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I often wonder if you will remember your sister. You used to hold her and sing lullabies or whatever sweet song your 4-year-old mind would compose in the warmth of the moment. Your little hands gently stroked her feather-soft hair, and you kissed her cheek with the gentleness of a baby bird.

Will you remember?

She wrapped her tiny fingers around your thumb, and you admired each one of them with awe. You brought diapers when she needed changing, and you helped with every step of the process. You drew pictures for her and talked to her about the things you would do as sisters when she was old enough to walk and play. You had a lifetime of adventures planned in detail. You told strangers about her and bragged about her accomplishments. You were so proud!

Will you remember?

At bath time, you helped us gather whatever was needed, and you made funny faces at her to entertain her the whole time. You loved to hold her when she was done, all wrapped snugly in a soft towel, sleepy and yawning and smelling of her lavender baby wash. I remember you sniffing her and drawing in that sweet scent as if it were the best thing you’d ever smelled. When she was hungry, you always wanted to help with feeding. You held her bottle for her and told colorful, animated, impromptu stories that only an imaginative little girl could tell. She gazed up at you with such admiration and love. She knew you loved her, and she loved you too.  

Will you remember?

RELATED: Siblings Are the Forgotten Grievers

When I had to tell you she would never come home after her heart surgery, just a few days after your fifth birthday, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I knew it would be hard for you, but I don’t think I knew it would be that hard. In my sorrow, I obviously underestimated how a bright, loving 5-year-old would receive that kind of news.

Tears immediately welled up in your little eyes, and it was all I could do to get my trembling lips to form the words.

I wanted to be gentle, but I knew it was important that you understood the reality. I told you the doctors did everything they could to fix her. I told you how much your sister fought to stay with us. I told you I whispered to her how much you loved her before she took her last breaths in my arms.

I told you she was dead.

Part of me died in that moment. Part of you did too–a part of your innocence that you will never regain. Unlike most children, you began to understand that children are not invincible and that death isn’t just for old people. That moment changed us both.

Will you remember?

You asked a lot of questions. You were so smart. “Where is she now? Where will her body be until we have the funeral? Will I be able to see her?” There were a lot of difficult questions that most 5-year-old children would not even think to ask. I hope I answered them in the best, least scarring way any mother could in that situation.  

I hope you didn’t see how hard I was struggling just to breathe during those days surrounding her death and funeral. I didn’t exactly have the time or mental space to read the guidebook for helping a child cope with a sibling’s death and funeral. Does such a book even exist?

Will you remember?

You stood by her tiny coffin in your new dress, and you looked at her little body with mostly the same affection you had always shown.

But there was a sadness in your eyes and your shoulders slumped as though you knew life was not going to be the same for our family. In that same moment, I mourned more than just the death of my baby girl; I mourned the loss of your relationship with your sister.

Will you remember?

RELATED: The Quiet Strength of the Sibling Left Behind

She has been gone for years now, and you have grown into an amazingly beautiful and intelligent 16-year-old. You will graduate from high school soon and start heading in your own direction in life. I will be there for you every step of the way to encourage you to grow and blossom, but I hope you will remember what she was to you . . . what she still is to you.

I hope you know that the bond you two had is not one that can ever be broken by time or distance. She is still your sister. You are still her big sister. You still love her, and she loves you. She will always be a part of what made you who you are today. And I hope you will think of her often and every now and then, remember the sweet scent of lavender and whisper a lullaby for her into the wind.

Emily J. Merrick

Emily J. Merrick has a Bachelor's Degree in Family Studies from the University of Kentucky. She worked in a variety of social work and educational settings before becoming a full-time stay-at-home-mom in 2002. She and her (high-school sweetheart) husband have been together for 30 years and married for 25. Emily is a mother of six. Her third child passed away after heart surgery. Emily's five living children range in age from 19 down to 6. She ran a very successful Etsy shop from home for six years before becoming disabled in 2020. She now shares her experience through writing and enjoys time at home with her family in rural Kentucky. 

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