It was in February 2015 that I lost my niece. She was 41 years old. We were more like sisters because we were born one month apart. My family members tell stories about how babysitting me and my niece (my oldest sister’s daughter) was like babysitting twins because we both would cry at the same time. Throughout my life we were inseparable. Then, I went to prison.
My niece was severely traumatized by my absence. She was with me the night I committed the crime that landed me in prison and suddenly we were separated. Over the years we kept in touch, but infrequently. She came to visit me occasionally, and we spoke on the phone from time to time. My incarceration forged a wedge in our relationship.
When I came home it was as if nothing had happened. All of a sudden we were back to celebrating birthdays together. We celebrated our 39th, 40th and 41st birthdays, and just a few months ago we were at a club dancing, laughing and having the time of our lives. It was my birthday. If only we knew it would be the last time we would party together.
When I learned of her death the grief hit me hard. I couldn’t imagine being without her. All of my life she was always there as my niece, my sister, my friend. That is until I went to prison. Once I learned of her demise I couldn’t help but think about all of the years I missed sharing with her. Then came the guilt, the sadness and pain rushing in like a ton of bricks, a thousand at a time.
As I sobbed, two of my nieces wrapped their arms around me, and one of them said, “Thank God you are here Auntie. Thank God we are not telling you this on the telephone, or in a letter.” Her words did comfort my heart to some extent. Yet as everyone began to share pictures and memories I found myself stricken with sadness and pain.
Like a moment frozen in time there is a gap in my relationship with my family. I’m missing from so many pictures. For almost twenty years I was incarcerated and too far away from home for my family to visit me often. My children and my nieces and nephews literally grew up while I was away. In my mind and heart I nurtured a bond with them, but the truth of the matter is they may never know how much I truly love them because we don’t have the experiences and memories to back it up. The truth is I haven’t been there for them. And, that hurts.
Women and reentry and family-related issues.