She carried me when I was tired. She protected me when other kids were picking on me. She introduced me to new experiences and music, from dancing to the Beatles in 1964 in our West Lafayette, Ind., living room to my first Grateful Dead concert in 1968 — where she lifted me to the stage so I could dance with the band — to the music of Keith Jarrett in 1982.
When I entered those tumultuous teenage and young adult years of dating, she listened and counseled and healed my broken heart over and over again, always with decadent humor and blunt practicality that was enveloped in loving, velvety patience.
She frequently reminded me that I am “enough” — just as I am. She taught me that change is messy, and that I will always, ultimately, be OK. For most of my life, being with her was my safe place. And I know she played that role for so many other family members, through her work as a therapist and for those she sponsored in Alcoholics Anonymous. She was sober for 35 years, not a small feat.
It may sound as if I’m describing a mother, and she was, indeed, like a second mother to me. And now my beloved eldest sister Karen, who was only nine years older than me, has left this Earth at the young age of 62.
Even as I’ve been caregiving so intensely for my parents over the past five years, Karen’s health was also deteriorating. I’ve done my best to support her from a distance, visiting her as often as possible and advocating for her when she was in the hospital. Holding her power of attorney for health care, I struggled to keep up with her health needs. Now, as executor of her estate, I will have the final honor of ensuring her wishes are carried out, and I will do my best to support her two daughters for the rest of my life.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit feeling a sense of guilt. Karen needed more support than I could provide, and I was torn between my other caregiving and work responsibilities. That’s one of the most grueling and painful lessons of caregiving. There are only so many hours in the day, and there is only so much of me to go around. But even as I feel that extreme disappointment that I couldn’t do more, I also strive to honor my wise sister by absorbing the lessons she taught me. I know she would assure me that she made her own choices … and that I did “enough.”
This is the fourth holiday season that our our family has struggled with stress, grief and loss. As I continue to care for my father, I will focus on Karen’s last, most meaningful and precious gift to me. In my last email from her, she wrote: “You are a wonderful, miraculous, unique, beautiful, sparkling darling and don’t you ever forget it.”
I’ll do my best to remember and believe, Karen. And I’ll never forget you. We shall meet again one fine day. Love you all the time.
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