Been in rather a blue funk for a few days. In addition to the letdown after the hyperventilation surrounding high school graduation for my youngest; the impending 6-week hiatus from our dear friends; and the sick week I just had, it’s June. June is Father’s Day and graduation, or, for those with younger kids, the month when school lets out and kids are underfoot. Roses fill the air with their perfume; gardens explode in green; we celebrate the summer solstice; and Sir Paul McCartney and my friend Chris blow out birthday candles in June.
And it is also my sister Missy’s birthday. Next week she would have been 52.
Two years ago, two of my sisters and I flew down to Georgia to visit Missy and join the sister who was already there. It was the occasion of Missy’s 50th birthday, and she was in the hospital. We wanted to make sure to give her a 50th birthday none of us would forget. We brought along goodies she loved but couldn’t get in Georgia and took decorations and funny things to make her laugh. Once there, we went shopping for more. We got her a cake and even a little contraband — small ‘splits’ of wine we thought she might like to try.
None of us could voice what was aching in our hearts. We were there because we feared that this birthday would be her last. She needed us, and we needed her. So we went down to spend time with her, all of us, together. We would bring some fun to her for awhile and show her some sister love. Our eldest sister was already there helping to care for her, which was a blessing. We came to see her husband and children and give them some support, as well.
When we first surprised her in her room, on our arrival, it was wonderful. She hadn’t known we all were coming, and it was a joyous occasion. Missy perked up, and we set about fussing over her, laughing and joking like old times.
A couple of nights later, in the darkened and vacant hotel lobby, with poster board, markers, and stickers, the four of us made signs to brighten her room. We laid the paper on the floor and drew around our feet; we traced our hands and thought of silly slogans to write. We talked and sang and danced and laughed until we nearly wet our pants. I haven’t felt so close to my sisters in a long while.
The day of her birthday, we arranged for her to be taken out of her room for a few minutes while we set up her party decorations. We had hoped to put a sign on the outside of her door, as well, but the staff wouldn’t allow it. No matter — we had streamers and hats and noisy things and cards and little fun gifts for her. We had cake and shrimp and the contraband wine. We had to stall the nurse a bit, but when it was all ready, we gave the high sign for her to come in.
She was happily surprised at the party; in addition to her husband and sons and us girls, she had other visitors and well-wishers. We sang and chatted and she opened her gifts; we had silly hats and glasses for her, as well as a big round ‘button’ made of a paper plate pinned to her gown that said, “Ask Me about AARP!” (American Association of Retired Persons) We all had fun. Afterward, she was tired, so we toned it all down and left her to rest.
I will always remember that visit more for the bonding we shared during those days than for what specific things we did or talked about. We all carry the scar of losing the sister who died with our parents fourteen years ago; that is a sad, but strong, bond we already share. Even as different as we all are, our love for each other is steadfast.
I wish I could better describe that feeling of oneness with my sisters; it is rather new, as we are not all close in age, and therefore didn’t all grow up together. We are of three different groups within the family: the two eldest sisters and my brother, who is firstborn, are the first group; after a five-year gap, there are two more girls; after another five years, Missy and me. We have always been a close family overall, but after we lost our parents and sister in 1999, we realized how short life is and we drew tightly to one another. We are not often all together physically, either, since one lives in Georgia, one spends half the year in Arizona, and the rest of us live in Washington. For those few days, we were all together, with no agenda but to be grateful for them and enjoy ourselves.
There is a lot more to this story, but there will be time for that. Let’s just say that she left us at the age of 50, which was far too young. Life is so damned short.
So I’m blue. My heart aches with the weight of memory and loss. Junes will come and go, but they will always be Missy’s month: not only was it her birthday, but her husband’s birthday is the week before, and their wedding anniversary falls in between.
Dads and grads may take the spotlight, but June belongs to her.