A goodbye, 36 years late
I’ve been thinking about writing a blog about this topic for quite some time, but wasn’t sure what I wanted to say… but I realized it doesn’t really matter what I say – just that I share one of the most impactful moments of my life – one that helped to shape me to the person I’ve become. This is not real estate related, and not Monroe NY related. This is Kat related.
When I was a young girl and had just turned 15, my best friends were my two sisters. We had other friends of course, people who we hung out with and enjoyed. But the people we lived with, the people we complained with and laughed with, were our siblings. My sisters were my buds.
I’m going to focus this specific blog on my sister Maureen, who was 13 months younger than I was. The event I am describing took place in October of 1975. I turned 15 the month before. Maureen’s birthday was in November, when she was going to turn 14.
During the few years leading up to this time, Maureen and I had formed a very special bond. We giggled at the same jokes, and shared stories about boys. Maureen was a very popular girl, and she was friends with all the “in” kids. I was an introverted, shy and studious teen. I had some very close friends, and could get along with anyone, but I definitely was not outgoing. Maureen was. So by including me in her activities, I was slowly becoming a little more extroverted, and making a few more friends. Maureen and I laughed a lot. We’d have foot fights, and then laugh. I remember we’d watch TV together, and laugh. We’d share stories with each other and then laugh. I don’t remember seeing her without a smile plastered to her face.
One day in the middle of October 1975, Maureen and I both got sick. We had contracted measles, and Maureen zipped though her illness and started to feel better, and I on the other hand, became very ill. I had a fever so high that I had hallucinations about little men with pointy teeth and sharp knives who were surrounding my bed and cackling evilly. I screamed for my mom, who came into my room and had a hard time convincing me that there were no evil men in my room.
After many days, I finally started to improve, and Maureen was very happy to see me get better. One day during my convalescence, I was wandering around my home and thinking about getting back to school, when my mom burst into the house with my sister Maureen. Maureen ran down the hall and packed a bag and came back into the foyer where my mom was trying to explain something to me.
It seemed my sister had been falling asleep while talking, with her eyes open. And falling asleep with your eyes open is not normal, and is a sign of potentially horrible things. My mom continued, explaining that my sister needed to go to the hospital so some tests could be run. As Maureen left the house, I hugged her and smiled, and I said, “I hope you get better.” And she grinned back, and said, “Me too.” And I watched her walk to the car, get in, and drive away.
My words would later haunt me. For a long time I wondered why I didn’t say “I hope you get better soon.” Instead, I just said, “I hope you get better.”
It was Thursday, October 16, 1975. I never saw Maureen alive again.
Maureen was admitted into the hospital, where she was diagnosed with measles encephalitis. Doctors still don’t know exactly what causes encephalitis but it can be severe, and can be caused by measles, the flu, or other common infections. It is a rare event when the body overacts to the infection, and the body attacks its own brain and nerve cells.
Over the weekend, Maureen’s body shut down. She couldn’t breathe on her own, so a respirator was put into use. She couldn’t keep her body temperature up, so a special blanket was placed on her. Because we were teens and she was in intensive care, we were not allowed to see her, so we got bits and pieces of information from our parents.
On Monday and Tuesday my sister Coleen and I went to school as my parents were trying to keep everything as close to normal as possible for us. Sometime in the morning on that second day, I started to hear horrible news about my sister, and shortly thereafter, I was called to the principal’s office, where I was told that on Tuesday, October 21, 1975, my sister had passed away.
I didn’t really accept the news and spent the next few months in a haze of denial. Sure, I went to the funeral; I can remember it to this day. A crowded church with standing room only, of Maureen’s friends and acquaintances. I remember holding my father’s hand. Then I remember my mom crying. I was there. And I remember.
But I did not accept it immediately. For months afterwards, I kept waiting for Maureen to come bounding through the door, with a grin huge on her face, saying something energetic and exciting. I knew in my mind this wasn’t going to happen. But somehow in my teenage heart, I thought perhaps it was somewhere on the edge of possibility.
Until one day when the truth just sank in. She wasn’t coming home. I wasn’t going to see her again. We weren’t going to ever laugh or giggle together. I cried, I screamed, I dealt with the horror of it all. I missed her. There was a huge hole where she had been.
I have visited her gravestone on occasion. Still to this day, feel a sadness and sorrow for a life that was cut off so young. Her death taught me that life is not guaranteed. If an innocent child can be taken at such a young age, certainly we can too. At any time. Any day. And at any moment. This taught me to embrace the life I do have; to make decisions that are in the best interest of me and my family and are not necessarily the popular thing to do. We all only have one life to live, and it’s this one we’re living right now. We owe it to ourselves to live it to our best ability; to learn and to grow and to most of all, do it with a smile and a grin and to ENJOY.
The other thing I realized is I never had a chance to say goodbye to Maureen. My sister was taken to the hospital, and I never saw her again. So here, on a computer screen, 36 years later, I can officially say Goodbye “for now” to my sister Maureen. I can say that I loved the time we spent together; that while she was alive, she helped me in ways she never knew, and her death shaped the direction of many of my life decisions. I can also say that I will continue to live my life to the fullest and to laugh a lot, so I have lots of stories to share when I see her again. And while I miss her, I do understand why she had to leave; it’s as her gravestone states clearly, “God needed a smile.”
Goodbye Maureen, until we meet again.