I am the oldest of 3 kids. First came me, then came my sister two years later, then my brother 5 years after that. To say we had a rough childhood would be putting it lightly. Not to try to compare or make it seem like we had it so rough, but to give you an idea, my family has struggled with financial woes, prescription drug addiction, alcoholism, illegal drug sales and addiction, broken families, disease, death, distrust, abuse, and persecution just to name a few. For some this may seem extremely farfetched while to others it is just another “day in the life”.
While growing up, I witnessed the people I trusted most become very different people. They assumed different roles based upon the mask they had to put on, or the disease they were struggling with. I had to see relationships severed then mended then severed again just to see the broken pieces glued together but never really put together again the right way. People extremely close to me have gone to jail, have been in and out of rehab, and ultimately have taken their last breath through actions of their own accord or from terrible unforeseen circumstances.
You would think there would be some issues that would arise from experiencing all of this before turning 15 but for some reason, my sister and I soldiered through. That is not to say we lived out of a box in the streets, nor did we live in fear or were left wanting of much. In all honesty we led pretty normal lives considering.
We grew up in a ranch in a little suburban New Jersey shore town. As children I’ll admit I was that mean older bother that didn’t want his sister doing what he was doing. I had an issue with her copying me, and more than that I struggled with us being identified as a unit instead of being recognized as an individuals so in a restaurant for example when she ordered a “Shirley Temple” after I did, it threatened my individualism. However it didn’t take long before we had a good standing relationship and became best friends. We saw the same things, we had a deep mature understanding of what was going on around us, and we coped.
We didn’t develop any weird mental issues, we didn’t kill animals or burn things. In fact our mother made sure that we maintained extracurricular activities after school which kept us distracted in a big way and let us focus on our passions. I being the one in the arts [ballet, jazz, modern dance, community theater, high school musicals, etc.] and my sister the one in gymnastics. Mind you I started the gymnastics thing first, and while my sister copied even THAT, as it turned out — she was better at it than even I was and so it became an extreme passion of hers. So much so that she ended up moving to Texas alone to train for the 2000 Sydney Olympics when she was 13!
The Olympics thing actually never panned out as the coach decided to retire and my sister missed her New Jersey friends & family and so with great courage, she decided to move back, ignoring the pressure and expectations the community had on her to succeed there. Despite my sister being the only girl amongst us brothers, she was probably tougher than both us combined and didn’t let anyone give her shit for anything. I always admired her for that. And naturally she was the favorite of our mother, and not in the sense of my mother picking absolute favorites, she loved each of us equally, but there is a bond between a mother and daughter that I don’t think can be explained in words. I admired that too as I didn’t have that with my father. My sister had the best work ethic I have ever seen and always tried to start up small businesses, even as a child. She went door to door selling dandelions and other various weeds (of which I helped make beautiful ‘weed’ bouquets out of them so as they were at least presentable enough to sell), she rallied the neighborhood kids and offered to shovel snow taking profits from all the connections she made, we made lemonade stands out of PVC pipes together, she even hung outside of the local Shop-Rite and offered to return shopping carts for people after they unloaded them just so she could keep the quarter upon the return.
She was always in many ways an entrepreneurial spirit. Needless to say we kept ourselves busy and her even more so than anyone! She spent hours upon hours a day at the gym training with her coaches and always came home late. The times we did end up having together somehow we always managed to talk about our futures and more importantly our own children and weddings. This was a common topic of conversation in our household. Keeping traditions alive (not even knowing why we did some of the things we did) and my sister’s wedding and children. That’s not to say we didn’t discuss MY future children or wedding plans as well, however between my mother and sister, that was their favorite points of conversation and I didn’t mind.
As we grew older, we moved away for college and even though I was miles way in Europe, and my sister in Maryland we remained very close. We always came home for Christmas and always carried out our Christmas traditions together. She was the only person in the world that was able to see the same things as me, witnessed and formulated very similar opinions on issues as me, and we very rarely argued. We were a team unit and never missed a beat once reunited despite month upon months of being apart. That fear of being recognized as a team unit was now something I embraced and wouldn’t change it for the world.
Soon we joined the real world after graduating and while I studied to be a filmmaker, she ended up starting her own business in sales and marketing. I believed in her so much that I ended up joining her while I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with my career and tried to find my own way after college through her sales and marketing industry. She just knew what she wanted and went for it and this industry she brought me into taught me so much about the real world, business and entrepreneurialism. She essentially became my leader in business, despite being my younger sister. She moved out to Portland, Oregon to expand her business, bringing my mom along for the ride. (Keep in mind our mother had never lived outside of New Jersey and this was WAY outside of her comfort zone!) *She ended up loving the experience and it was quite remarkable to see our mother grow as a woman just by changing locations!*
I stayed behind and moved to New York to pursue my own dreams and with the knowledge and experience I now had from sales, I started freelancing and essentially running my own business in design, thanks to my sister and fellow peers and leaders.
Soon my sister had the opportunity to open up another business back in New Jersey, which is in part due to the desires of our mother, who just wanted to be back on the beach and start setting up for her dreams of having grandchildren and the beach house we all knew she wanted. The three of us shared in the vision that we would have our families close to one another.
Suddenly in October, our mother passed away without any warning signs, without any chance to say goodbye, without any chance of having closure. It has been the saddest experience of our lives. She was such a strong woman. She gave us strength and encouragement when we most needed it. She was the visionary of our lives. Our mother was more than just a mother, she was also our best friend and even as I type these words, the anger and frustration that she is not here to see her children grow comes out in the form of tears and despair.
It’s amazing how life throws you curve balls. I miss her so much.
Despite all the condolences given it is tough to see any shred of hope when you are grieving. Nothing in this world will ever break my heart again.
However through that dark tunnel that has been surrounding me, a beam of light has shone through for a little more than a month after the greatest tragedy came the greatest hope. My sister found out she is expecting her first child.
And so it is with this heavy heart that we perform our duty to pick up these broken pieces of our hearts and reshape them into surrounding this child with love and happiness. To be sure this kid is going to know what their grandmother was like. We will share our memories of her. Her legend will live on in our hearts.
We were trying to decide how to announce her pregnancy and finally in a matter of last minute hours after we saw the baby in the ultrasound, my sister decided it needed to be done that same day. So I quickly designed and shot this image above. Thoughts?
My sister is so brave for while we grieve she is experiencing the beauty of life within her. I can’t even imagine what that feels like and of course I never will. The only thing I can do is be there for her and for my niece or nephew.
While we grow and develop and start the next chapter of our lives, we should all be reminded of how short life is and to just take chances and risks every chance you get for you may never get that opportunity again. Kiss your mother, tell her you love her. The same goes for all of your family.