Personal sharing time: When I was a small boy, my family was a bit fractured by unfortunate circumstances, and often living situations were in a state of flux, with some members of the family there, and some here, and some in between. It was nobody’s fault. It was just the way it was.

In one of my (very old) elementary school yearbooks, I found a note my older sister wrote to me, telling me how much she loved me and how much she wished we could live together.

And suddenly it came flooding back, memories of being that little boy and not wanting to hang out anywhere but with my big sis. For whatever reason, I had a deeper connection with her, maybe because out of our original family we’d actually spent the most time together in our comings and goings.

My big sis always understood. She was older and knew answers I didn’t know. And as crazy and mixed up as family life got, I knew that if she was okay I’d be okay too, and so… in my young, uninformed way, I was always desperate to know that she was okay. That was the entire secret of surviving the universe and all the crap it seemed to be throwing at me, me all small and not able to handle any of it.

As we both got older and she was living on her own, I used to hang out at her house every chance I got. Even then, my big sis was the bellwether of whatever future might be coming my way. There was an invisible, unbreakable cord of connection between us that I never had with my older brother, who unfortunately I never got to know nearly as well as I’d have liked, and now he’s gone, and that past is past. Oh sure, I got to hang out with him too — he always had that older brother coolness — but it was my big sis who was my lifeline back then.

If she was okay, I would be okay. There was no other equation.

As I’ve gotten older, and loss has taught me the painful value of FAMILY, I’ve learned that I love all the members of my family deeply, perhaps even violently, though I am weak and pitifully unable to express it as I should. If I could fulfill any wish, I’d see them every day, and the continent’s distance between us aches like a broken bone.

But the little boy in me remembers my big sis, and how she was just about my whole world.

I love you, Gina Helvenston! Miss you! Thanks for being on this planet and for being a friend to animals!