Happy birthday to my sister

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Today is my sister’s birthday.

I talk about my family a lot – especially my brother – so it might be weird for some of you to hear me mention a sister.

It’s always been a little awkward for me to talk about my sister, but it gets better as I get older. I think it feels strange because I was so young when we lost her, and so I didn’t know her well or long. And also because I don’t know how other people will respond, and I don’t want to make them uncomfortable. For my parents it’s different. She was their child. But I was only a toddler at the time. I do remember it, though. Considering how young I was, I’m lucky to have any memories at all; my brother was too young.

It’s a strange thing: your heart yearning for someone you never knew – crying for someone that feels like a lost dream. But I think we all can relate to love and loss. And the love for a sibling or child is rooted deep within your soul.

In school when I was young (or really in life conversations in general) people always asked if I have any siblings. When I was young I felt guilty if I didn’t include Ali. Well, that was probably pretty awkward thinking back, but conversations in elementary school brush off quickly. When I got older I realized that immediately throwing in that my sister died when I was little was an uncomfortable conversation starter – but mainly I realized that not including her with Jordan as a sibling doesn’t make her less real, or any less my sister. Sometimes I’ll throw her in a conversation, not thinking that the other person doesn’t know the situation. And then they often feel uneasy about their questions. I assure them that it doesn’t bother me to talk about her or about what happened. It happened, and I’m okay.

Sometimes I think about what life would have been like with her in it. Would we have been best friends or bratty sisters? Would she be sweet or troublesome? Would she have joined the same sorority, traded the Gators for Auburn just like her sister, and stood by me when I get married? I don’t wallow in these fantasies, but sometimes I do wonder.

Experiencing that kind of loss so early in life shaped a lot of my values. I grew up with an understanding that life should never be taken for granted and that even the smallest moments are precious. My parents also taught me to be an advocate of philanthropic work. It started with The March of Dimes in memory of my sister and has now expanded to pediatric cancer charities. Ali didn’t have cancer, but I understand the loss of a child to sickness. So I get involved and donate when I can with the hope that other families don’t have to know that pain.

Life should be celebrated, and birthdays – even birthdays of those no longer here – are an excellent way to celebrate life.

Birthdays are a way to tell someone you are thinking of them, that you love them, that they are meaningful and special – that you are happy they were born. This message can be shared any day, but birthdays especially. One of my favorite chapters from Jamie Tworkowski’s book If You Feel Too Much is “Happy Birthday.” It talks about sharing these kind of messages more than once a year – about people needing other people, and having reasons to believe better things. (Read it here)

So happy birthday Alida Catherine Rivers. Even though we lost you too soon, I’m happy you were born. I’m happy to share this day of celebration with my mom, dad and brother.

Mom wrote this birthday song for you, and we sing it every year. I’ve always liked it:

Tori and Ali


Happy, happy birthday, Ali dear

I can’t believe that you’d be 20 this year

If I had one wish, then it would be

That you’d be sitting right here next to me


Happy birthday Alicat. I love you.

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