I will never forget the sound of the doorbell ringing. I will never forget the police officer removing his hat to share the news. I will never forget the sight of my mother falling to her knees. I will never forget the accident that took my sister away those many years ago.

I will never forget.

I don’t want to forget.

My sister was just 12 years old when she was in a tragic car accident. She was a cheerleader in the making, a friend to many, a little girl growing into a well-rounded teenager. This accident would reshape the lives of those who loved her.

Her mother, father, stepmother, stepfather and six grandparents outlived her. It was a twisted reversal of the natural flow of life. It was a faith challenging cement roadblock for those ten parental figures.

The grief for my lost sister was young, innocent and confusing. It gave me childlike nightmares, awkward social skills and bewilderment on how to get through the upcoming days. It manipulated my childhood.

You see, I was a shy kid. Always living in her shadow, not in a bad way, but in an older sibling protecting young sibling way. This is where I felt safest, in the shadow of her rusty blonde hair and broad shoulders, she was my protector. If someone were to ask me a pressing question like, “Do you want lemonade or apple juice?” I would just gaze at my sister who would happily answer the question for me.

Who was going to answer my questions now?

I was young. There were days when I thought she’d come home, the school hallways were dark and quiet and the funeral was confusing. Life was messy. My parents struggled, that’s all I knew was that they were sad.

However, the days went on. In fact, the years flew by. In that time we lost touch with my sister’s friends and moved from the house filled with memories to one that would be a fresh start. My mom picked herself up and made an effort to give her two living daughters a great life. She tried.

I was mute, I wouldn’t speak to anyone unless they were in my immediate comfort circle. That was hard for my parents. My little sister lost her way to drugs. That was hard for my parents. My stepbrother battled with depression. That was hard for my parents. In their effort to give us a normal life, it would never be “normal” not in the way we knew it. We were missing a family member and my parents put their grief aside to raise the rest of their children.

I am now in my 30’s and have children of my own. My grief has changed. My experience with death has changed. The moment I held my newborn son in the crook of my arms, I was in love. It was an automatic and non-complicated love. That first night home from the hospital, I rocked with him and softly wept. I wept for my mother who had to bury her oldest daughter,  I had a new wave of grief for the death of my sister. It was no longer childlike and innocent, it was maternal and it was real. I was grieving all over again.

I think of how my parents wiped their tears, stood up straight and cared for us. They took the time to get me therapy and involve me in a church youth group. I think about how they pursued help for my siblings who had lost themselves to their own respective battles. As a mother, would I be able to do this? Would I be strong enough to whole-heartedly be there for the rest of my family?

I called my mother shortly after crying in the rocking chair that night. I told her how sorry I was for her loss, it may seem trivial now but I don’t think I had ever comforted HER. I asked her how she did it, how she raised the rest of us, how she cared for us. It was simple, she said. There was no other choice. The death of her oldest daughter didn’t take away her title as mother, it enhanced her title, it made her a stronger mother, and it made her an experienced mother.

My dad and step-mom immediately clung to their faith through those tragic years. They have beautiful souls and a deep understanding of life, death and the aftermath. They have instilled this in me and I know that with faith on my side, I can get through pretty much anything.

That night while I was weeping in the rocking chair, I had to make a decision. Was I going to be a mother who lived in fear of losing her children to unforeseen accidents? Or was I going to encourage them to live full lives with hearts of faith, wandering souls and belly-laughing moments?

I don’t know what tomorrow holds but I do know what my parents taught me. Their strength and wisdom has made me a stronger mother, I am thankful for the revelation I had as a new mother, I am thankful for the new mourning of my sister. I have had a mighty life of ups and downs, I have had a life of prayer and I believe that I have the wisdom to get this mother thing right.

What do your tragedies (whether it’s divorce, loss of job or family death) say about you? Have they defined you in a distressing way or have the magnified your heart in a positive light? Maybe we don’t want to see it just yet, but there is a lesson in each hardship. As parents, lets make it a strong one. When my parents picked themselves up all those years ago to be strong for me, they had no idea I’d be sitting here 20 years later, praising them for that moment.

Jackie Boeheim

Jacqueline Leigh holds a BA in Journalism from Valdosta State University. She’s successfully published articles in multiple lifestyle magazines and online publications. She is passionate about entertaining both parents and children through her writing. Jacqueline's first picture book, Time For Bed With Ford And Red, is set to release in June 2017. She makes her home in North Carolina with her husband and two spirited children. You can follow her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/authorjacquelineleigh/?ref=bookmarks