They were frosted in pink on my wedding day, these two little sugar cookies named Shawna and Christina. There were never more adorable twins, and they made a neat half-dozen of my flower girls . . . an extravagant number resulting from how many little cousins I had, none of whom did I want traumatized by not being asked to be in my wedding.
My cousin Mike married their mama a year or so earlier, and we welcomed C and her girls into the family wholeheartedly. We wouldn’t bother to correct anyone who said, “They’ve got twins in their family,” as if we deserved credit for the genetics of that novelty. They were ours and even though extended family members (I among them) couldn’t tell them apart (like, ummm, ever) it wasn’t a problem because they were always together. If you called Shawna, both girls would look up. If you said C’mere, Christina, two little blondies skipped right over.
One of the nicest things about the twins was their happy, loving nature. Their new grandpa, my Uncle John, was the deserving object of their great affection, and the feeling was entirely mutual. He was an utterly devoted father to his own boys, Mike and Tim, but with these little girls there was more freedom to love demonstrably. I thought it was a very good thing there were two of those girls because Uncle John had that much love and attention to give, and he lavished it on them both. One girl simply wasn’t enough. Uncle John was never bored with kids, and he liked babies best of all. In a grown man, particularly in my family where politics and deer hunting were the topics of choice, it was a thing to behold. I think I was a bit jealous, in fact, but I was all grown up by then. Still, I remembered very well sitting on Uncle John’s lap, playing with his hair, laughing as he made his thumb disappear, and feeling like the center of the universe. I envied Shawna and Christina their ascendance to the throne.
After I married and moved far away, I didn’t see the family back home very often. I missed watching the twins’ teenage years, I missed their weddings, and it wasn’t until I got a call from my mom telling me Shawna was seriously ill that the reality of all the time that had gone by hit me. Shawna was a wife and new mother, which was enough of a shift in my perception, but that she might be die . . . that was beyond my ability to grasp. There is no processing such information. Within the year, worse news followed—she was gone.
Sami, I never really knew your mom as an individual—the grown up Shawna. I still think of her even now as a wide-eyed sprite who could hardly restrain herself from hugging people for no reason whatsoever except that’s who she was, that’s what she was like. I can’t tell you what she had planned for your after-school snack when you came home from kindergarten on the first day, or what words she would have said to comfort you when some girl was being mean. I don’t know if she’d let you pierce your belly button when you’re fifteen, or whether she’d approve of your first real boyfriend. She’d have figured it all out like we all do, and you’d have been in your room pouting sometimes, and laughing with her over the kitchen table other times.
I do know for sure that you are beloved, and that you belong to a family that will do anything and everything to fill up the emptiness you feel. We will tell you all the things your mother would say to you as near as is humanly possible to her own feelings in her own voice. I know that when you see your Aunt Christina’s face, you are seeing your mother, and that is a blessing beyond reckoning. And I know that for all that, it is you, Samantha, who contains most of your mother . . . and that learning to love yourself is the best way to honor her. I know without question that she thinks you are the best thing she ever did—that this is what she wants you to know most of all.