Today marks the 20th anniversary of the hardest loss I’ve ever endured: the death of my younger sister Julie.
It’s hard to fathom that much time has passed, but the calendar tells me it has.
Julie died from cancer on February 27, 1994. She was 12. I was 16.
My road to recovery has been long and twisted and messy. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her and thank her for blessing me with her presence.
I’m a better woman because I had Julie as a sister.
This loss has marked my life in just about every way.
It’s why I live my life the way I do.
It’s why I run my business the way I do.
It’s why I parent and love and lead the way I do.
It’s shaped my path, my outlook, my heart.
It’s a pivotal moment in my story.
I set out on a journey last year to tell my story in the form of a book.
My sister Julie and I enjoying the beach as kids.
The death of Julie was just one of the many pieces of my journey and what I’ve learned, but it’s an important moment no doubt.
My book will be published later this year and it’s no coincidence that it’s coming out 20 years after I was dealt the biggest blow of my life.
I’m honored to get it into the hands of women who are ready to see their stories as the message they are here to share to help heal the planet.
Know this: your story will change lives. Have the courage to share it.
Here’s an excerpt from my book that gives you a sense of what it was like to experience the loss of my younger sister.
I hope by me having the guts to share, you’ll be brave enough to share YOUR story, your pain, your victories, your lessons learned.
This is what’s called the Hero’s Journey. You’re on it right now.
Just getting this memory down on paper, reliving it so I could release it, has been one of the most cleansing and healing experiences of my life.
I wish the same for you.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share. It means the world to me.
Excerpt from Chapter 3: WHY
Mom’s groggy, shattered voice is what I pick up next.
“She is? Damnation. I’m coming. I’m coming.”
“Mom? What happened?” I ask.
“Julie’s gone. That was Nurse Patillo. She said Julie went peacefully. The family is gathering at her bedside to say goodbye. Do you want to come?”
I let out a groan, needing to release something.
Then I mutter, “no.”
I know I should go and see Julie’s dead body in her hospital bed, but I cannot move. I can’t bear to see her like that. I’ve never seen a dead body before and I don’t want to see my sister not breathing, looking like she’s sleeping when actually she’s fucking dead. I can’t. I don’t know how to be around all these adults who have been through death before and will try to comfort me when all they will do is make it worse because they will make it more real.
I can’t and I won’t.
Plus, my body is begging me for sleep, trying to make up for last night’s lack of sleep after my drunken clubbing escapade.
“Okay, Jennifer, you sleep and I’ll go,” mom says as she starts to rustle around in the dark to put on her outfit from yesterday.
I pull the covers over my head tight and curl up in a fetal position.
Mom turns on the bathroom light to brush her blonde hair, put on her pink shiny lipstick (she always wears pink shiny lipstick) and get herself semi-presentable to go see her dead daughter in the hospital.
When I wake up a few hours later, I’m freezing. Goosebumps cover my skin even though the covers are fully over me in my soft motel bed.
The hangover is still working its way out of my body. It’s as if my body has requested space for a new feeling to live inside of me: DEATH. The death of my sister.
I’m cold and I’m suffocating. I gasp for air and look over in the dark towards mom’s bed. She looks like a big lump under the covers.
What am I supposed to do now?
Take a shower? Get dressed in the outfit I threw in my overnight bag? Eat something?
No action seems worthy of this moment. Everything feels pointless.
There is a gaping, cavernous hole in my chest. I know this feeling because I’ve had holes in my chest before.
Like when mom and dad separated and dad told me he was moving out and I pretended that I wasn’t sad because I knew I was supposed to be strong and not cry.
Or when mom, Julie and I moved from Georgia to Florida and had to say goodbye to dad before I got into the moving van with my new stepdad who I hated.
Or when boyfriends would break up with me or stop calling me.
Or when the senior girls egged my townhouse because they didn’t like me.
Or when I learned that Julie had this disease called cancer and it was going to take over our life.
I’m alone, abandoned by the one person who understood me and accepted me for me. Why did she leave me? Everyone leaves me. I’m unlovable.
I rub my hands over my skin to try to claw off this layer of misery that is engulfing me.
Nausea bubbles up in my stomach. Oh shit. I’m gonna puke.
I throw off the covers and run to the bathroom and close the door so I don’t wake mom. My body heaves and I pick up the toilet cover and throw up violently into the water, tears flowing out of my eyes. Shaking and balling, I do my best to steady myself with my hands on either side of the toilet and my knees touching the tile of the bathroom. My throw-up is red from Julie’s uneaten Jell-O that I scarfed down.
Taking a deep breath, I strip off my emerald green turtleneck sweater, black bra, Gap bootleg jeans and thong panties and get into the shower. The water is scalding hot and I like it because I can feel something other than my heart being ripped out.
It’s Sunday morning.
As the hot water beats down on my skin, I resolve to do the only thing I know to do: go to New Smyrna Beach High School tomorrow acting like nothing has changed.
People are depending on me to perform. I have responsibilities: to be an A student, to cheer for our basketball team, to edit the yearbook, to look pretty, to show up at all the parties and to be happy. I can’t disappoint. I can’t fall behind. I can’t be left out of everything I’ve worked so hard to achieve. I have to appear perfect even though I’m far from it.
Must. Keep. Going.
The drain in the shower is clogged and the water is up to my ankles like I’m in walking in the shallow part of the ocean back home.
My thoughts are like popcorn, bouncing up and down in my brain as I try to keep up and follow them.
A voice inside of me speaks:
“You’re still here for a reason.”
What the hell is going on? What reason could possibly be the reason for me being here and my baby sister Julie being dead?
A chill goes up my spine as the anger gets all hot and prickly underneath my skin.
I don’t care if Julie was a real God lover and believer, I’m pissed at God right now and want to let Him know. How could he let this happen to her? Isn’t he in charge? Doesn’t he call all the shots?
I tell him what’s on my mind.
“God, if you are out there, can you tell me what I’m supposed to do now that you took my sister from me? Tell me! This makes no sense. None. You took the wrong girl.”
The words angrily flow out of my mouth as the water drips from my body in buckets. I prop myself up with my arm on the yellow tiled wall as I take a series of short, shallow breaths.
“I repeat. What am I supposed to do now?”
The Voice comes again: “Tell your story. Share your pain. This is the work you are here to do. This is your mission, your why. Julie will help you.”
I stand there, stunned.
To my sister Julie, for being a beacon of light and love everyday of my life. May you watch over the courageous women who choose to be visible, vulnerable and victorious as they find and live their soul’s calling … and tell their story.
My sister and our cat Puff.