Wednesday, January 13, 2016
A Death in the Family - Losing an Older Sister
When Mr. Pete and I give our Pre-Cana talk to young engaged couples, we always give a bit about our own backgrounds. Mr. Pete is the 8th of 9 kids and he gets a big kick out taking a deep breath and rattling off all of their names at breakneck speed - "Irenejoemaryjimjohnhelenritapeterpaul." It usually gets a giggle or a couple of laughs.
Mr. Pete's family is scattered all over the United States, but they remain loving, loyal and connected to each other over the miles and throughout the years.
So it is with great sadness that I write this - we lost the "oldest" of the kids, Irene, Monday night, to pneumonia.
The first time I met Irene I was standing in my then-boyfriend's family kitchen and she and one of her other sisters blew right by me to pick up something at the house before heading off for some kind of errand or adventure. She had undoubtedly seen a stream of young friends, girls and boys, come into that kitchen thousands of times as she watched her eight siblings grow up.
Since Irene was single and her younger high-school-aged siblings were available, she took them on road trips all over the country. Pete and his sisters visited the red woods of California and the Grand Canyon in Arizona - trips that Pete never would have been able to take on his own, and hasn't been able to take since.
As I became more of a fixture around the family, I got to know Irene. An ICU nurse, who thrived on her 3rd shift schedule, Irene cherished spending her private time in her house packed with books and books. Her stairway was more of a bookshelf with an inconvenient path in it for folks to trek up and down single file. She had tons of albums and CD's too with a wide selection from classical to rock and jazz. A lot of her favorite tunes were kind of obscure but spending time with Irene certainly opened the mind to the possibility of artists outside the mainstream. The same was true of movies. Irene and Mr. Pete once traveled all the way down to Detroit to watch an obscure little sci-fi movie, called Star Wars.
For a while, Irene dabbled in photography and I asked her to come to some of my dance performances and take photos, which she did. She also shot engagement pictures when Pete and I got engaged and she eventually took all of my wedding photos.
As the oldest sibling, Irene was an anchor for the extended family. She drove with her dog to visit her siblings all over the country. She was always at the family reunions, and always at important events like birthdays, baptisms and weddings (she even made it to Calvin's wedding last summer), and she was with her mom and her sister at their final moments.
Our daughter's middle name is Irene, after her aunt, as our way of honoring her and keeping her name prominent on the family tree.
I remember that Irene was excited for me when I was pregnant and I remember her gently patting the baby in my tummy at her mom's funeral - excited for new life to come into the world as another beloved life had left it.
When my father died, Irene sent me a sympathy card and wrote, "I know you and your dad had a different kind of relationship, but it's still a loss, and I'm sorry." I was very touched by that.
When Irene suffered complications from a surgery this fall, we made a special effort to see her and encourage her to get well. And now I'm so thankful that we did. Mr. Pete got to spend some quiet time just visiting with his sister, and I had a chance to show my appreciation as well.
There's a big gap in the family now. I know we'll go on, we always do, but it won't be the same ever, and the entire family will grieve for a long time.