Our children bring beautiful people into our lives. This is one of the blessings of parenting these vulnerable children. One such family for my family has been Matt and Myra and their daughters Havi and Kaia, as well as their constellation of aunts, uncles, grandparents and honorary aunts and uncles. Like our daughter Cameron, Havi had infantile Tay-Sachs. Havi died this past Wednesday, January 20, at the age of 2. She died peacefully at home with her parents, and her little sister, Kaia, age 6 months, nearby. Our youngest daughter and Cameron’s little sister, Eliza, has written Kaia a letter. Eliza was 10 weeks old when Cameron died. She is now 19 years old and shares here her counsel to Kaia, for when she is old enough to understand. One little sister to another.
Eliza reads the letter, which is also pasted below.
A Letter to Little Kaia
January 20, 2021
I wanted to write you a letter, one little sister of an angel to another. First, let me tell you that we have freaking super powers because of it. How many people get to say that they have a powerful guardian angel sister watching over them always?
I don’t believe in everything-happens-for-a-reason, but I do believe in silver linings. That a good can come out of an inexplicable bad. And a guardian angel sister is one such thing.
When I was 9 or so, I was absolutely terrified of sleeping in my bed. Don’t ask me why, but for some reason I felt any number of scary things could come and steal me away from my cozy bed and room. I lay awake for hours each night, listening to every sound, and oftentimes went to get my parents. And then one night my mom pulled out a picture of Cameron, my older sister-angel, from her photo album, and gave it to me to sleep with under my pillow. Cameron was looking over me, always, and thus I was safe. As I lay there in my bunk bed, right hand under my pillow fingering Cameron’s photo, I felt a deep sense of calm settle within me, and I quietly fell asleep. I slept with that photograph under my pillow every night from 9 years old to 17 years old, and still do on occasion when I need it. (I’m 19 by the way, as I write this).
I want you to know that it’s okay if you don’t think about Havi all the time. There are days, or weeks, where Cameron does not cross my mind. That doesn’t make me, or you, a bad younger sister. It just means we are living our lives, as Cameron and Havi want us to. And even if I am not thinking about Cameron I know she is there, looking out for me anyways, shining with confidence within me.
I also want you to know that it might be weird sometimes to be the only one who doesn’t remember Havi. I know Cameron from her pictures, but while the rest of my family has some, if not many, concrete images and memories of Cameron from her life, I have none. You will be the same. But that does not mean that your love for her, or her love for you, shines any duller. It is just a different sort of love, radiating from a deeper trust in Havi’s existence.
I want you to know that you may often be told you were the bright light that was necessary to have during the potential darkness and sadness of Havi’s last months in this world. And that, Kaia, is a beautiful and gorgeous gift you gave your family and their friends. It is a gift I reportedly gave my family as well. But I also want you to know that you do not always have to be that light. You can be down, feel sad, ask time and space of your parents. You can be imperfect, messy, even a disaster at times, if you need. You entered the world a joy among the mixed joy and sadness of Havi. I promise you will always be that light and joy, even if you are low at times, as you inevitably will be.
I want you to know that it’s okay if when people ask how many siblings you have, you don’t always include Havi in the count. It is not lying, or hiding Havi, to sometimes simplify things when first meeting others. Havi will not be mad at you. Again, you are living your life as best you can, and she is proud.
Kaia, I want you to know that it might feel weird sometimes to become close friends with someone and not have them know about Havi yet. While I do not always think actively about Cameron, as I told you, I do feel she is a part of me and my family identity. I believe you might feel the same about Havi. So feel free to share Havi with people as early as you would like. A moment will not always perfectly present itself to tell people about her, so do it whenever it feels right to you, even if it feels awkwardly placed. There will be different reactions — “I’m sorry”s and “oh”s. Maybe it will be awkward. But I also can tell you it’s nice to know that other people know about Havi.
Finally, I want you to know you can give Havi things if you need to. Worries. Anxieties. Joys. That’s what older sisters are for. Sometimes, when I’m carrying around a worry for what feels like too long, I close my eyes, breathe the worry out into an imaginary balloon, and watch it float up, up, up, into the sky, until Cameron catches it and takes care of it for me. Sometimes she opens up a deep drawer in the clouds and places my new balloon among all the old ones, storing it for me so I can feel lighter. I think taking care of me like this makes her happy. As I think it would make Havi as well. Perhaps Havi and Cameron have our drawers next to each other, as they help watch over the two of us, and everyone else in our families, down here.
I want you to know Havi loves you forever, and I, who barely know you yet, love you too.
for more on the sibling experience, explore CPN’s SIBLING unit.