and willed myself to cry. But the tears would not come. I closed my eyes and remembered the time my sister had tucked the bunny, Coal, into one of her baby doll’s over-the-shoulder carriers, his little legs sticking out of the front holes and his tiny black body pressed against her chest. Or the time she had tossed him into a giant pile of leaves, his feet flailing in all directions then disappearing into the mix of red, yellow, and orange. But those images felt like a biology lab slideshow: distant.
I grazed my hand along Coal’s velvet ears, almost as long as my pinky finger, and tried to feel what my sister was feeling. She was holding his almost-lifeless body against her chest, tears making tiny puddles at the crevice between his nose and cheek. Coal’s heartbeat was barely noticeable against his black fur. I leaned towards him and watched my sister’s shaky hand hover over his body, then run across his back in gentle strokes, all the while trembling. I tried to imagine what it would be like to love something so helpless, so dependent. What it would be like to know you could do nothing for the thing that relied solely on you.
At a loss for words, I placed my hand on my sister’s leg. I wished I could both love and hurt as deeply as she was in that moment. A pain that was strangely beautiful because it meant she had truly loved.
I spun out of that moment, thinking of friends who had lost mothers and dogs, parents who had buried children, the loss of my own grandmother two days before my twelfth birthday. Death was a strange thing, an agony yet a celebration, a devastation yet a blessing.
I watched Coal’s eyes slowly blink then stare blankly at my sister’s face. I felt selfish. Selfish for not crying, selfish for not understanding the weight of that moment in the life of a fragile, seventeen-year-old girl. I felt helpless. I reached my hand to my sister’s shoulder, offered her a tissue, then stood like a ragdoll at her side as she lifted Coal back into his cage and tucked his bedding around his emaciated body. I said nothing. There was nothing to say. I just stood next to her, offering my support in a world of death, pain, and heartbreaking love that at even five years her senior, I had absolutely no idea how to navigate.