You have Marion’s eyes, my grandmother says gently, her revelation interrupting our sweet chitter-chatter the night after she buried her only sister.
Her mind is heavy with memories of Marion and I smile, honored my crystal blue eyes remind her of a sister she cherished so much. I have always wondered where they came from, a color so bright I’m often asked if they’re real. That night, on my 22nd birthday, I am happy to learn they were hers first.
I never knew Marion well, but she came to life in the short snippets of stories my mother and my grandmother would share, even more increasingly so in the past few months as Marion’s health declined. And from the look in their eyes, I could tell she was someone special.
Marion was my grandmother’s sister, her best friend and the other half of her very being. It was a miracle she made it as long as she did, her body plagued and exhausted from illness and the poison of Alzheimers. So when her son called and said it was almost time, we didn’t think she would make it through the holidays. The fall was filled with short visits, my mother and her siblings shuffling my grandmother to Marion’s for a few hours at a time, every couple weeks, just in case. Thanksgiving and Christmas passed and we held our breath, but she fought.
“She’ll go when God taps her on her shoulder,” my grandmother told me on a cold evening in February. “And it will be a blessing.”
I wasn’t sure then what she meant, but as her sister, I knew she knew best.
I didn’t know Marion well. I never tagged along on visits with my grandmother, but if there is one thing Marion taught me in these lingering months it was surely a lesson on the bonds of sisterhood.
It’s true Marion was plagued with Alzheimers, but my grandmother remained a face that no disease could ever erase. Over the past year as Marion’s memory continued to falter, she never forgot my grandmother, her crystal blue eyes fixing intently on her beautiful sister, their hands in a constant embrace.
Even in the later days, when Marion’s stare went blank and it seemed as if she weren’t there, my grandmother said her sister would always manage to break through, even if only at the end — shedding a few tears or sharing a tight squeeze as they said goodbye.
When Marion was too weak to speak, my grandmother would lead, chatting about sweet nothings and old memories and reminding her of the full life she had lived. It was an odd position for my grandmother, my mother said. Their roles were usually reversed, with Marion bold, chatty and outspoken, my grandmother content with listening away. But in these days, she vowed to keep their sacred conversations alive while they could.
And in her final days, my grandmother was, too, there to comfort her sister and help her cross over. Amidst her own grief, she told Marion it was okay to go, to trust that God was waiting, and to follow the light into a meadow of flowers, across a stream, and into His arms. On a Friday afternoon Marion spoke for the first time in weeks, breaking again from a blank stare to address my grandmother, who asked if she was standing in the meadow.
“Yes,” Marion whispered.
“Cross the stream and go to Him,” my grandmother urged.
That Sunday Marion waited for my grandmother quietly before passing away just 15 minutes after she had arrived. With her big sister there to guide her, she could go.
It’s clear now where my own love for my sisters began. Sisterhood, in my family, is a bond like no other. We have the boys too, yes, but from the very beginning it was clear that my grandmother was the matriarch in a long lineage of tight-knit women, her two daughters and ten granddaughters falling in line behind her.
My mother and her sister remind me of my grandmother and Marion. Their lives interrupted by communication barriers and a childhood where they spent many days apart, my mother and her sister are still as close as can be. They overcome these boundaries. They share happiness over childhood pranks spelled out letter by letter in American Sign Language. They carry one another through sickness, divorce and tragedy. And they vow, at every reunion, to always be together, even when they are apart — shedding a few tears or sharing a tight squeeze as they say goodbye.
My sisters and I are often asked how we are so close, and thinking upon that, I smile now knowing where that comes from.
Sisterhood, in my family, is a tradition. One that Marion is a part of. One that is seen three generations back and one that I hope to pass onto my girls, too, someday — starting with the story of two sisters locked in an embrace stronger than any disease, bolder than the Gates of Heaven and the worlds in-between.
I understand now how Marion’s passing could be a blessing. She is no longer in pain, no longer stuck in a haze of forgetting. No longer waiting. And while her death may mean Marion and my grandmother are now worlds apart, they are always together. Our tradition of sisterhood grants us much.
I never knew Marion well, but in some form, I carry parts of her with me. With crystal blue eyes, sweet life lessons and a love for our sisterhood that doesn’t compare, I am in some ways my grandmother’s sister’s keeper. Carrying on parts of her legacy in my very being. And for that, I am the luckiest.