Cherished Memories Are a Balm for Grief

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Jane’s birth on November 6, 1959, is one I don’t remember. I have been told that at age three, I was beyond excited at the arrival of a baby sister. Jane, a tiny bundle of beauty, pink, and softness, shone gorgeous locks of golden blond hair. She was the true baby of the family, adorable, and the apple of everyone’s eye. The resemblance to my daughter Janie, her namesake, is uncanny.

I loved having a younger sister. I now became the middle of three girls, a role from that day forward defined me. We shared a room until she reached age 11 and I reached 14. Our new furniture was very 60’s style white with gold trim, my bed, desk and dresser on the side of the room that housed the closet and door. Being older, I did sometimes torture her and make her stay on her side of the bedroom, lasting probably 15 minutes I am sure.

Of course, true to sisterly form, many arguments ensued over trivia always resolved quickly. She did cry a lot. If she and I had a fight, the tears came on cue when my parents came into the room.

I also remember Jane 5, me 8, ,literally carrying her home from school with my friend in a snowstorm. We lived about a mile from our elementary school. Jane crying, my friend and I trying to get Jane home what seemed like hours slugging through the snow. We finally made it home, all of us cold, wet and practically in tears.

When Jane and I spent summers at overnight camp together, I took the role being the older sister seriously; looking out for her, being there for her when she became homesick or needed her sister to tell the counselor she no longer wanted to continue horseback riding. She cried for two weeks every day about the riding.

Jane never regarded me “cool” enough for her friends. For her sweet sixteen birthday party, I was banished to the kitchen not allowed to join in the festivities amongst her friends. I picked Jane up from her freshman year at college, stayed overnight with her and we drove back home the following day. How we drove four hours in a car ride home without a major fight in such closed quarters I cannot recall. I do remember loading up my father’s green large Buick.

One of Jane’s friends told me how they used to go through my room. Jane insisted everything be put back in the exact order. I find this quite funny and endearing as I always thought Jane ashamed of me. Jane used to borrow my sweaters and as a smoker she sprayed the clothes with perfume trying to mask the smell – really! The contrast in many ways her coolness yet looking up to me.

My first Christmas season in retail in 1978 proved to be grueling so my father sent Jane and me on a trip to Aruba in February of 1979. Although I do not remember much about the vacation, there are pictures of the two of us with glowing smiles. Looking back, I am eternally grateful she and I shared that precious time together two years before she died.

Jane and I stood as polar opposites and did not show the same closeness as Margie and I. As sisters, we possessed numerous similar traits. Deep down, both Jane and I lacked confidence in ourselves and who we wanted to be. Although Jane a true extrovert, lit up a room, friends with everyone, masked a girl confused about what direction she wanted her life to forge. Unfortunately, she never lived to discover her options or what exciting avenues to pursue.

She dabbled in the fashion industry and retail, loved working with children (we both shared that), not the greatest student, loved to talk on the telephone, and knew the true meaning of celebration.

Jane lived each day to the fullest. She too worked at Bloomingdale’s. Although not the greatest student, she probably struggled with some learning issues that at that time did not register. Her friends told me the last toast on her 22nd birthday she said, “I don’t have job, I don’t have a home, I have lots of friends.”

Tragically, the next day, November 7, 1981 Jane died. Jane’s death came as such a total shock to all of us, rocked our world.

When I lost my sister Jane I also lost me, my mother, my sister Margie spiraled downward and my father did his best to keep the family together. At that instant we changed forever and our lives as we knew them vanished. I guess subconsciously I felt I had to fix it and make it better for everyone. My mother shattered and my trying to fill a void came at an expense to my life, what I gave up, who I lost. No one supported me emotionally. I did not know what I needed. How could this be my life?

The lack of communication, the secrets to protect me, put up a fortress so tall it took 30 years to crumble. In my heart I know everyone did they best they could at the time.

At her funeral, her friends got lost and ended up in a Catholic cemetery. Despite it, all her friends laughed as what Jane would have wanted, laughter being the core to her life.

Here are some touching words to me from my cherished sister Jane,

“Your relationship is very important to me. At times I don’t seem to show it…. that we can accept each other for what we are…I love you dearly and you know that whenever you need me just call I am always here…best of luck. “(August 1978 before my big move to New York City)

The letters and cards she sent me I read over and over and despite our differences sisters are sisters and share a love that cannot be faulted. We never had the opportunity to see where our relationship would evolve.  All I have are memories of my precious little sisters who no matter what I love and will always have a tremendous piece of my heart.

The Rabbi spoke at Jane’s eulogy ended with this beautiful poem prefaced by the following:

“You will always love- so let me me conclude with this inadequate farewell:

We cannot say and we will not say

That she is dead. She is away.

With a cheery smile and a wave of the hand

She wandered into an unknown land,

And she left us dreaming how very fair

That land must be, since she lingers there.

And-of you, who would yearn

For yesterday and her joyful return,

Please think of her as the same: Say

Not that she gone, she is just away

Brightening another land’s new day.”

(James Whitcomb Riley)

 

 

Judy Lipson

More Articles Written by Judy

I am a sister who sadly lost both my sisters. I lost my younger beloved sister Jane died at age 22 in an automobile accident in 1981, and my older beloved sister Margie passed away at age 35 after a 20-year battle with anorexia and bulimia in 1990. I am the sole surviving sibling. As the Founder and Chair of “Celebration of Sisters,” this annual ice skating fundraiser honors and commemorates the lives and memories of my beloved sisters to benefit The John D. Stoeckle Center for Primary Care Innovation at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, MA. The event is scheduled the first Sunday in November as Jane’s birthday was November 6th and Margie’s November 8th. We celebrate all lost siblings, their legacies as they live on in all of us. Since the inception of Celebration of Sisters in 2011, I have embarked on the journey to mourn the losses of my beloved sisters that had been suppressed for 30 years. The process unmistakably the greatest challenging time in my life proved to be the most empowering, enlightening and freeing. Now that I am allowing my sisters and their memories to return to my heart where they truly belong, I am re-discovering myself, happier and more at peace. I share my love of ice-skating as a skating instructor in the learn to skate programs at the Babson Skating School and Bay State Skating School, and as the Volunteer Coordinator for the Therapeutic Skating Program at The Skating Club of Boston. I live in Boston and am the mother of two grown daughters. It is my goal to advocate for sibling loss to insure surviving siblings are neither alone nor forgotten.

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