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I stepped on the ice, the quiet, the clear, sheer gleaming surface; legs shaking, tentative, one foot at a time. I could do this. I could skate, and I could grieve for Margie and Jane.  

On a warm July day in 2019, I held onto the boards that surround the rink for balance and with trepidation stepped onto the ice. My feet and legs were a bit wobbly, but with a push of the narrow blade, I was off, flying with the breeze in my hair. It took a few laps to warm up, for my knees to soften, for my shoulders to relax, and to secure my footing. Every step a reminder of skating with my sisters, I envisioned Margie wearing her short skating dress, Jane in her short, blonde bob— my circle of comfort, circling around the rink, circling to my sisters.

There had been a hiatus of ten days since I'd been on the ice, which was a substantial lack of practice for a sixty-two-year-old. I was definitely off my game. As I warmed up, my body shook and I was crying. Puzzled by the reaction, I stroked around until I got my legs back.

When I got home from skating, I settled down on the couch and thought about what had happened. Why did I have such an overwhelming emotional reaction on the ice?

Eight days prior, I was in New York celebrating the birth of my first grandchild, named after my beloved father, Benjamin.

Holding the sleeping baby boy for the first time after a long procession of girls, I'd whispered, "Hi, Benji, it's your Nini." Не opened his eyes and looked directly at me. I melted, an instant and forever love.

The first day I went back to work after Margie and Jane died, I'd experienced the same reaction that I'd had on the ice-shaking and crying. Back then, I'd felt devastating grief. But now, after Benji's birth, I felt absolute, full-blown joy. Two ends of a spectrum.

The death of my sisters changed me. The birth of my Benji changed me.

It is never too late to grieve. Grief comes in waves.

When I sold my suburban home in 2011 after twenty years, coinciding with my work on grief, I was forced to downsize and sift through boxes that sat untouched for nineteen years in my basement. I was elated to discover a box of photographs and letters from my sisters. It felt like opening a precious gift; I relished each piece as I carefully unwrapped one photo at a time, one letter at a time. The process in 2011 looked very different from the process in 2019.

When Jane died, I frantically assembled a collage of photos. My thinking was somewhat delusional; somehow, I felt the pictures would bring my sister back. In that moment, I panicked that everything relating to Margie and Jane would be lost. I was rummaging through my parents' home the week of the Shiva. I had to take the photos back with me to New York. After Margie died, I was even more frantic as I repeated the process. The collage was a montage of Margie, me, and Jane throughout the years with various configurations: Margie with me, Margie with Jane, me with Jane, and all three sisters together. I feverishly cut the pictures to fit the squares into each box of the frame.

When I went through the complicated grief program, I was forced to open boxes of memories, literally and figuratively. But something happened to me on the ice in July 2019 a major shift in my grief. My sadness had transformed.

I broke out the box of photos again, ready to relive precious memories of my sisters. The more I poured over the scattered photos, letters, and cards-repeatedly and with great gusto-the more I clung to Margie and Jane, the prism reflecting so colorfully what it meant to be a sister. The connection remained, despite the horrible fights, darkest challenges, joyous celebrations, and the deepest love, out of which arose the knowledge that a sister would walk through fire and be there for you no matter what.

Nothing and no one could replace that relationship. This is what I will always cling to.

I was not afraid to look at the pictures. Every view was unique, every emotion varied, every experience volatile. What were we thinking? What was the mood? Who took the picture? Sometimes I remembered. Sometimes I did not. The regrets of not grieving sooner and the haunting inability to remember many details had dissipated, and I was discovering more about my sisters and myself.

I allowed myself to feel whatever was flowing. I never realized the strong resemblance I had to both Margie and Jane, which makes me sad and makes my heart expand with pride at the same time. I need to be kinder to myself for not remembering and cherish what I do recall, two beautiful sisters.

Jane was the extrovert and life of the party, but the pictures depicted a serious side. Margie endured many years of grueling pain, yet there was always a gorgeous smile in the photos. I was the epitome of the middle child, an independent thinker and always on the perimeter. 

Remembering my sisters as they were, rather than putting them on imaginary pedestals, helped me grieve them as individuals.

In one photo of Jane, age three, she was wearing Danskin pants and fluffy slippers, posed in a little girl stance, expanding her little belly against the wall in our basement. The picture was similar to a photo of my daughters posing in my parents' home.

Jane was fairer than Margie and me, just absolutely precious.

She held her favorite Susie Q doll, a tiny doll with blonde hair and many outfits. Jane's little-girl sweetness contrasted in my mind with her human quality of being mean-spirited at times.

four-wore party dresses, white lace ankle socks, black patent leather Mary Janes, and puffy winter coats. In Boston Common, Margie gregariously ran after the birds with her peanuts. I stood back, a bit contemplative, not quite sure what to do. Jane was carefree, skipping around, throwing her peanuts to the birds.

This captured the personalities of all the Lipson sisters.

Did it matter what Jane's and Margie's favorite colors or foods were? What games we played on the porch? Compiling these kinds of details would not bring my sisters back. I had to relinquish my need to elicit every tiny detail. I needed to look at the big picture, yet I couldn't break away from the photographs.

One of my favorites was of Margie taken by a professional photographer and touched up with makeup. Margie, a twinkle in her eye, held a large red telephone, showing her love for the gift of the gab at an early age. Margie was the consummate talker, making nonstop conversation with everyone she encountered. Often, this drove me crazy.

Another favorite was taken at my wedding. With huge broad smiles, tightly holding onto each other, Margie and I hugged, looking directly into each other's eyes. The wedding was over and I had changed out of my gown into a going-away outfit. Margie knew I was so thankful for her presence. I had no other attendants, only my big sister. It meant the world to both of us. Margie wanted me to go into the next chapter of my life happy, despite her pain. In many situations, Margie and I did not need to speak. No words. We knew.

In high school, Jane attended a formal in a long, navy gown.

She stood in our living room, one hand on the baby grand piano.

Now, a double take. Was this a picture of Jane or me? The girl at the piano could easily have been me in college.

The photo of me with my father when he came up for my college's "Happy Pappy" weekend could be a ringer for my sister Jane. I wore a long, navy-blue dress and a white corsage on my wrist. I looked forward to this time with my father. Socials, dinners, and tours of the campus filled the weekend. My father and I had similar natures-we did not prefer the social activities, so we did a little shopping, hung out together, and we never lacked for conversation. With my closest friend and her father, we dressed up and tried to attend the formal dance, but it was not our cup of tea. The four of us, all decked out, ditched the dance and went to Friendly's for ice cream cones.

There was a picture of our three beaming smiles at an April 1981 casino party in honor of our father's fiftieth birthday. Jane, flanked by Margie and me, wore a purple sleeveless dress, her light brown hair in bangs, the dimple on her cheek prominent in her smile. Margie looked physically well. I wore a long-sleeve, two-piece red silk outfit. All three Lipson sisters looked stunning. This is one of my favorite pictures. Jane was my sweet, adorable younger sister, Margie looked gorgeous in her precise black eyeliner, and the three of us were together.

Today, with all that I have lost, I am so grateful for all that I have gained. I am incredibly sad that my Margie and Jane are not here to share my beautiful new grandson-and any more grandchildren I might have with me. But my heart is full with new family, extended family, a new precious life, a new beginning, and a new love.

The truth, revealed after several years of grief work, was that everything was so complex. Grief involved change, which was not easy for individuals in a situation where roles in the family, expectations, and patterns of behavior had already been established. There were differences between my need for solitude and my being set aside by my family to manage my grief by myself. I had gone through life feeling alone, lost, lonely, and barely surviving in my grief. Change was not easy, but with the support of those involved in the complicated grief study, my daughters, my friends and ice skating—it was possible. The clear, smooth ice was my blank canvas.

Margie and Jane are now and forever at the forefront of my mind - the circles of comfort are complete. My sisters are gone, but they remain in my life, my legacy, my being. The lost memories haunted me for thirty years. Today, sweet memories come alive. We were fondly known as the three Lipson sisters, and we still are. Always three.

pp.135-140. Excerpted from "Celebration of Sisters: It's Never too Late to Grieve" by permission of the author, Judy Lipson. Published by WriteLife Publishing. Copyright 2021.

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