Just now, as I was paying a bill online, my eyes fell on the date: 10/17/2020.
Lucy’s birthday. She would have turned 60 today. The force of this revelation smacked me suddenly and sideways, and I burst out in tears, then more tears, then more.
I’m still bursting. My beautiful older sister stopped aging at that unending moment in the spring of 1992 when she took her own life, downing bottles of psych meds before curling up in a fetal position on her bed in Cambridge, Mass.
She was 31. I was 28. When I turned 32 four years later, I felt a breach in the space-time continuum that’s never fully healed — just as I felt after turning 56, a year older than my late husband when he died by suicide in 2011.
This is the inexplicable, unavoidable truth of grief following suicide loss. It never truly ends. You’re never truly over it, because it never truly stops being an affront to all that you know and love — including the tidy forward pace of time itself. You and your absent dear one were meant to travel it together, plodding side by side as you both age. You were meant to swap belly laughs, chit-chat, glances and insights en route. You understand that they were hurting; you accept that it wasn’t their fault; you do your best to comprehend their darkness and accept that they saw no escape.
But their departure from this universe rips yours to shreds, and the only way forward is straight through the chaos. There’s just no sidestepping, no dancing around it. This is true at the beginning — when you get that first, horrific phone call or answer the doorbell to find cops on your stoop, their faces gripped with empathy — and it’s true again and again and again and again and again, whenever the force of their death and your grief rears back and strikes you with bare-knuckle, out-of-the-blue force. You can’t duck it. You take it. You feel it. You give it its due. And, somehow, tripping over the shards of your past life, you move forward.
As the years pass, these blows to the heart occur less frequently, but that’s not to say they ever stop entirely. I was startled by this new reassertion of grief nearly 30 years after Lucy’s death, but I shouldn’t have been. She was, and I am not exaggerating, the most unfailingly good, indelibly beautiful and astonishingly gifted person I’ve ever known, a concert pianist whose whole soul expressed itself at the keyboard. She was hilarious, with a profound knack for the absurd. She was giving, always setting aside her own load of torment while her kid sister whined about some guy she had a crush on. And she was candid, always, about her unrequited love for a life that never loved her her back. She never took it for granted; she only wanted it to cause less pain.
I miss her. I will always miss her. I can’t imagine reaching an age when I don’t miss her, when her death becomes so-what and I stop grieving entirely. As a person of faith I believe that I’ll see her again, laugh with her again, and maybe sit back with margaritas at some poolside somewhere in an eternal moment of light and joy that never slides into darkness.
But in the meantime, I’m here. And she’s there. So from my little kitchen in Albany, the tears still wet my cheeks, I declare to the heavens: Happy Birthday, Lucy.