A few years ago, my sister Maggie's lymphoma roared back after a long remission. The only thing with any chance of saving her was a bone marrow transplant, and I was a match. In my research, I discovered that after a transplant, a patient faces threats of rejection or attack—Maggie's body could reject the new marrow cells, or my donor cells could attack her body. Both reactions could be fatal.

Rejection or attack! Hadn't this always been our M.O. as sisters, all the way back to my not sitting next to her on the school bus, and her not supporting me during my divorce and a variety of other petty and not-so-petty disappointments, unkindnesses and misunderstandings? Isn't that how it goes for so many siblings?

In the case of Maggie and me, I was the bossy older sister (by two years). She was the little mousy one. I never understood why, but she kept her distance. I wanted a deeper friendship, but the more I pushed, the further she retreated. We dragged these roles with us into adulthood. But now there was a good reason to let them go. I suggested we see a therapist together and Maggie surprised me by loving the idea. We needed to teach ourselves another way of being.

In those sessions, I learned that Maggie both feared and admired me for standing my ground with our domineering father, for getting divorced and being a single mom. She admitted she'd been afraid to allow me to get too close; what if I drove her to make similar decisions in her own life? I admitted I wasn't always as strong as I'd seemed. I told her I'd needed her. We apologized for the myriad ways in which we had not been there for each other.

Maggie lived for a difficult and beautiful year after the transplant. During that time, as we dropped the stories we'd been carting around, we experienced the love we'd lost out on over the years. I learned so much from loving and losing my sister. The biggest lesson: There is less to forgive if we're honest in real time. Instead of letting assumptions fester into grudges, we can own what we've done and ask others to do the same. Maggie and I did this, and we got an abiding, eternal love for each other out of the bargain.

The poet Rumi wrote, "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there." Meeting in that field is one of the kindest—and truest—things we can do in this life.

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