Monday evening as I listened to the banter among my friends and one day after her birthday my baby sister died. We were as I recall just dipping into the deliciousness of Key West politics following a discussion of various flat breads when my phone buzzed silently with an incoming text.
“Wanted to let you all know,” typed Brice, “that mom passed peacefully about 15 min ago. She is now home with God, many loved ones, and finally gets to meet her twin boys that preceded me.”
It wasn’t unexpected. Beth made it clear last week when I visited again in Des Moines what her wishes were. She died as she lived. Fiercely independent, private and strong. I made my way to a front porch rocking chair to take up my job of texting my brothers. There were (how odd it is to write that in past tense) five of us, I the eldest, Beth, then the boys, Mike, Richard and Robert, scattered across the country, yet irrevocably connected as siblings so often can be.
I raised a toast (OK, three) to Beth’s indomitable courage, took a deep breath and went back to the party. For the next couple hours, I drifted happily in the warm wash of a Key West winter evening, the rise and fall of conversation and the sure knowledge that though they did not know my grief of that moment, each of those friends would care.
Later from home I texted to thank them and told them why. This response captured what we can create when we trust our friends: “You have made a wonderful evening even more special. We of course feel sorrow for your loss. But that is only the more reason for us all to value and cherish our friendship, and the kinship which it has engendered. That we (and I mean all of us) have created a community that can provide solace, even unbeknownst, warms my soul. With much love…”
Tuesday morning the phone rang with a 702 area code. I know exactly one person in Las Vegas, my soon-to-be 95-year-old Aunt Dodo, my dad’s sister. She is, by a landslide, the matriarch of the families on all sides. “I saw the post on Facebook about Bethy,” she said, and proceeded to make me laugh and clap my hands as she spent 25 minutes with stories of my dad, my grandparents and her life. “Your dad,” she continued, “told me when Bethy was just a toddler that she was just like me. Stubborn, independent and on her own. I told him, yeah, but she’ll also have a fun and wonderful life.”
Those who follow my columns know I rarely share more than a superficial glimpse into my personal world. That’s intentional, of course. I figure, heck, it’s my business and you’ve got enough of your own without hearing about mine.
Today is an exception. An exception because it’s Christmas. An exception because writing about my baby sister helps with the loss. An exception because I don’t have what it takes at the moment to wax eloquently or otherwise on the topics of which headlines are made. I must admit, I started out writing about last year’s predictions for 2021. They may make a decent column later, but upon review, they depressed me. I didn’t need that.
What I did need, and I suspect you might as well, is a reminder that in the middle of the cacophony that has become the soundtrack of our daily lives, we must intentionally forage for a moment of peace, which when nurtured, can keep us centered. Seven decades of faith inside the Presbyterian Church make that, perhaps, easier for me, though I, too, get caught up in the dissonance. Headlines spark conversations that overwhelm us with fear, that distract us with impossibilities. Something about being human leads us down paths littered with apocalyptic scenarios. It’s as though we wish the worst for ourselves.
Ranger Ed and I rode our bikes home through Old Town after we left the cocoon of our friends. It was quiet. Even with the film of a delicate cloud cover, the full moon turned to glistening white the crypts in the Key West cemetery. Christmas lights twinkled along the side streets. There was peace. Godspeed, my cherished sister.