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Beth Grist

Key West Christmas | Find your moment of peace amid the cacophony

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

12/21/2021

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.

Beth Grist
My favorite picture of my fierce sister Beth. Circa 1955 at Holden Beach, NC. She was mad, really mad, that we had to leave that day.

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.

Grist sisters at Christmas
Beth, our mother Donna and Linda. Christmas circa 1952.

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.

30 Comments

  1. Nancy Snidow Magiera

    I was saddened to hear of Beth’s passing. As you recounted, she was fiercely independent and stoic but she was also deeply sensitive and compassionate, for others just as much as for herself. And she had that beautiful smile – always.

    Reply
    • Linda Grist Cunningham

      Thank you, Nancy. I love hearing from Beth’s friends who remember that smile.

      Reply
  2. Gina Nordyke

    Love your writing. Thank you for a personal glimpse of being human….Peace

    Reply
    • Linda Grist Cunningham

      What a wonderful thing to hear. Thank you, Gina.

      Reply
  3. Scott Arnold

    Ok, you got me on this one. Peace

    Reply
  4. Fleur Wright

    I am so sad for you today. Losing a sister is tough and I am sorry for you. When my big sister died several years ago, her death created a hole in the family, a big unfilled hole. I reacted by trying to fill the void for my nephews who really loved their mother. I hope I have become a better aunt for them. A better listener when they want to share remembrances of their mother. And always an example for them now that they have lost that older person in their lives whom they cherished.

    Reply
    • Linda Grist Cunningham

      What wonderful advice, my friend. That is my role with a gaggle of young family. I love that they trust they can turn to me as needed — and I really love that they think of me as the crazy aunt.

      Reply
  5. Bob Lohr

    Prayers and Peace Linda. I lost Jan in 2006 to suicide. Life just rolls on, but my Jesus inside calming the topsy turvy storms of life. 🙏

    Reply
    • Linda Grist Cunningham

      Thank you, Bob. The peace that passes all understanding is a wonderful gift.

      Reply
      • Willie Charles

        I am sorry for your loss. Linda find comfort and peace in the wonderful memories that you shared with Beth.

        Reply
  6. Joyce Cicero

    I am so very sorry for the loss of your dear sister. Sisters are the best! Many hugs to you dear friend..

    Reply
    • Linda Grist Cunningham

      Thank you, Joyce. I can feel your hug.

      Reply
      • Susan Brown Lohin

        So sorry Linda. I still think of Kakie every day. So want to pick up the phone and call her. And now, still coping with the loss of my husband. Will be happy to close the door on 2021.

        Reply
        • Linda Grist Cunningham

          Susan, you more than anyone knows the price for great love is the great grief you walk with right now. I cannot even imagine words that could lift it for you. May you know that I am here for you in spirit and shared hurt. While this will not pass, eventually it will change and there will be light again.

          Reply
  7. Leslie Flowers

    Such a beautiful article and tribute to your sister, Linda. I hope your fond memories of her and the love of family and friends will provide you comfort. Sending you a big hug.

    Reply
    • Linda Grist Cunningham

      The memories, Leslie, even the ones of our family-legend headbutting, are wonderful. Thank you for being there for me.

      Reply
  8. Jane Sutherland Sarver

    So sorry to hear about Beth. My sincere condolences.

    Reply
    • Linda Grist Cunningham

      Thank you, Janie.

      Reply
  9. Ted Power

    Linda — how sorry I am, but your words console us. May they console you as well.

    Reply
    • Linda Grist Cunningham

      As well you know, writers gotta write. It’s how we process. 🙂

      Reply
  10. Karen Powell Dodd

    Dear Linda, so very sorry to hear of Beth’s passing. Please know you and the Grist family are in my thoughts and prayers as you celebrate the life of your sister ! It has been years since I saw Beth or Mike but they were such a part of my youth — seems like only yesterday❣️

    Reply
    • Linda Grist Cunningham

      Thank you, Karen. It is wonderful to reconnect with so many of Beth’s friends. She would be grateful.

      Reply
  11. Kathy Lambert

    Linda,
    I’m sorry to hear of Beth’s passing. We were so hoping she’d come to one of our PHS class reunions. I will pass your article onto our class Facebook group.

    Reply
    • Linda Grist Cunningham

      I always wished she would, too, Kathy. Thank you for sharing it.

      Reply
  12. Susie Trost

    Oh Linda, I am so sorry. I can’t imagine losing any of my three siblings. But you wrote a lovely tribute about Beth. You are spot on about the importance of searching for those opportunities for peace. Thank you always for your wise words, for they give me much comfort.❤️

    Reply
    • Linda Grist Cunningham

      Thank you, Susie. I must admit I am a bit gobsmacked (as one of my BFFs would say) about the depth and quality of sibling grief. Much different from other losses, even my parents.

      Reply
  13. Kris Machajewski

    Beautifully written, Linda. I lost my dad last December, and your article just reminded me to cherish this holiday, instead of just trying to get through it. My condolences, my friend, and my you and Ed have a peaceful Christmas.

    Reply
    • Linda Grist Cunningham

      Oh, Kris, thank you. I’ve chosen to celebrate and cherish because otherwise, as you say, the holidays will become “just trying to get through it.” May you, too, find that peace.

      Reply
  14. Denise Holman

    What a beautiful tribute to your sister, Linda. Peace be with you, your brothers, and all your family. Warmest holiday wishes.

    Reply
    • Linda Grist Cunningham

      Thank you, Denise. I am grateful for friends, like you, in my life.

      Reply

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Linda Grist Cunningham

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

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