I took my sister Dorothy to the Boise airport yesterday. (big sigh)
She gave me the best gift, the gift of her time. I can count on my hands the days we’ve had together, just the two of us, since I’ve been married. Geography has not been our friend. We always part with the wish that we lived closer.
In order for you to understand, I need to give you a time line. One Tuesday morning in May my mom died suddenly and unexpectedly (official reason was autoimmune disorder; also suspect was undiagnosed Addison’s disease) leaving a husband and seven kids ranging from age ten (me) to age 21 (Dorothy). Mom’s funeral was Friday, Sunday was Mother’s Day, and the following Saturday Dorothy got married.
The newlyweds moved into the bedroom across the hall from mine and Dorothy took upon herself all the domestic responsibilities of keeping a household functioning. She cooked, she washed, she got us headed in the right direction, all the while establishing her own marriage. We laugh now at how Ken had to put a lock on the bedroom door to keep me from migrating to their bed every night. My father coped with this catastrophe by withdrawal. Long unexplained absences were the norm. Dorothy carried an enormous load on her capable shoulders.
It’s a mystery, but somehow oldest kids are wired to take care of the younger ones and youngest kids are wired to be taken care of. At least that’s how it worked with my sister and me.
She always had her radio tuned to the station of my needs.
The eleven year gap between our ages evaporated any potential sibling rivalry. She guided me through the maze called adolescence, provided a refuge from a strained stepmother relationship, saw to detail after detail when I got married. She taught me Mommy 101 via telephone when I had my first son, teaching me not to be concerned with a fever alone, but to call the doctor if the fever was accompanied by another symptom. Even now, when I’m facing a conundrum with one of my piano students, or wondering which songs to play for a difficult funeral, I call her and draw from her wisdom and experience.
We’re quite different. She is a perfectionist and I tend more towards
comme ci comme ça. She’s mechanically oriented; I’m hopeless with machines. She looks ahead, I go with the flow. She listens and indulges me while I process life through verbalization.
I look back on our shared misfortunes with gratitude, but also with an ache in my heart. Who ministers to the ministers? Who cares for the caregivers? I can’t imagine what she went through. Only the Lord could carry all of us through those deep waters.
For there is no friend like a sister
In calm and stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.
~ Christina Rosetti
Photo: surprise visitor!