It's the beginning of the new school year, Jay's first in 18 years without big sister by her side. They were two and a half years apart in age, but only one year apart in school. The only times they were ever separated were the beginning of Junior High and High School for Sarah. But even then, they got ready together, watched Phineas and Ferb together, rode to and from school together. Inseparable.
But the fun started when they were together. As toddlers, Sarah had lost what little speech she had by 18 months, and Jay never developed speech. But they created their own babble language. They'd be riding in their car seats gabbing away and laughing, and I'd turn to look at them and try to join. Stop dead, Silence. "Mom, we weren't talking to you." "Well, ex-cuuuuuse ME!" I'd go back to driving and they'd pick up where they left off. Kind of like getting your nails done in a Korean salon. You KNOW they're talking about you, but you can't prove it.
In grade school, early years, they developed a system. Jay was cute, Sarah was stealthy. Jay would create a diversion while Sarah sneaked into the snack closet and lifted whatever was in there. Think Paul Newman in The Sting. When Sarah was done, she'd signal Jay and the show would be over. About 20 minutes after they got home, I'd get a call from the teacher, "Hey, yeah, could you check the girls' backpacks? We seem to be missing a package of …" I knew better than to get offended that they were calling my sweet babies thieves. I'd already checked and removed the contraband. It seriously took college educated women weeks to catch on to them. I know it's wrong, but it made me proud.
Throughout their years together, they were best friends. Actually, Sarah was Jay's only friend as she'd tolerate (barely) most people as long as they left her alone. But she was down with whatever Big Sissy had on her mind. Playing in the backyard with Charlie, swimming, swinging, jumping on the trampoline, snuggling up to watch a movie at "nap" time. (They never napped, but I needed the break.) When we lost Sarah, it hit Jay so very hard. I'm having a hard time typing this, bawling, having to stop and wipe the tears, probably why it's taken so long to share the Baby Queen's struggle.
The pain of losing your child is deep and harsh, but coupled with the pain of watching your other child lost and grieving, not knowing how to help, or even if you can help because most days you can't help yourself, is the worst pain I've ever felt. Jay was there when we found Sarah, she saw her body, she was there when the sheriff came, and the EMTs, the justice, and finally the transporters who took her away. When she went to bed, she had her big sister; when she got up, she was alone. She didn't cry. It actually took months before she cried. What she did do was quit.
Jay was getting over the flu with the rest of us, but she struggled more. And after Sarah's death, she stopped fighting. She didn't eat or drink anything I didn't directly feed her, losing 30 pounds in the first month. She wouldn't come out of her room. Didn't want to go to school, or to grandma and Poppy's (last time she went was Sarah's memorial. She hasn't been back.) She didn't want to watch movies or listen to music. She just laid in her bed, facing the wall, sleeping or not. Her only trips out once we moved to the new house were to doctors. Right after we moved, she fell in the driveway and dislocated her kneecap. The doctor put her in a heel to hip immobilizing brace for two months. This didn't help. She really couldn't get around even if she wanted to. Her knee healed, but she sank deeper. Trips to her psychiatrist to adjust her medicine weren't much fun, and an attempted trip to the Lake pool where she and Sarah spent many happy summers ended in disaster. But it started the tears which I believe started the grieving and healing.
After her meltdown at the pool, I'd often hear her babbling in her room, giggling, and on more than one occasion, crying inconsolably. I don't know if Sarah had come back to check on her or if she was just reliving happy memories, but at least she was starting to reconnect. She would go into Sarah's room which we set up just as we would have if Sarah had been here. All of her things, her books, her new bed, her Prom dresses and homecoming mums. It smells like her. Jay would crawl into her bed and just look at her things. I didn't encourage her, didn't deter her, just let her do what she needed to do. She's picked out a couple of Sarah's things, pictures, to keep in her room. All steps along the grieving path.
So now we're faced with going back to school. Alone. The first hurdle was the backpack dilemma. Sarah was a fashionista, Jay couldn't care less. Every year, Sarah would pick out a new stylish backpack, always some form and design of pink. Jay would get her old one. Potayto, potahto. This year, Sarah's last backpack is literally Sarah's last backpack. I will never get to shop with her again, trying on backpacks like mink coats. I miss that. Do I give Jay the last backpack, or do I start a new tradition getting Jay a new one? I have to admit, my selfishness colored this one. Sarah's backpack still smells like her. Yeah, I sniff it. A good friend gave me sage advice. Get the new backpack, different from anything Sarah would have picked, and then give Jay the choice. She chose both. Sarah's backpack went back on the coat hook in the laundry room with her lunch box, and Jay took the turquoise with black polka dots. Another reason I love that girl. She thinks like me.
We've been through two weeks of summer school. The new teachers and aides adore her. She's approved of their service as her new minions. Things went smoothly, and she seems to really enjoy her time out of the house meeting new people. They all know the challenges she's facing and are very sweet and supportive. One of the high school counselors is yet another young lady who was touched by the cute chicks. Shannon was a high school student who worked with the chicks in grade school. She went on to get her special ed certification, then her counselor's certification. She just finished accreditation as a grief counselor. God has placed those two together, and I'm grateful. I'm slowly starting to see her come back to life. She actually giggled this morning. And as soon as she was on the bus, I wept.