More Than an Angel

By Claire Trustey

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Photo by Kayla Farmer on Unsplash

Growing up, I was the youngest of four. My brother, AJ, was the oldest. Then came Caroline, and then Anna. Our house was frequently filled with noise. My mom would yell at AJ for not doing his homework, Anna would yell at Caroline for borrowing her clothes without permission, and I would yell at Anna to spend more time with me. Though our house was loud, it was also filled with love. Our echoing voices, our dogs' barking, and our family's sense of humor were comforting to me. My siblings and I were close, and we all enjoyed spending time together; however, I was closest with Anna, both age-wise and relationship-wise. I especially enjoyed spending time with her in our bonus room playing with our Barbie dolls and American Girl dolls. In these instances and so many others, Anna was the best sister I could have asked for.

Although Anna always prioritized my well-being, there was a shift after our brother AJ died on October 13, 2014, due to complications from his epilepsy. Anna began to put my needs before hers, even more often than she had in the past. On that October day in 2014, my neighbor and I had to pick Anna up from boarding school. When we pulled into the Brooks School driveway, I was afraid to see Anna. If she could not stay strong as the seventeen-year-old sister in this difficult time, then how would I, as the thirteen-year-old, keep myself together? Although we were both mourning the loss of our big brother, Anna made it her priority to stabilize my trembling body, steady my breathing, and ease my pain. Although Anna was experiencing the same pain and loss that I was, she remained strong for me. She knew that she had to temporarily step into the role of my mother; our mom was in the emergency room saying goodbye to my brother's lifeless body, and my dad was stuck in Abu Dhabi for a work trip. Anna was all I had for that twenty-five-minute drive. She pulled herself together enough to settle me down, and her words eased my pain: "Let's breathe, Claire. We will get through this together." By keeping her left arm tucked tightly around my vulnerable shoulders, Anna took care of my needs before focusing on her own emotions.

Anna was my role model, due to her ability to always do kind things for others. For instance, when we were nearing my fourteenth birthday, in January of my eighth-grade year, the noise that usually permeated our house had turned to silence. We were all still grieving my brother AJ's death from the previous October. We struggled through our first Thanksgiving and Christmas as a family of five instead of six, but we had not celebrated a birthday since then. It felt wrong for me to be celebrating life, just three months after my brother had lost his own chance to live. Anna wanted to make this birthday extra special, though. So, after our usual birthday tradition of a family dinner, Anna decided to drive to Cherry Farm, our absolute favorite ice cream shop, to surprise me with two scoops of cookie dough ice cream. Unfortunately, by the time she arrived, they were closed. That didn't stop her efforts. Next, Anna drove to the grocery store to get me a pint of Half Baked, my favorite Ben and Jerry's flavor. Anna was disappointed in herself; in her eyes, she had gotten my hopes up for Cherry Farm, so Ben and Jerry's seemed like nothing more than just a mediocre replacement. While the pint of Half Baked was more than enough for me to feel Anna's love, she felt as though she needed to do more. With flowers and a foil balloon that read, "Happy Birthday" in one hand and ice cream in the other, Anna approached the cash register. There, Anna faced her second obstacle of the night: she was two dollars short. Luckily, the man behind her gave her the extra cash. Finally, Anna was ready to come home with my birthday surprises. After a night full of mishaps, though, why would something finally work out in Anna's favor? As soon as she stepped into the parking lot, the balloon completely deflated due to the freezing January temperatures. The once perky balloon was now a sad lump of crumpled foil. When Anna first came home, she didn't describe the efforts she had gone through to cheer me up; she did not want to take any of the already-limited happiness out of my birthday. I eventually found out about Anna's night of mishaps when she handed me the deflated balloon. At that point, Anna reminded me that she did not want me to feel guilty about the effort she had gone through to fix my birthday. That is exactly the type of completely selfless person Anna was, though. She always put others first, which is why she was my role model.

Even before the AJ's death, Anna made sacrifices for me, her often-annoying little sister. For instance, before we began renovating our house part-way through my time in first grade, Anna and I shared a room. Since Anna and I were not in school together, I barely saw her during the day. At night, I wanted to spend quality time with my sister, but my bedtime was earlier than Anna's. However, Anna empathized with me and would occasionally come to bed earlier than she needed to or even stay with me until I fell asleep. On one occasion in particular, Anna climbed into bed during my seven o'clock bedtime, instead of her nine o'clock bedtime. During the time that Anna sat on my bed, she could have been doing a multitude of other things. She could have texted her friends, watched an episode of Hannah Montana, spent time with Caroline, or simply just bragged about her later bedtime. Instead, she sacrificed her extra two hours of free time for her six-year-old sister. Although twenty minutes of snuggling with my sister may not seem like much, Anna regularly sacrificed these older-sister privileges for me, which was incredibly meaningful to me.

Not only did Anna make sacrifices for me, but she also supported me. A perfect example of this was when Anna and I went on the "Shore Ski Weekend" trip together. This was an annual skiing trip hosted by our school at Sunday River ski resort in Newry, Maine. When we arrived at Sunday River, Anna and I sprinted inside to meet our friends, while my mom checked us into our rooms and unpacked our luggage. We were still in the lobby when I spotted six of my classmates peering over the balcony on the second floor. "I'll be right back, Anna! I see my friends!" I then ran as quickly as I could up the stairs. I didn't notice that the kids on the balcony also ran as quickly as they could, except they were sprinting away from me. "Quick! Run away from Claire! We don't want to be stuck hanging out with her." Catrina's words echoed through my head. Catrina was not my best friend, but I thought she was one of my friends. I felt completely defeated. I tried as hard as I could to mask my tears and shallow breaths. I didn't want my mom and Anna to see that I was upset. Anna saw through my facade, though, and she took the initiative to rectify the situation. She first tracked down the now-terrified fifth graders and told them that their actions were absolutely intolerable. That would have been enough for me, honestly, just knowing that Anna had stood up for me, but that was not enough for Anna. On top of that, Anna offered to cancel her plans with her friends to stay with me. As tempting as her offer was, I refused to let her do that; her time with friends was also valuable. As an alternative, Anna invited me to hang out with her and her eighth-grade peers; however, I rejected her offer for the same reason as before. Still, her simple action of extending an offer was enough to make me feel infinitely better. Anna's supportive nature helped get me through a time in my life when I most desperately needed her support.

Anna was also fun to be around, which became especially evident to me during the summer before my freshman year of high school. One night during the summer of 2015, Anna knocked on my door. She had just heard the door to my parents' bedroom close, which she took as the signal that it was time for our adventure to begin. When I heard the keys to our mom's car clanking around in her pocket, I expected that we would just take one or two laps around our one-mile block, but Anna had another idea in mind. Music, specifically the new One Direction and Taylor Swift albums, flooded out of the speakers as the pink and purple sky became star-speckled navy. We screamed the words to "Shake It Off," taking intermittent pauses to talk about everything from high school to boys. Anna encouraged me to let loose and enjoy the time just driving around; there was nothing to worry about. Summer nights were undoubtedly more fun when Anna made the plan. On this particular night, after our adventure unsurprisingly began with a trip to Cherry Farm, we drove for hours. That "lap around the block" suddenly became three hours long. Anna was in control of the car; she showed me the unexplored nooks and crannies of Wenham, Massachusetts, our home town. This was just one night out of dozens where Anna and I would roll the windows down and share our love for each other with the world. Anna was evidently a fun person to spend time with, as I came to know that summer.

Anna was my absolute best friend. In late July 2015, we went to the Taylor Swift concert at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts together, along with two of my friends and four of hers. Throughout the concert, we enjoyed our favorite music with our friends, but then "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" began to play. This was our favorite song. Anna pulled me over to her, and we sang every last word together. The Snapchat video we recorded during that song still lives on my phone, and while our singing is simply painful to listen to, that video takes me back to my last memory with Anna, my best friend.

That July night was four nights before Anna and my dad were killed in a plane accident. Although I did not know it at the time, that concert was my last big adventure with Anna. All that I am left with now are the memories of the summer of July 2015. I hope that those memories will live forward with me for the rest of my life. I can imagine showing pictures of Anna's bouncy blonde curls falling over her shoulders as she danced at the Taylor Swift concert to my future children. I can imagine sharing the stories of Anna's support for others, in an effort to inspire my children to live a life like Anna's. I can imagine teaching my children how to say "I love you" because after all, any day could be somebody's last. However, more than anything, I will always remember Anna's sweetness, selflessness, and strength, along with my close relationship with my sister. Anna is more than an angel; she will always be the best sister I could ask for, due to her ability to care for others, make sacrifices, and support me.