Clare McBride and her older sister, Becca Lamar, barely spoke to one another for most of their lives.
"I would meet [Becca's] friends [and] they didn't even know she had a sister," Clare remembers.
Being just 20 months apart and looking so much alike, they were often compared with one another. This led them to be competitive, and they bickered often. They'd also regularly steal each other's clothes, which, of course, only led to more squabbles.
"I just [wanted] to be my own person," Clare says. "And if I need to completely ignore my sibling [to do it,] so be it."
That distance between them continued well into Clare's college years, even though they attended colleges near each other for a while and Becca even ended up transferring to the same college as Clare.
But the sisters' relationship changed drastically after their family went through an incredibly difficult and tragic time.
Sisters Becca (left) and Clare (right). All images provided by Clare McBride.
Between 2011 and 2013, Clare and Becca attended 11 funerals. It shook their family to the core. "Most of our family died," Clare says.
Then, their dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died just a few months later.
Those were some of the most painful months in Clare's life. She and her dad were very close because they had a lot in common, including a dry sense of humor, a love of 1960s rock music, and interest in the outdoors. When he died, Clare could barely go outside, her grief too difficult to process.
But through all the pain, there was one thing that began to change: how she felt about her sister.
"No one knows what it's like to be like, 'my dying dad is sitting in my living room,'" Clare says. "No one gets that. [Becca] was the only person."
Clare says it was at that time that she realized her sister was one of the few family members she had left and that, with all the tragedies happening around them, they needed each other more than ever.
That's when Clare started looking for opportunities to rebuild a relationship with her sister.
"It gets to the point when you just have to do something. Anything," she says. "Because [you realize] life is so short."
One night, about a year after losing their father, the sisters were sitting at the table with their mom, when Becca threw out a crazy idea: Why not go to Europe?
Clare laughed at first. Becca was just being impulsive like always, she thought.
But then again, after spending the night looking through photo albums from their parents' travels, maybe it wasn't that wild an idea. Their mom even liked the thought; in fact, she seemed even more enthusiastic than Becca.
Clare realized that if she didn't take a trip like this at that time, she might never work up the courage.
By the end of the night, they were buying tickets to Amsterdam.
"We left, like, six weeks later," she remembers.
That's how their impromptu trip around Europe began. And it became not only a trip of a lifetime but the spark that created a lasting connection with her sister.
Their journey started in Amsterdam, and the rest was left to chance. "The lack of planning was totally my dad," Clare laughs. Wherever was cheapest to fly to in the direction they had planned to go in, that's where they ended up.
"Thinking back, I honestly feel like [my dad] was directing our trip from some cosmic beyond," Clare says.
The trip included unexpected trains to London, the overwhelming chaos of Rome, and dancing on tabletops in Nice, France. There were hikes down mountainsides and sunbathing on secret beaches. Clare and Becca even placed a padlock with their dad's name on it on the Pont des Arts in Paris, France, a bridge that was once covered in locks with names of loved ones scrawled on each one. (This practice has since been banned — but the sisters will always treasure the memory.)
Of course, things didn't go smoothly all the time on the trip. Just three days in, their train to Germany caught on fire. Then, they found themselves in a death metal club days later, and it nearly led to Clare's feet being stomped on by overly enthusiastic metalheads. More than once, they weren't even sure they'd find a place to stay.
But through it all, they stuck together.
The grief they shared allowed them to be vulnerable with each other in ways they never had before. "[I realized] she missed him just as much as I did," Clare says. It was that vulnerability that ultimately allowed their friendship to deepen.
Whether it was homesickness or just missing ranch dressing (they were from the Midwest, after all), being with Becca day in and day out for those six weeks helped Clare see her sister in a different light.
Clare realized they made an amazing team. "Maybe [as kids] we were competitive, [but] we figured out the force is stronger together," Clare says.
Becca's spontaneity and free spirit lit a fire in Clare, and Becca's impulsiveness was kept in check by Clare's resourcefulness that allowed their plans to go smoothly. They also realized the many ways they were similar. They could appreciate each other's sense of humor, adventurousness, and creativity — something they both shared with their dad and then realized they share with each other.
It was that connection that not only brought Clare closure but helped her find her best friend — her sister.
"We've been inseparable ever since," Clare says. "If you met us today, in this very moment, you would've never known that we did not speak for years of our life."
While their grief united them, Clare says you don't have to wait for a tragedy to reconnect with a loved one.
Her advice? "It's going to be uncomfortable, [but] get yourself in a room together," she says. After all, it wasn't the destination that made them closer — it was spending time together and truly connecting with each other.
"Going to Europe, I knew it was going to be awkward at times with my sister," she continues. "But I wanted to do it. I wanted that relationship." It's a relationship that Clare now says she wouldn't trade for anything.
Since then, she and Becca continue to make memories together they'll never forget. They've since taken a cross-country road trip (with Becca's French bulldogs in tow). Clare was the maid of honor at Becca's wedding, and Becca was moving back to Michigan to be close to family.
"We will probably tell these stories to our children," Clare says, "as we send them off with a backpack to some far-off land for an adventure."