My sister Erika was attending Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada on Labor Day weekend in 2011, when she was suddenly overcome by a headache and disorientation, nausea and the inability to move. She had been cooking a meal for a neighboring camp, and then she was in the medical tent. And then she was gone. One instant she was perfectly healthy, and in a matter of hours, she was brain dead.
In 2012, after nearly four years of working for a cool architecture firm in Manhattan, I left my job and the city I called home since 2008.
I decided to go to Burning Man in her honor: to remember and memorialize her there, in the place where she felt most alive and herself. Some of her friends would be there, and some of my friends came to support me there as well. But I knew I would have to undergo a similar sort of ending – a period of death as I left New York and ended old associations. I said goodbye to friends and even someone I accidentally fell in love with two months before the journey began, and started my trip to the West. A place that ancient Egyptians thought all souls crossed over to, on their funeral barges. The place the sun sinks into. Where everything disappears, eventually.
But before that trip, I had planned to take a journey with my other sister, Skye. We are both used to being one of three siblings and it is strange to be down to two. We are farther apart in age than Erika and I were, so we never did much together growing up. Since Erika died, though, we both realized we needed to put more effort into the relationship. Since Skye had never traveled, but had heard my stories of traveling with Erika to several continents, she wanted to go to France, and it became our first trip together: our first chance to make happy memories even though we are missing our middle sister.
I went on to Morocco and then back to the south of France to see a friend and her boyfriend at the beach and then back to Paris and back to New York.
From there, I picked up what was left of my life in the city and packed it into a rental car and headed to see friends in North Carolina, then over to Arkansas, up, around and every which way till Burning Man. After, I traveled, camped, swam, cooked, spent time at festivals and hot springs and went back to Erika’s condo in Napa. I tried to untie all the knots I was composed of. Tried to immerse myself in her – her music, her friends. I knew she’d never again be as close, as remembered, as present through her things and those who still missed her. I needed to be with those people then.
I made my way through Colorado and the Four Corners – did a sweat lodge with friends who follow the Red Road and rejoined my parents in Arkansas.
From there I returned to Florida for more time with my family and to return to Elysian Fields, a place of spiritual growth and a school for helping others.
I went back to India in the New Year, unsure where to really make my life again. I went to see friends and participate in the Maha Kumbh Mela – the largest gathering of humans on earth.
After India, I continued to Egypt, inspired by my sister’s short life to visit a place I had always wanted see. I traveled down the Nile and back up again, seeing every tomb and temple I could manage on the way.
I returned to New York, but my journey isn’t over yet. Life after my sister is a work in progress.