…by Julie Clark Robinson

        Usually I can write my way out of any kind of emotional burden. I\’ve learned that when my chest is heavy, if I just give myself enough time at the keyboard, the problem invariably ends up on the paper in front of me – not stuck in a knot in my heart. An anxiety that exists on a piece of paper, I can handle. But this time – with the sudden death of my teenage niece Sarah – words just aren\’t enough. As an author, I know that every word I select needs to be precisely right for the meaning I am trying to convey. I don\’t use “run” when I mean “dash.” I search for “periwinkle” instead of merely typing “purple”. But my wordsmith Olympics have come to a screeching halt lately as I try to come up with something to say to help my sister deal with the loss of her only daughter. And even if I put myself through a thesaurus-type marathon of a lifetime, the problem on the computer print-out in my hands doesn\’t come close to eliminating the thud in my gut every time I remember that Sarah is gone.

          In the first few weeks after she died, I put words to paper simply out of habit, and even necessity. I wrote a eulogy. I wrote the criteria for the newly established scholarship fund in Sarah\’s name. I spoke to the press (it\’s amazing how much interest there is when a lovely young girl\’s organs are donated to nine other children in need). But now that the initial “work” is done, I\’m really struggling when it comes to trying to help my sister come to terms with losing her only daughter. 

          It isn\’t for lack of trying, but it seems like everything I say comes out sounding awful. Sure, “time will help”, but so what, today sucks. Sure, “she\’s in a better place” but as far as we\’re concerned the best place for her is in her room texting her friends with one hand and holding her iPod with the other. I tell my sister that she is strong and that she will endure this, but I\’ve lost her on the other end of the phone. She doesn\’t want to hear that, she wants to hear that it was all just a bad dream and that Sarah is sitting in her car parked in the driveway listening to music (and passing time until she gets her license). 

          I find that the more I talk (or email), the worse I make things. I\’m scrambling like a rat in a maze and I just keep head butting against one of the many walls in my path. But my sister is crying on the other end of the phone and I can\’t reach my hand out and hold hers. So, I talk. The nirvana-of-heaven topic isn\’t helping, so I scramble and wonder about the little boy who is lucky enough to hold Sarah\’s sweet heart in his chest.  That\’s not working either. Then, I say that when it\’s quiet enough, I can hear Sarah\’s voice saying, “Hey Aunt Julie.” My sister seems to like that … she wants to talk about Sarah. So together we recall every little thing about our girl that we possibly can. We remember when she was on a Dr. Pepper & Bugles bender. We give a little chuckle (yes, chuckle!) as we relive her giggling fit when she mistakenly said “Crapper Barrel” instead of “Cracker Barrel.” We remind each other how much of a baby she was when she had her ears pieced.

          Phew, that was a good five minutes. A bad day in a series of bad days, but a good five minutes. 

          Words just aren\’t the end-all/be-all anymore for me. Life has thrown me a situation that I just can\’t write myself out of. I\’m learning how to troubleshoot with weapons other than mere language such as listening, reacting and learning from my mistakes. I\’ve heard about it many times, even majored in it, but now I finally get it. It\’s called communication.