Written by: Sharon Parish, with collective thought and discussion with all of the sisters (Amy McMillan, Steph Watts, and Jackie Prinsen).
Psalm 90:12 “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
Before my husband and I ever had kids, I told him that if we ever had one daughter, then we would have to have a second daughter. I grew up surrounded by my four sisters in a house with one washroom. I would have told you that I’ve experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly of sisterhood for years – up until the last few years. My view on sisterhood is so different now than I ever thought that it would be.
From left to right: Sharon, Jackie, Caroline, Steph, Amy
We had a great childhood – all five of us, spread over 8 years. Sure, we had our differences, ranging from hair color, beliefs, hobbies and everything in between, but we had a lot of the same, too. We all loved family and had family as a priority – most of the time. The four oldest were always busy with work, life, love and everything that comes between. The youngest, our little Caroline (always seeming tiny, meek, and quiet to those who didn’t know her well) was consumed with desires to travel and see the world. She didn’t waste her time. She went through college for travel and tourism. She surrounded herself with great friends, never wasting her time on a boyfriend, knowing that she’d know the right one when she met him. Even though her calendar was always full, she mysteriously would find ways to individually single out us girls and spend time with us – one on one, as often as possible, but also in the fun group dynamic that the five of us together would present. With the five of us together, the laughs would bellow out, as the sisterly love was being shared – along with opinions on each others’ choices in clothes, hair styles, vacation destinations and everything else that girls chat about. Often described as an old soul, we would joke about how she was the youngest and smartest for always having fun, yet maintaining high standards for herself. She was, in essence, a girl who was wise beyond her years, teaching us girls lessons over and over – oh, and how to dance.
Life changed in the year of 2013. Caroline was 23 at the time, and she was diagnosed with breast cancer. A fluke, that’s what the doctor’s kept calling it. They threw everything and the kitchen sink at her. The good news, after her double mastectomy, chemo and radiation, was that SHE BEAT IT! While she was ill, she determined to keep her spirits up and plan for her future. She smiled almost constantly and amazed everyone who knew her. She researched everything possible to continue living well. She took the lead in our sisterhood. She didn’t let it become all about her. She turned her focus to her life and to us – her older sisters.
She spoke to us about love. She spoke to us about decisions we had made and were yet to make. She encouraged us to be vigilant about our health. She encouraged us to eat clean. She called our behaviors into check. She made us think twice about ever complaining. She made us laugh and look to the future, instead of worrying and dwelling on her struggles. She planned her return to school, as she was determined never to feel like she wasn’t making the most of her second chance. She danced as often as possible, especially at our sister Steph’s New Years’ Eve wedding on December 31, 2013. We had survived the worst year of our lives. How emotional it was to share Steph’s wedding with all of us girls together, closing off the nightmare and boldly looking to the future. The roller coaster was over.
Almost one year later in November of 2014, about a month after her return from a European trip with a cousin, Caroline thought she had pulled a muscle. She went to the doctor’s and received devastating news. Later that evening, on the heels of telling us that she had been given about 3 months to live, she put a smile on and encouraged me to tell my parents the secret news that I had told her two weeks previous. We were expecting again! She was ecstatic! She was determined to meet this baby. She assured us that she would be doing everything in her power to be there. As time went on, Caroline was in immense pain, yet she put a smile on and hid it from us. Christmas came and went, and she soaked it all in. It hurt so much to watch her as she lovingly sat on the couch sipping ‘tea’ from a tea party my daughter had prepared for her. She would quickly hide the pain of knowing that she wouldn’t be there to watch the kids grow up. She would pop up on my doorstep to visit with me and the kids, while popping pain meds to make sure that she ‘stayed on top of things.’ She pushed her pain aside to make sure that WE were ok.
Her spirit was strong, but her flesh was weak. When I was 19 weeks pregnant with this little baby, she quickly and peacefully passed away. A couple days before she died, she left us an amazing blessing. She made it known that she would not change anything about her life – not even getting cancer and all that she had been through. She had no regrets. At the age of 25, she was able to die and know that she had made good decisions and she was satisfied. She knew that the afterlife had much more for her than Earth, which is still extremely painful for us to accept. Of course, it’s our own selfishness to want her here with us forever. She was, after all, a really awesome sister.
The blessings that she has given us in the last few years will never be forgotten. This new daughter has a name chosen specifically for her by Caroline, which is funny, because we didn’t even know the gender when Caroline chose it. I will be forever grateful for the lesson from her about living as full and rich of a life as possible. Her love and wisdom will live on in so many. She left us such a legacy and changed our perspective on sisterhood completely.
A sister is so much more than someone who shares a bloodline and a home growing up. It goes down to the core. It can be so much more if you embrace it. A sister KNOWS. I can call any of my sisters and not need to say a word. They KNOW. I’m not saying that you need to have something tragic happen. I am saying that I wish I’d have known that this bond could be so deep years ago. Learn who your sisters are. What makes them tick? What encourages them? Connect with them. Make memories with them. Remember that life is unpredictable and everyone’s days are numbered. Make wise decisions. Pray about what direction to take in life. Pray for your sisters. Keep in mind that what you do now does matter. People are watching, and we are constantly teaching someone with our actions. What do you want your life to teach others? What do you want people to remember about you? How do you want your sisters to remember you when you are gone one day?
As I sit here with the clock nearing midnight, with a two and half WEEK old baby on my lap, I look at the relationship that my daughters already have. Of course, at this age, the baby is just along for the ride, but my heart is greatly warmed when my older daughter, Norah, asks to hold Evelyn. While Norah holds her, I often overhear her telling Evelyn about her family. Without skipping a beat, she goes through all of my sisters’ names. She lovingly tells her where everyone lives…. and, then, she gets to Caroline…. “she died. I know it’s sad, but I’m going to tell you all about her.” It makes me sit back and truly savor the sisterhood that I have.
We hope that through our experience you can come to value your sisters a bit more while you still have them here. Thanks for reading!