This I Believe

Gilana - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Entered on April 12, 2009
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: death, family, legacy

I sometimes forget that I have an older sister. She passed away before I was born, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a sister. I didn’t know about her until I was 12 years old. Shortly before we moved to the U.S. from Kyrgyzstan, on New Year’s Day my dad pulled me aside and told me that we had to go visit a “special little person.” When we got in the car my dad took a deep breath and told me the about the short life of my older sister. Due to a doctor’s mistake she suffered from internal bleeding and only lived for three days.

When we last visited my homeland, my dad and I went to visit her grave in the mountains. As we stood there holding hands, a baby rabbit hopped by. We watched it maneuver its way through the headstones. Then, all of a sudden it stopped, looked at us for a moment, and hopped on its way. We stood there mesmerized. I wondered what my dad was thinking. “It was her,” he blurted out. “It was your sister. Did you see how she stopped and looked at us? She came by to let us know that everything is fine and to thank us for coming. You know, through all my years riding past this cemetery I’ve never seen a rabbit in these mountains.” He was serious. My dad isn’t spiritual or religious and neither am I. But somehow, I know that was my sister up there. It was then that I understood that it really matters to remember. My sister showed me that she could feel when we were thinking about her. I thank her for reminding me how important it is to not forget.

I pay respect to the sister I never knew by thinking about her. I have no tangible memories. Therefore, I can only remember her through stories. I recall the few memories of those three days that my mom has shared with me and the first time my dad told me about her. I try to imagine her the way mama described her. I always imagine what she would’ve looked like right now. My mom says she could tell she would’ve been a fantastic big sister. I wonder how close we would’ve been. Whether she would boss me around and how much we’d fight. I wonder what big sister love would feel like. These are all ways of remembering her. My imaginary memories are all I have.

I believe we keep those who have passed on alive by remembering them. It is a Muslim tradition not to name a baby before it is born. Because of my sister’s critical condition, my parents didn’t give her a name the first day. Then, she slipped away two days later, before they could name her. She finally received a name after she died; they named her Kayir-bubu, one of the traditional names given to babies that pass away. Kayir-bubu means “Come back to me.” And she does come back to us, through memory.