Ten years ago this month, my sister and I celebrated our birthdays together for the final time. Judy's birthday came two weeks before mine, so for as long as I can remember, we celebrated on a date in between.

When we were young, we had family parties at which we devoured Judy's freshly baked chocolate cake. When we grew older, she treated me to birthday dinner at a restaurant of my choosing.

No matter what, we always ordered a chocolate dessert and sang as loudly as we dared, along with the surprised waiters. She was the one who got me the gifts I would cherish most; my first pair of dangly earrings, a hip book bag and makeup before my mother permitted it.

I looked forward to her gifts almost as much as I anticipated my birthday itself. The night of our last dinner - which we shared with family - she wanted deli and I wanted Chinese, but in her characteristic fashion, she compromised and we went Chinese.

We joked, laughed and ate off each other's plates until we were full, but we still ordered the biggest dessert. Together we blew out the candles on the platter of tropical fruits, ice cream and cakes.

She didn't break open a fortune cookie but I did. It promised "a bright future is ahead." It was a lie that would haunt me for years.

Two weeks later, while running to catch a bus, my sister collapsed and could not be revived. Doctors surmised she had suffered a brain aneurysm. I surmised that G‑d had made a terrible mistake.

She was young and strong, and she exercised regularly.

She had big dreams and a big reservoir of optimism to match her big heart.

She was too busy living to be bothered with death.

She died on Oct. 13, my 27th birthday. Judy was six years older and for much of my life I looked up to her. She was the one who coached me on how to talk to boys. She was the one who gave me stylish "hand-me-downs" that possessed what I thought was the ultimate in chic.

I hoped that by wearing them, I could capture her confidence and poise.

Mostly, I admired her warmth and empathy, which made everyone want to be near her, to be her friend.

She was so easy to talk to, people sought her advice. Even when she was busy working as an attorney, she made time for the people who really mattered.

By watching her, I realized that to have good friends, you need to be one yourself. She was like a tour guide into my future. When she took up guitar, I, too, discovered joy in strumming a few chords. When she joined the high school basketball team, I shot hoops with hopes of making the team someday, too. And when she became editor of her college newspaper, I considered the concept.

There was something about her that made each new endeavor seem so exciting and full of promise, it was hard not to be inspired. But when she died, my inspiration did, too. I wondered how I could return to my normal routine and perform mundane tasks again. Would I ever laugh again?

People asked how many siblings I had and I became confused - should I count her or not?

When I reached the age she had been when she died, I wondered if I would suffer her sad fate.

The year after, I wondered why I hadn't. Why did my life go on when hers had been cut short?

She will forever be my older sister but I have surpassed her. I married, had children and bought a house. I was suddenly navigating my own journey when what I really wanted was to hide in my room and mourn.

But I found refuge. I discovered that I was now part of a club I never asked to join. Its members are the ones who look straight into your eyes when they hear about your loss. They don't turn away and change the subject. They want to know her name and what she looked like. They are not afraid of tears.

That is because they, too, have broken hearts. You can believe them when they reassure you that life goes on because they have made their lives go on. They still think about their loss every day as if it were last month.

But instead of acting as victims of tragedy, many are agents of an exquisite destiny; a friend with breast cancer who cracks jokes throughout her treatment because she wants her doctors at Sloan Kettering to laugh for a change.

A husband who lost his wife and unborn child to terrorists and launched an organization that preaches kindness. A friend who watched her baby die of cancer and who never loses an opportunity to comfort someone else who is grieving.

They have experienced the darkest part of life but rather than become lost in the shadows, they are bringing new light to the world.

They are my everyday heroes who have stopped asking "Why?" to consider, "What should I do about it?" Their tragedies have transformed them into better people.

A decade later, I want to believe that the fortune cookie was my sister's final gift to me, as if she was reassuring me that despite all the pain, a bright future did indeed lay ahead of me. I just had to open my heart to it.

Maybe it's a reminder to live life, not in pain, but just as she did, full of joy and love. In exchange for all the gifts - physical and intangible - that she ever gave to me, that is my final gift to her.