Six of us. friends for more than 35 years, sat at the round table in the United Methodist Community Room on Tuesday, communing over delicious home-made yeast rolls, green salad, baked beans, hash brown casserole and baked chicken.
Friends since college, I can’t remember any occasion where the six of us have been together in a church, except for the ceremonial beginnings and the now-frequent endings. We live in different places and lead different lives now, but we are still connected at the heart.
We were college journalists together — except for C who was hired by R to work in the yearbook business office because “she had good legs.” Long after our years writing captions for the magazine-style yearbook, we were still friends.
Counting our statistics, we have one father and two mothers left.
We’re gathered today to say good-bye to the first sibling who has passed from this informal family.
Two of us lost mothers when we were children, one lost his father in a fiery car crash that also disabled his mother who lived another 29 years.
When C’s father died, her brother put a golf ball in the casket. As the pallbearers carried their father to his final resting place, the golf ball rolled around inside the box, loudly in the deliberate silence of a burial.
At M’s father’s funeral, old soldiers gathered to pay respect to the man who fought in both WWII and Korea. The rituals of military respect — the singularity of the bugle playing Taps and the folded flag to the grieving widow — made the bitter cold December day somehow more honorable.
P’s father died in his mid 70s earlier this year after suffering from cancer, just months before her two younger children, identical twins, would graduate from high school. Her husband, R, lost his mother when he was a teenager and his father 15 years ago.
Of the six of us, only I have a father remaining, and this gathering reminds me of that, and what a gift my dad is to me and my husband and our adult child.
Today we are here to celebrate the life of and mourn the loss of our dear friend’s kid sister. In the order of a world that makes sense, we attend parent’s services; the death of our friend’s kid sister seems like the planets are off-kilter, as if this crazy planet isn’t revolving around the sun.
I do not walk in their shoes, but I suspect that is how her family feels. Our friend’s kid sister suffered from mitochondrial disease, which stole her hearing then her eyesight and then gave her diabetics and finally wreaked havoc with her kidneys. She died at age fifty, leaving a 12-year-old daughter.
She was a person of faith, and I believe is in a better place, fully healed among the white light.
Three of the others were much closer to the kid sister, having lived closer. My husband and I moved away after college, first to Florida and then back to far southwestern Indiana, away from where we grew up.
We met the kid sister when we were both twenty. She must have been fourteen—if you looked in the dictionary under “kid sister” you would see her picture, long, brownish-blonde hair, large eyes, petite frame, a good child who came to Sister’s Weekend at college.
She went with us once to a Billy Joel concert — was it 1977 at Market Square Arena? We were mostly loaded and thought she would never know. Years later, she told us that she knew.
We went to her wedding — Herman and I weren’t a “we” yet—but we attended the kid sister’s wedding together as friends. I drove in Old Bessie, my ancient Cutlas-S. I wasn’t too happy with the way Herman dressed, so I chastised him beforehand, “Whatever you do, don’t wear that freakin’ orange leisure suit your mother bought you.”
I drove into the lane of his parent’s house. Herman was standing with his suitcase, waiting for me, wearing that bloody tangerine-colored leisure suit.
A mile down the dusty country road he confessed he had a real suit stashed away. He changed for the wedding and we arrived to see our friend as a bridesmaid and their stern-faced father escort his youngest daughter down the aisle.
Could that have been 30 years ago?
Who could have imagined that this pixie of a girl, the kid sister, would pass before all of us?
Her death has shaken me, like John Donne said, “each man’s death diminishes me.” I am diminished for her family’s loss.
Her death is unlike the deaths of our aging parents which—however devastating or sudden—still fall under the heading for “everything there is a season.”
Thinking about the death of my own mother last year, not yet 80, I remember what a blessed life she led. She had a happy marriage for nearly 57 years, she bore two children and saw them graduate from college, marry, and and each present her with a grandson. She traveled all over the world, and enjoyed great love. How can that be a tragedy? She was not cheated. Nor was I.
I mourn the loss deeply for my friend. My friend is also a person greatly loved, and will be buoyed up by her friends. But no one can replace a sibling. They come into the world with us, and the pecking order has been forever shifted, and I mourn that loss for her and the rest of her family.
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