What do you do when your wife is hurting? When she wants to say something but cannot find the words and doesn’t want to make a spectacle of how she truly feels and what emotionally eviscerates her? When she feels alone and cut off but desperately wants to reach out at the same time?
You do your best to do it for her.
Chelsea is in a raw state and could not bring herself to pen her own feelings. Feelings about her sister. Feelings about their relationship. Their bond. What made them different as all siblings are. And, what she will miss.
We were never meant to last forever. The fountain of youth is a horrible myth based in a naive fantasy. Immortality, to the wise, would be a curse. If one was to live forever, life itself would lose meaning and living endlessly amongst those who could not would leave us in a state of perpetual loneliness and loss. Doomed to watch all things grow and fade away, never being able to hold on to anyone we loved. Because life itself is finite, every moment – both in time and act – is precious. It has great value. That is why we treasure history and memory. Because our time in the flesh is unique.
This last Saturday, on May 26th at about 2am, one such precious life was cut short. Chelsea’s sister, Chanel, was killed in a car accident in central California. Chelsea has been all but leveled by this tragedy and is doing her best to keep herself afloat. Only moments of calm between gales of sobbing allow me any chance or hope of helping her find some sort of path to solace. I know, she has to hurt now. She is supposed to hurt now.
And I must wait…by her side.
If you’ve followed our blog, and specifically Chelsea's life story, you know that our beautiful Chelsea grew up in an abusive home. I had never known someone so haunted and plagued by memories of darkness before her. Out of all this hardship, one flower grew. From the darkest part of Chelsea’s childhood, she was given a gift: a sister. She would be her best friend with whom no other would have a greater connection or understanding. A confidante in the midst of duplicity. Her name was Chanel.
Born on January 18th, sharing the same birthday as Chelsea just six short years later, Chanel was destined to have a deeply rooted relationship with Chelsea. She was a bright spirit with an irrefutably chubby face. She would become a tagalong friend of Chelsea’s regardless of whether, at the time, Chelsea wanted her to be. As a little girl, Chelsea was not the best at sharing things…much less her birthday! Soon, however, they would grow to be fast friends.
Through the years, Chanel and Chelsea would bond over games of Skip Bo, family holidays, baking cookies, terrible movies like Rocky Horror Picture Show, and of course their birthday. Their natural age gap came with different basic interests with somewhat of a pop-cultural divide – Chelsea liked Incubus and Chanel thought techno/rave music was invented in 2007 – but they always found common ground in each other. As well as at Disneyland.
Chanel and Chelsea’s relationship was forged in fire. Chanel was a child stuck in the middle of a bitter and vindictive divorce. As many divorces go, she became a pawn of spite. Along with pre-teen Chelsea who was embroiled in a number of other legal battles which took years of a floundering hypoxic legal system to further victimize her. The two were both emotionally and spiritually dragged through the mire by those that were supposed to care for them the most. It was in the bog that the two eventually realized the only ones that understood, cared, or could empathize…were each other.
As the years progressed, Chanel and Chelsea matured and grew. Chanel watched as Chelsea became a young woman and aspired to follow in her footsteps. With determination and apparent confidence, Chelsea worked her way through her dreams and accomplished her goals. She got into the college of her choice. Chanel found her own way through dance and numerous friends. Chelsea would check in on Chanel from college and Chanel would carve out her own identity. Labeled the “black sheep” for all of the negative history with her parents divorce, Chanel was ostracized in many ways from both her paternal and maternal family. Finding herself in the swale, Chanel carved her own way and developed her own identity in the face of people who judged and demanded perfection from her.
However, Chanel knew she could always turn to Chelsea for acceptance and comfort.
When I met Chanel, she was still a slightly awkward and smiley fourteen year old girl. I watched over the years as she pressed the boundaries of her parents. Not just for the sake of rebellion, but to demonstrate that she could find her own path. I enjoyed watching the discomfort it caused when she arrived home for her eighteenth birthday with a tattoo! m=Mostly because there was no changing it, and it was Chanel just being Chanel; challenging. I laughed, and Chelsea just loved her.
Chanel would struggle through a series of relationships. Some just okay and some…not so okay. She seemed to be drawn to guys who never strived to lift her out of where she felt she belonged; as an outcast. Through it all, Chanel would always find her balance with Chelsea. She would find her home wherever Chelsea was, even if she didn’t stay for long.
Speaking with Chanel, I let her know early on that I had no plans to sugarcoat my thoughts, I let her know I genuinely cared about her, regardless of her decisions. I told her I would not lie to her or be duplicitous and that I expected her to be honest with me. She quickly realized I actually spoke to her out of genuine concern and love, and she chose to never raise a facade with me. On a number of occasions, as Chanel lived her life her way, seeking independence, she would tell me that the only person she never wanted to let down was Chelsea. Chanel went her own way, but Chelsea was always her beacon on the shore. Through trial and error, I watched as Chanel slowly began to mature.
After college, Chanel eventually came to live with Chelsea and I. She and Chelsea hoped to help Chanel reset her life and find a fresh start. When Chelsea had a difficult pregnancy and birth with her fourth son, Chanel eagerly took up her role of sister to ease Chelsea’s burden. Chanel loved being there for Chelsea, just as Chelsea had been there for her in the past. Chanel found new adventures in hiking the mountains in southern California and finally, extensively visiting Europe.
Even more, Chanel loved being an aunt. She loved that she had four new family members who were truly pure and loved her for who she was…Chanel. There was nothing else for them to love but the Chanel they met when they arrived, and she found joy in that. Knowing they would grow up with everything she wanted to give them all on her own. She especially loved to dote on them and treat them to things like frozen yogurt after school and decorating cookies.
Eventually, Chanel felt it was time to find her own way again. She moved up to the Bay Area with Chelsea’s father who opened his home to her. She found a job and slowly started to mold her adult life. She started to put together her own blueprint of who she wanted to become. She struggled but slowly set out goals for herself to guide her. She moved forward, sometimes with hardship, all the while knowing she had a core family waiting for her, cheering her, and loving her.
Months later, on May 25th, Chanel and Chelsea spoke on the phone as they often did to catch up and support each other again as sisters. Both were dealing with some trivial and frustrating issues and both contributed what they could to help each other. Just as they always had done. After they hung up, when all seemed calm and almost with no thought, Chelsea decided to post the following to her Facebook wall.
“My sister and I are similar in so many ways. We both have a tendency to get overwhelmed and go totally off-grid. We both kind of need to be checked in on occasionally but OH MY WORD, please do not smother us with overt attention! We've both spent our lives being told we should ‘smile more,' and ping-ponging between awkwardly battling the RBF and telling everyone else to worry about their own damn selves. Outwardly we strive for low-maintenance, inwardly we're trying to put out every single fire to the point of exhaustion. She's six years younger than I am, and it's funny how talking to her is like talking to a slightly-younger me. I like to think that I keep her from stressing too much about little things, and she helps me stave off bitterness that can creep in with unchecked time. We can both be downright messy human beings, but I'm proud of us for balancing improvement with acceptance and finding serenity amidst the chaos. It's not a holiday or a birthday or anything. Honestly, I'm pretty terrible at those. I just love this girl.”
“I love you so much Chels!! This is so sweet, boy are you good at putting things into words… you get me. I felt 1000x better after talking to you last, you’re great at putting things into perspective. Don’t know what I’d do without you!”
Thirteen hours later, Chanel left Chelsea’s mortal life forever.
Now, Chelsea is left in grief. The word before had never felt so tangible to me. So palpable. Yet here I am, watching the woman I love languish over the loss of her sister, her friend, her confidante from the darkest part of her life. I will miss Chanel, but my sadness is dwarfed and insignificant compared to the love of these two sisters.
“Sometimes, when one person is absent, the whole world seems depopulated” -Alphonse de Lamartine.
Chelsea and Chanel both believed in pursuing their passions. It was part of who they were and are. Chelsea has always loved writing and the outlet she built on our blog. In a way, it's how she processes and compartmentalizes her day to day. It won't be easy and it may not be smooth, but Chelsea wants our readers to know that she will return to what she does best. She finds solace in the routine. It may feel absurd to write about diapers or camping gear over the next few months, but know that we're working through an awkward balance of familiarity and overwhelming grief. Right now, each feels like a temporary respite from the other.
I'll just be here…taking pictures.