Letters to My Maid of Honor

My sister, my teacher, my best friend

To my older, always-one-step-ahead-of-me sister, written with a lonely heart

September 5, 2008
Dear Liv,

Your plane left last week. Seppi and Cecilia are at school all day, and so am I. I want to tell you what public school is like because it’s an experience neither of us, as former homeschoolers, has ever had. I want to explain why I decided to enroll, but you’re already gone. I try to emulate your confidence when I have to talk in class, but I’m too terrified. If you were here, I wouldn’t be as worried because I would know that my best friend is always on hand.

Everybody asks where you are and what you’re doing. I hope you’re okay. Everybody misses you so much. Especially me. After school, when I’ve been razzed for saying the wrong thing at lunch, I come home and am brokenhearted not to have you here to pick apart the scenario, tell me what I did right, and tell me how you would have handled it. I know you would have been impervious to the onslaught of vicious peers’ comments. It seems the only people I get along with are the teachers, and that’s only if I don’t even think about mentioning politics.


To my sister, the center of my world, slipping away

January 5, 2009
Dear Liv,

You have just left the country again after a whirlwind visit home. The house is devastatingly quiet without you until I think about how little work I was able to finish when you were here. Your presence demanded so much of my attention. Before you arrived home for Christmas, I was so excited to tell you about all the wonderful things I had done while you were away. But as I tried to tell you about this, you spouted stories about the Guatemalan boys whom you had helped graduate from high school, the projects you had taken on when the other volunteers became too busy, the two men in their early twenties who had fallen in love with you and fought bitterly to win your affection. What I had done did not seem nearly as exciting, and I was almost ashamed to tell you.

Before you left, I never had these feelings. I loved you and you were my best friend, and that was enough.


To my sister, who needed to leave, so I could become

October 5, 2009
To my dearest older sister, Liv,

I miss you more than you can know. I want you to come home and I think about you daily. I imagine the moment when I will first see you after your long year away. Will we talk for hours of our exploits? It doesn’t matter though because I’ve just missed you so much.

With pride, I tell others what you are doing while you are away. Regretfully, I tell them, we rarely talk, so I can provide only the most basic information. I tell them that I miss you. I tell them that I am so anxious for your return. I tell them how my life is different since you have been gone.

And I realize how much it has been different since your departure, how much my life has changed. In your absence, something strange has happened. Without you here to guide my interests, to share my friends and to influence my decisions by preceding them with similar ones of your own, I’m expanding. I meet people I would not previously have associated with. I am voluntarily taking science classes at the college. Weirdest thing is this: I love them. Recently, I have begun to do so many things I wouldn’t do if you were home, not because they are too adventurous (we were always crazily adventurous), but because they are mine.

The people who used to come to you to be on their committees, or design t-shirts for them, or to help at an event, or to speak in church, are now coming to me. The same people who gushed over your accomplishments when they read about them in the newspaper are now turning to me. It is now I who receive congratulatory cards in the mail from distant friends. It’s awkward. But it’s so affirming.

At home, I am now the oldest. I find the younger siblings trouping to my workspace to peer at the work I am doing, with a strange gravitation toward the material they do not understand. They revere it only because I am the oldest. They look to me only because there is no one else. It is now I who advocate for them when they are being questioned by the head of the house. “I swear, Mom. Cecilia didn’t do it.”

We are no longer Oliv-Fiona or “the girls.” I am no longer second-best or “Olivia’s sister.” I’m just Fiona.

As I look back on this past year without you, I see my individuality, so very different from your own, blossoming. I marvel at things you would find uninteresting and I would have shrugged off before too. The things you loved (and I loved because you loved them) have been stored away, making room for new and exciting discoveries all my own.

I love you. I miss you. I can’t wait until you finally come home. But I am so glad you left, because in your absence, I found myself.

Forever your loving sister,

To my sister, half a world away, but always near

August 5, 2012
Hi Liv,

I’m about to see you for the first time in many months. We’re meeting in New York in a couple hours on my layover from the Dominican Republic where we will fly together to Toronto and then Dublin. When did we become these people?

I have something to tell you, but I’m so nervous. I know we haven’t been able to talk much recently, and I’ve been keeping a big secret from you.

Liv, I got engaged a month ago. He’s a guy you’ve never met. How could you have met him, given that we are in totally different parts of the world from each other?

I’m going to ask you to do something really difficult. It’ll be difficult for you because I know it would be difficult for me. I’m asking you to trust me. Please trust that I made a good choice and that I’m making the right decision. Please trust that I found a guy who is truly amazing and worth the commitment. I’m going to need your support when I break it to the rest of the family.

Also, I’d like to fulfill the promise I made to you years ago in the locker room after middle school swim practice. Would you be my Maid of Honor?

All my love,

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  • Wow, I am blown away. This is just beautiful, Fiona.

  • Lada

    This is so honest and so well written, it brought me to tears

  • Anu Thomas

    How beautifully you capture the growing pains of each individual to transform into their being in the whirlwind of the influences in our lives. To family, time and the expansion of our souls! Bravo mi amor!

  • jashshea

    Oh Fiona! This is so wonderful. Off to call my brother and tell him I love him.

    Also, your parents are excellent child-namers! Olivia, Fiona, Cecilia! Love them all.

    • Fiona

      Thank you! I know my mom would LOVE to hear that.

  • Eh


    I married a guy my sister had never met until a few days before our wedding. I left home at 18 to go to university and left my little sister to live with my dad. She was pretty upset with me and our older brother for “abandoning her” after our mom died (we both moved out a month after she died). As the years went on we increased the physical distance between us. First I moved away (university), then I moved away further (grad school), and then I moved away further again (job). Then she decided to up-one me by moving across the country to go on an adventure. We would meet up from time to time – one time we went on a road trip, another time we went to a cousins wedding, and when our schedules allowed we would meet up at “home”. One of the times that our paths crossed she made an observation about our how close we were with our cousins (who lived far away from us growing up and we only saw for two weeks every summer). She said, “it doesn’t matter how long it was since we last talked, when we get together we can just pick things up like we saw them yesterday” (albeit with a lot more hugging). My sister and I were not as close growing up – I’ve always blamed this on the fact that our parents forced to share a room. In her MOH speech at my wedding she mentioned that she was surprised, since we weren’t all that close growing up, that I would ask her to be my MOH. There was never a question in my mind that I would ask her to be my MOH. Her comment about our cousins is just as true about us, with a couple added sisterly bonuses – we can count on each other when we need to the most, and we understand things about each other that other people don’t get (e.g., the difficulty of becoming a grown woman without a mother and how isolating it is to live away from our family).

    • lady brett

      “yeah, it’s like we had the same parents or something!” was my brother’s observation about how well we picked up our relationship one of the first times we really hung out as (semi) adults. he’s 5 years older (and way cooler) than me, so for most of his high school and then all of my high school years we hardly saw each other. we started hanging out more in college (’cause he was still in college when i started…he did manage to graduate before me, but only barely ;).

      anyhow, he *was* my maid of honor. true to our relationship, he didn’t actually know that ’till he flew in ’cause we talk so seldom (it was mentioned like a year before…), but we had a damn blast at the wedding.

      • Caroline

        Yes, I went back to college when my little sister was a sophomore in college and all the sudden we had more to talk about, we were at a similar point in life again and it was easier to relate.

        • Eh

          For me and my sister we needed to live our own lives to get to that point (hence all of the moving). At first she resented me (and our brother) for leaving her behind but as an adult I think she gets it; I needed to leave and I needed to leave right then. Our brother has since moved “home” (i.e., he lives in the general vicinity of where we grew up and where my father has settled) and now both of us live “away”. We have had similar struggles living away (the isolation, missing big events – though she misses a lot more than me, resenting people for not visiting us). We were engaged around the same time (I got married last year, she’s getting married this year) and we shared a lot of the same pains in that process too.

  • up_at_Dawn

    I really identify with struggling to become your own person and differentiate yourself from your sister. Although my struggle was pretty intentional. I have an identical twin sister- so I’m used to fighting for a separate identity. We shared everything, we even had identical faces.

    Now that we’re both well into our twenties we are living pretty different lives. It really shocks some people that we’re so different and doing such different things. I’m really glad that we have that space that is just ours. But the bonds of sisterhood are pretty special, and I know there is no one I’d rather have standing up for me than my sister.

  • Reggie joseph

    Fiona i love this, i like it because you have written about your siblings and each piece has been something powerful. You have deep connection with each one of them in your own way, there isn’t one day where cecilia does talk about you or the other grugan siblings. So i love this because its your own eyes of what you see in olivia.

    • Fiona

      Reggie thank you for being Cecilia’s brother while she is away!

  • Laura

    So very timely, and such a lovely post. I was the older sister in this situation and keenly aware that my sister struggled to break free of my shadow (made worse by the fact that we grew up in a very small town). It has been a joy to watch her find her own path and figure out her life outside of my footprints. And, tomorrow, I get to see her for the first time in over a year, as she comes back to the States for a quick visit from her fantastic adventure as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Peru. I’m so very excited and so, so proud of what she’s accomplishing in the world.

    I’ll be forwarding this to her. Thanks for articulating this so beautifully.

  • Dawn

    This is a beautiful piece. I have a younger brother (no sisters). We were also homeschooled –until college. We were always very close growing up, and now, even though we’re on different continents, we are still very close, talk about important things, and pick up where we left off when we get together.

    He met my now-husband via Skype when we were dating. I wish my brother and my husband could get to know each other better, but the distance makes that really hard.

  • Alyssa M

    That was beautiful. That last line made me choke up a bit. I really envy your relationship with your sister. Mine is… not so great. But maybe someday we’ll get that sisterly thing sorted out…

    • HannahESmith

      I feel the same way.

  • Violet

    Oooof. There’s a special kind of grief that comes from losing, not a person, but a particular closeness that you shared with that person. My sister-story is very similar in terms of the older sibling moving veeeeeeeeeery far away, a few times. I struggle to fully appreciate the love we still have for each other when I’m still mourning what we used to have. Which, barring us quitting our jobs, leaving our partners, moving in together, and spending eight hours a day playing Barbies, building Legos, and watching The Little Mermaid, we’ll never truly have again.

  • Fiona

    Thank you all so very much for letting me be vulnerable on the internet!

  • What a lovely post! The funny (creepy?) thing is that I recognized the author from being in wedding pictures of a college friend of mine. Oh, facebook!

    • Fiona

      Small world!

  • Mai Zaru

    Wow! Fiona, your honesty is what makes this so special. Your letters brought me to tears as I read them over and over again. It reminds me of the fact that I’m heading to college in a couple of months which means I’m gonna miss my family so much especially my sister. And It’s quite amazing how you managed to write a mind blowing article for each one of your siblings. You are a beautiful family and your love and care to one another is what makes this relationship so strong. This relationship is IDEAL… You and Olivia are lucky to be part of each other’s lives. I’ve met Olivia around 2 years ago and she is a helpful, kind, sweet, intelligent, supportive, cool, and beautiful friend. She has always been there for me and encouraged me and often took care of me, And I believe that your family, the ‘Grugan family’ is an example of ‘PERFECTION’.Each one of you, has something unique and special. I can’t wait to see all this summer and get to know you! Great work, Fiona.

  • melgibbs

    Love that summer 97 pic!