I recently got back from California after visiting my big sister Alice. Originally we had planned for Alice to come out to Wisconsin this spring, but then COVID hit and her health started going downhill. (She has been living with cancer for years.) So we decided that I would go out to see her instead, and we planned for the first week of July. But Alice called a couple weeks ago to tell me she didn’t think she’d make it to July, so I flew out the next day (June 17th) and stayed for a week.
I am so glad I did. I got to meet Alice’s friends (some of whom I had only heard about in emails and phone calls); Alice and I talked about our past and present and sang songs together with a guitar; and we had breakfasts of bacon, Dove Bar ice cream, and berries in whipped cream (not exactly healthy, I know, but Alice and I decided not to worry about diet during her last days).
Garrison Keillor once said: “People say such nice things at your funeral that it’s a shame to realize you’ll miss it by just a few days.” Well, Alice didn’t miss hers! We had a special celebration of her life with close friends (while she was still there to appreciate it), and afterwards, through visits and phone calls, Alice was able to connect with everyone who had ever been important in her life and say good-by. The week was wonderfully exhausting–and we decided that this time with friends and family was Alice’s actual memorial service (though family members will still take time to remember her at our next family reunion too).
Some of the things I will remember about my sister: Alice played a very nurturing role in my life when I was growing up. Being 7 years older than me, she was saddled with a lot of baby-sitting duty, but she did it with creativity, joy, and love. I remember art projects Alice did with my sister Arlene and me; her stories about the Easter Bunny dropping by our house when we were asleep (and leaving us gifts!); and her making dishwashing into a contest–with the prize being a few of her highly prized “holy cards.”
When I was 12 years old, Alice left to become a nun, but we still got to visit her once a month and always looked forward to seeing her. (Once there was a large picnic at her convent for the families of all the nuns who lived there. There was a P. A. system set up to page missing people, and since Alice’s “nun name” was “Sister Frances Cabrini,” Arlene and I would always ask the announcer to page “Sister Frances Bikini”–knowing the announcers would have a hard time saying that with a straight face. And, in fact, they usually pronounced it “Bookini” so it wouldn’t sound risque. Alice always laughed good-naturedly when she heard her name mangled.)
Alice spent 28 years as a nun, doing some great ministry (including in prisons, and occasionally at a UU church!). But eventually she left the convent to devote herself to her art and eventually married Robert, her husband of 15 (happy) years. Before Alice died, she told me she was looking forward to dancing with Robert–him in a tux and her in a white gown–among the stars. Alice said she hoped it would be to the song “Strangers in the Night” (since that’s how she and Robert met). Although I don’t share the same afterlife beliefs Alice had, I will keep that image in mind when I think of her. She will be my own combination of “The Flying Nun” and “Alice in Wonderland”–and whether I see her in some afterlife or not, I know I already have her in my heart and mind, not just now but in days to come. And for that– I am very grateful.
peace and unrest,