I've been avoiding this post.... this conversation with myself for the past two weeks. I'm not sure how to write about it. Since no answers have arrived over these past weeks, I will just begin and find out what I have to say…
My sister Annie is leaving for Rwanda in four weeks. She'll be gone for 28 months in the Peace Corp. We most likely will not see her during that time. We don't know if she will have electricity in her new community, and therefore we have no idea how we'll be able to keep in touch with her.
Annie is currently a pediatric nurse at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. In Rwanda, she'll teach school -- science and math and English.
I wrote about some of this a month ago when Annie was still waiting for her assignment. (see post: We adore her...) At that point, nothing was firm yet. It was all going to happen "sometime." We were just thinking about being sad, but we weren't really there yet.
That was then...
Annie's official Peace Corps "invitation" arrived two weeks ago. She accepted the position in Rwanda. She leaves October 19th.
Now it is real.
Let me first write this just to offer some context to what may come after:
I am amazingly proud of Annie. So proud that I can't possibly put it into words. I am so excited for the adventure that awaits her. I am absolutely inspired to see her LIVING what so many people (myself included) only dream of. I am in awe of Annie's willingness to give up all the comforts here in the U.S. in order to immerse herself in a culture that is completely apart from what she has known. Her heart is so full of love and joy, that she is willing to go half way around the world to share it. I love that Henry and Anna will have a first-hand opportunity to learn about Annie’s experience and about kids who are living in a way that is so different from their own privileged life in Minnesota. I can't wait to see how Annie will grow during her assignment...who she will become because of this life-changing opportunity.
In short, I love her and adore her. And I support her Peace Corps decision wholeheartedly and without question. Honest.
With that said, I still have more to say...(what a surprise, huh?)
I am sad. Like my-heart-is-breaking sad. So sad, that I've been pushing away these thoughts for weeks (months, really). I don't know what to do with the sadness....
Annie was born when I was sixteen. She was an amazing gift to our family, and I loved her as my little sister, but I'm sure in a way that was much different had I been three or seven or even ten years old when she was born.
When Annie was only two and a half, I was off to college for four years, and then to Alaska for the better part of ten years. So, while I was on my own grand adventure, Annie was growing up. And I missed A LOT!! (holidays, birthdays, loose teeth, dance recitals, camping trips, school projects...)
When Ray and I moved back to Minnesota to build a house and get married and start a family, Annie was just about to go off to college herself. Our sisterly timing was rotten. We just kept missing each other. But finally these last five years or so, we’ve been in the same state, and it’s been wonderful. We’ve really had an opportunity to be sisters, with a real sister relationship. I’ve cherished this time.
Despite my breaking heart, I know she and I will be okay. We've been apart most of our lives, and only grown closer. I know that will be true again now....
I also know what is the hardest part for me...
I've been so grateful that Annie has been such a big part of Henry and Anna’s lives. She’s been there since the day they were born . . . She is part of their center, of who they are. She loves them fiercely. That relationship has been so important to me.
The kids are going to miss her so very much. Crazy miss her. I don’t even want to think of the tears that are coming. But for me, it is most difficult to think about WHAT Henry and Anna will miss - - They won't get a big swinging hug and a dozen kisses from Annie every week or two. They won't have her a simple phone call away to listen (with genuine interest!) to their daily rambling (including, in Anna's case, often unintelligible ramblings). And, they will miss sharing with her many of the same things I missed when I was gone. The everyday things... (holidays, birthdays, loose teeth, dance recitals, camping trips, school projects).
Maybe that's why it is so tough for me...I guess we've come full circle.
I have to remember though that “different” doesn’t make it “less.” Henry and Anna will still have her. Sure, not for a hug, but instead for something different and new that is still full of love and full of Aunt Annie. If this is really important to me (and it is!), I will find a way to continue to have her front and center, even when she is thousands of miles away. For the kids. And for me too.
Nothing is going to take away the sad. Nothing. We'll just have to get through it. But, none-the-less, we'll still send her off with all the love that we have ("we'll love her to the moon and back," as the kids would say. Now maybe for Aunt Annie, it will be "love to Rwanda and back..."). And, we'll send her with prayers for safety, and amazing adventures and electricity! (oh god, for everyone's sake - and for my mother's sanity - please, please, please….let there be electricity!!)
I called Annie the other day and told her that I have this inclination to just sit around and stare at her until she has to leave. I was serious. And that might be entirely possible, it if wasn't for all of the other (many!) friends and family who love Annie just like we do. My guess is that there will be lots and lots of people staring at Annie over these next few weeks...!