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Thanksgiving - still learning about life and how to live it

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I am writing this in an almost "diary" mode in the hopes that it can touch someone else. My life is going great so there should be no feeling of pity for me in any way and I certainly do not share my story to evoke any emotion toward me whatsoever. We will be meeting my niece and her baby for the first time since my sisters death as she was a week away from delivery at the time and did not make it northward for the funeral. Part of me is quite happy about it and part of me just doesn't want to deal. They put together a DVD of photos of my sister and songs to go with it and part of me just is not in the mood to open it up again, especially over the holidays. The memories below I wrote during a long flight from Singapore to NYC in March. I pared it down to a smaller, nicer eulogy that I read at the service but this is the 'raw data'. It is long winded so those of you that spend the time reading it...I hope that it can give you something that you can relate to and maybe a vent for me to let go of some guilt. PEACE

Spinning 45 records on the couch with my older sister on the portable record player. Introduced to Earth, Wind and Fire, The Beatles, Jackson Browne and endless others. My earliest memories are of her putting hot curlers in her hair before going to work at the bank. Stories of life at UMASS Amherst with her roommate Biffie and her best friend Jan. I was so excited by her energy when I was a child. I was 5 when she went to college and she finished with a dream of medical school.

I was afraid of everything as a kid, paranoid actually, but she made me feel so alive at times. To her I was always the cutest kid, the smartest and she was so proud of me and never let me forget it with a larger than life voice and smile. Never did she enter a room that you didn’t know she was around. At times that fact was taxing, but outside of my grandmother there wasn’t a family member who could praise and raise the self esteem like Cheryl since there was no meaning to the words ‘quiet’ or ‘whisper’. I love her high school photo with the giant smile and the scrimshaw earrings. She held on so closely to the days when I called her Cherie and finished every phone call, visit or encounter with a giant I LOVE YOU! Protection and validation were certainly two things I cried out for so desperately and I found them in her time and again. You could count on Cheryl to tell the same stories….for years, ad nauseum. I loved her singing voice and I felt calm and happy around it. She had a bigger than life laugh and she laughed to tears so often any remotely funny story. The years at her first apartment were so much fun. Her husband and his certain songs…Together by Tierra, Lionel Richie for Cheryl (My Love). His annoying Kenny Rogers addiction. I got my first taste of watching HBO there and snuck some fun looks at some adult shows. The landlady was an interesting woman. Her husband was probably the only guy I’d ever seen Cheryl back down to as far as listening to someone tell her what to do.

Years flew by as we hung out each summer especially when the local fair was at the school grounds. She enjoyed a good time, barbecue, singing, games, movies, books…never a dull moment. We lost touch more as I guess is natural when I went to college. My life was taking shape and hers was moving town when they relocated to FL for Mike’s job. FL seemed kind to Cheryl at first. She loved the sun and hanging by the pool lifestyle and made close friends very easily. An extreme extrovert there was no lack of energy or social activity. Right from the start however there was something missing at times. She LOVED the concept of family and the holidays, birthdays and any social event. When she was robbed of those times by distance I think a small piece of her person was taken away. She held close her pride which in a twisted way was her fatal flaw. The kids recognized at times that the distance was rough on her and them but she professed endless sentiments of how much she enjoyed the sunshine state. Her favorite statement “I live in South Florida” after they moved to Coral Springs. If I had a dollar for every time I heard it…..
As life tends to go, time flies. Jobs, relationships and ones own family take over and family gets away from you. We stayed in the ‘a few times a year’ in touch mode. Birthday cards, Christmas cards and the annual summer visit. She was a healthy social drinker in my eyes for most of the time we hung out. She was a fan of red wine, margaritas and vodka martinis. We fit like a glove. Indian food, Chinese food, virtually any food.

I guess the one element that was always present as an impediment was her love for controversial topics pretty much followed by an instant intolerance to the issue since the line between an opinion and a judgment was always so clouded in her mind. She was RIGHT in her mind and there was no changing it or reasoning that what is right for some people may not be right for all. She saw a greater right and wrong in the world and that was the way it was. Impervious. For some reason I never stopped trying to find scenarios to show her how NOT to think in this way until my life and job became too complicated to have the time or energy to take on her seemingly unsolvable issues. We clashed on many issues that were family related. Mostly about the whole right and wrong concept and her issues of control. My last visiting memory was in our house in RI and we had a great time. The Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years and she was a damn good person to watch games one and two with. We cheered BELLHORN with French accents at the mostly forgotten 2nd baseman who had such a hand in two of those wins. It was surreal for lifelong Red Sox fans to be in this moment and we glowed for days. During the three years after that my life took a turn changing jobs and moving house and becoming incredibly absorbed in those activities. She apparently was spiraling down a vortex of addiction and it was consuming her. I had heard my share of stories from my two nieces and my parents but the rest was kind of under wraps. We had a few conversations a year and she always professed that her life was going great…maybe a few small issues but generally things were great. I knew that wasn’t true but I never had the balls or energy to confront it. Not that it may have been even remotely possible had I tried. I just didn’t want to deal with it. It’s funny because you can tell yourself over and over that “it is what it is” and there would have been nothing anyone could’ve done anyhow with someone that headstrong. She had an invented reality of complete happiness and success that was impervious and impenetrable. I never really tried to call again after my niece Jessica’s wedding. I had pretty much known it was extreme and over the top. The photos showed that. A pale woman who had previously been tanned and she looked swollen and with forced expressions. With it being my dad’s last trip and the level to which it brought out how ill he had become was an additional reality check for the family. I talked to the kids more than to her and their increasing desperation of her continuingly risky behavior was palpable with each interaction.

I had said time and again she was unhealthy enough between obesity and many other risk factors that I would not be shocked by this phone call. Ironically, I could not have been shocked more. Being in Singapore and in such an intense work situation for two weeks and with my dad so close to death when I got the call from Mark that said Brian I have bad news…..I knew my dad was dead. Then he said “It’s your sister, Cheryl” and I said “what happened” and he said “she died” while trying to suppress crying. I was like “I can handle this” in my head. I said “Wow, THAT is a shocker”. For some reason I felt this perverse need to get back to my corporate meeting. I persevered until a colleague asked me if everything was alright while twirling her hair with an innocent doe eyed look. That was my downfall to tears. Being twisted like I am, I felt instantly mortified that I cried at a business meeting and regrouped as fast as possible, went for a walk, came back and I “got the job done”. When those two days ended I felt left with the knowledge that my dad would die soon as well. My sister was now gone and I didn’t make that last push effort because I was not ready to confront her. I had failed so many times before on much lesser issues and it was her life to live, right? It is just a haunting memory to see the level of the overdose, the note and the bottle. She was just given a divorce ultimatum. She expressed to her daughters that nobody knew what she was going through and how bad it was. Funny that many of us do know how bad life pressures can be but can’t solve something of someone else when they are not self effacing enough to look in the mirror and commit to change.

This is the legacy she will leave. My oldest sister, Cheryl. Role model to medical school, self esteem builder in some and shredder in others. People feared her. Inside that shell of weight and steely veneer was a lovely child who wanted so desperately to spread warmth and love. Somehow she never found the way to do it and when she took it that life and people had moved on and turned their backs on her, she turned her back on life. Cliché, but there is a piece of me that said she was going to die young and any day would not be a huge surprise. Despite that I never thought it would go down this way. Now she will have a grandson in two weeks with no grandmother. No mom to advise her daughter on the trials and challenges of raising kids. We have lost a singer, a smile ocean wide, a hugger, an exaggerator. Someone who could help get you through when you needed to be praised and brought up. A person with absolutely no fear to say I LOVE YOU.

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  1. mrjiggyfly2's Avatar
    I can definitely relate. And I hope it did you well to write it. Happy Thanksgiving. Best Wishes.
  2. mmmm8's Avatar
    That was beautiful, tennisbrp.
  3. Danielle's Avatar
    Thank you for sharing tennisbrp...and I'm so sorry to hear about your sister and your father.
  4. missinandre's Avatar
    tennisbrp, I am just now getting around to reading the members' blogs. This is heartbreaking and inspirational and touching. I am sorry for your loss and appreciate your sharing. What can one say after reading something like this?