Stuck in a past I could not forgive myself for and the future I imagined Ayan and I would have together, I neglected my relationship with our younger sister, Idil. As the middle sister, Ayan had been the buffer in the eight years between Idil and me. After her death, grief became the bridge we met on.
As the amount of time we spent together increased, so did the frequency of our fighting. Reeling from Ayan’s death, anger was an easier emotion to reckon with than sorrow. Usually our arguments were the ordinary grievances that pepper any relationship, but sometimes we would have huge blowouts. We often compared one another to Ayan who was, as the dead often are, perfect in our memory. Neither one of us measured up.
As the years dulled the sharpness of grief, our relationship grew less turbulent. The pain that made it difficult for us to connect became the glue that bound us together. And while our relationship was forged by loss, it has been refined by the mundane moments that make up sisterhood. We binge watch T.V. together and simmer in betrayal when one person watches an episode without the other. We share clothes, and Idil has ruined more than a few of my favorite sweaters. In the car together, we sing loud and off-key, messing up the lyrics to whatever Top 40 song is popular at the moment.
Idil is 19 now, her life blossoming at the same age Ayan was when her life ended. Like Ayan, she is also a pre-med student. While the similarities between the two of them are haunting, the greatest gift has been getting to know Idil as a young woman in her own right, outside the shadow of Ayan’s ghost.
Recently, while I was on vacation on the East Coast, a phone call jolted me awake at 4 in the morning. It was Idil. It was 1 a.m. in her dorm room at the University of Oregon. Through her sobs, I pieced together that she had failed a chemistry exam and was worried that her dreams of medical school were over.
“It’s going to be O.K.,” I assured her. A college freshman, she is sleepless and prone to wild bouts of panic. I try to be the voice of reason in the midst of her imagined catastrophe. Since the start of the school year, these middle-of-the-night phone calls have become a staple in our relationship. It was only when I forgave myself for my past failures as a sister, that I could focus on being a better one in the present.
Ayan’s life and unexpected death have taught me so much. Despite the meaning of her name, I am the lucky one. Grief is a profound teacher, but it is anguish long before it is enlightenment. I am better for the things I have learned, and I have my sisters to thank for the most important education of my life: Ayan, my first teacher, and Idil, my second chance.
Jamila Osman is a Portland-based writer working on a memoir.