brother’s death than I had in my 60 years of life. (My childhood friends have said they never saw me cry.) Tears form in my eyes as I write this. . . .
Tears are still forming and falling from Jeanette’s eyes. There is nothing that can assuage her grief. Her grief is double our siblings, in that she not only lost a bother, but also a son.
But this post is not about tears. It is about fortitude and strength in the face of tragedy.
My sister, Jeanette, is the strongest woman I know, and if there is life after death, then I hope that she and Whitney are reunited.