I sometimes forget I have an older sister. She passed away before I was born, but that doesn't mean I don't have a sister. I didn't know about her until I was 12 years old. But now I think of her often.
Shortly before we moved to the United States from Kirgizstan, on New Year’s Day, my dad pulled me aside and told me we had to go visit a “special little person.” My dad took a deep breath and told me about the short life of my older sister.
Due to a doctor’s mistake, she suffered from internal breathing and only lived for three days. When we last visited my homeland, a few years later, my dad and I went back to visit her grave in the mountains again.
As we stood there holding hands, a baby rabbit hopped by. We watched it maneuver its way through the headstones. Then, all of a sudden, it stopped, looked at us for a moment, and hopped on its way.
We stood there mesmerized. I wondered what my dad was thinking.
“It was her,” he blurted out. “It was your sister. Did you see how she stopped and looked at us? She came by to let us know everything is fine, and to thank us for coming. You know, through all my years riding past the cemetery, I’ve never seen a rabbit in these mountains.”
He was serious. My dad isn’t spiritual or religious, and neither am I. But somehow, I know that was my sister up there. It was then that I understood: it really matters to remember.
My sister showed me that she could feel it when we were thinking about her. I thank her for reminding me how important it is not to forget.
I pay respect to the sister I never knew by thinking about her. I have no memories of my own, so I remember her through stories. I recall her short life through the memories my mom and dad have shared with me. I try to imagine her the way mama described her. I always imagine what she would’ve looked like right now. My mom says she could tell she would’ve been a fantastic big sister. I wonder how close we would’ve been; whether she would boss me around, and how much we’d fight. I wonder what big sister love would feel like. These are all ways of imagining her. My imaginary memories are all I have.
I believe we keep those who have passed on alive by remembering them. It’s a Muslim tradition not to name a baby before it’s born. Because of my sister’s critical condition, my parents didn’t give her a name the first day. Then, she slipped away two days later, before they could name her. She finally received a name after she died. They named her Kayir-bubu, one of the traditional names given to babies who pass away.
Kayir-bubu means “come back to me.” And I believe she does come back to us—through memory.