My Sister’s Keeper

“What did it feel like when she died?” Abigail Bresner’s character asks the judge character in the movie, My Sister’s Keeper. The judge, played by Joan Cusack starts to cry and I hit pause on the movie to wipe the tears out of my eyes. I am holding my 7-week-old baby girl and the thought of losing her when she was just 12 years old (like in the movie) is abhorrent.

I am just at the beginning of the movie and I felt compelled to write something about it. I had read the book a few years ago, the title appealing directly to me. A sister is a title by which I define myself proudly. I take that role very seriously – and have for the last 29 years of my life.

I will no longer comment on the movie – but wanted to reflect on the book and the feelings it brought about in me – as a sister – and as a mother. When I first read it, I was only a mother of one. Now as a mother of two, I think about it slightly differently. But of course, since I’m blessed with two healthy children, my mind doesn’t even want to enter that compartment of ‘what-ifs’ in my brain.

I think about families with sick children all the time since my boyfriend has been entertaining seriously ill children at hospitals for the last 15 years. I hear about the stories in passing and each one has a poignantly stabbing effect on my heart. Each story makes me appreciate my children’s health. Every sad story makes me thank my lucky stars that it’s not me. Because I don’t think I could ever find the strength it takes to cope with one of life’s greatest challenges.

My sister was born with one kidney; it functions perfectly – as good as another person’s two, as the doctors tell her. We found out when she was about 9; I was 15. From that time onward, I declared one of my kidneys on reserve for her. It was a thought I didn’t have to consider. If I could one day save my sister’s life – it would be my privilege. I wouldn’t hail myself a hero, more of a lucky problem solver. I hope I never live to see the day – but if it should happen – I’m ready, set, go.

In the story of the Sister’s Keeper, it was the younger sister (Anna), genetically engineered and born to save the older sister’s (Kate) life. Complications arose when Anna was 11 and she decided that she no longer wanted that role. She wanted control – and say – over her own body. So she sued her parents for medical emancipation. That’s the short version.

As a sister I can’t imagine not giving a kidney, if I was a fit. But I also can’t imagine knowing I was brought into this world just to have my body serve as an eternal medical band-aid for my dying sister. There must be a collective history of sadness and defeat that Anna’s character felt.

However, as a mother, you are stuck in the most tragic rock vs. hard place scenario; a living Sophie’s Choice. (Incidentally, I know the story of “Sophie’s Choice,” but have never had the courage to actually watch the movie.) As a mother, every instinct in your body is designed to help and save your children. I venture to say that there is very little we wouldn’t do to save our babies. But would we put one child’s life at risk to potentially save another? And how much suffering do you put one through for the sake of the other?

Sick children is wrong – like a major flaw in the programming of the human race.

When I finished the movie, I realized that they ended it sadly, but differently from the tragic ending in the book. I was left with the feeling of ultimate joy and gratitude for my healthy children and sister.

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