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HE FOUND HER ON the bedroom floor when he came home for lunch. She was lying beside their bed in a nightshirt. He touched her to wake her. Her body was cold. Immediately he called the police. A couple of hours later he called me.
My sister was dead. The message was like a hammer upside the head. Ringing was in my ears. My brother-in-law, David, went on to explain what happened to her. But I could not hear anything else he said.
At that moment I thought I would have to be institutionalized. My sister was as much of my identity as I was of hers. We were all each other had. We stopped speaking to our parents and our two siblings years ago. That is a family saga I will not get into now.
My heart jumped back and forth from grieving for my sister to grieving for David. My husband understood when I told him I had to be with David and the children. I was their godmother.
I rushed to be at David’s side. My husband and my two children were left to fend for themselves. They were more than capable. My twin boys were twelve.
Standing inside my sister’s home magnified the dark, gigantic hole in my heart. Her aura permeated throughout the place. Her smell was everywhere. It was comforting and overwhelmingly sad. Reality pounded on my heart. Her sweet odor would eventually be gone from her home. With it would go some of her memories.
I forced myself to pull it together. David and their children would need help getting through this dark time.
My poor brother-in-law was in a much worse place than I was. He had no time to mourn. Three children, all under the age of five, still had to be loved, cared for, and given direction. He immediately donned both parental hats. There was no time for a trial run.
For three weeks I helped, watched, and listened. Calling my husband to keep him and my children posted on when I would be back.
Watching my brother-in-law suffer, while being strong for his children, was almost unbearable.
One night I walked by his bedroom to go to the bathroom and heard him softly crying. This was a normal occurrence. On my way back to my room I paused and listened to him. He was worse than normal.
For three weeks I had wondered and feared whether he had a breaking point. In public and around his children he restrained his grief. In private, alone, he was inconsolable.
Standing at his door, I started crying myself and had to leave. I took several steps and stopped and looked over my shoulder. I could not leave him in the state that he was in.
I went back to his door, eased the door open, walked inside and locked it behind me. I climbed into bed with him.
Neither of us talked. We just reached out and held each other. We both needed someone to hold onto. We needed someone to feel the way we did. We were both dying inside.
For one week we comforted one another.
Ten years later we have never talked about it. Not even a slight mention of it.
It remains our secret.
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