For many children, the person in their life that makes them feel safe and loved is their mother. In my world, that wasn’t true. My sister, Joan, was my haven.
She was the only sibling who lived in the same town as my mother and me. Her husband, Lee, worked nights. So I spent many evenings at Joan’s house. Her two daughters, Ann and Sara, became like sisters to me. Lee was the dad I never had.
Joan was obese. I’ve been with her when she broke a chair when she sat down. I’ve helped pull her from the bathtub when she was stuck.
To the world, Joan was a jolly lady. But that laughter covered an inner pain that would not go away. I could sense the anguish in her silent moments. She never shared with me the cause of her torment.
As I think of her, the memories wash over me.
My mother and I did not have television. But Joan did. A small set that showed black and white. We would have “slumber parties” on the floor in front of that little box. Back then, the programs didn’t need a rating system. They were all safe for children to watch. My favorites were “Alfred Hitchcock” and “The Twilight Zone”. My mind worked on the details of those shows for days. Of course we watched the standards too…“I Love Lucy” and “December Bride”.
But not all evenings were spent on the floor. Many times, we gathered around the piano. Joan had a box of sheet music that had been given to her. We sang “Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer”, “Ebb Tide” and “Stardust”. We never made it to the bottom of the box in one evening.
Other times, she would get out the accordion and entertain us. I was fascinated as I watched her fingers fly up and down the buttons and keyboard. How did she get her two hands to do two different things at the same time?
When I married and moved away, Joan became my counselor and mentor.
My husband said he wanted a roast for Sunday dinner. I had never had a roast…didn’t know what it was.
So I called Joan. With her help, I made a pot roast that passed the “husband” test.
Pregnant with my first child, I was excited to tell my mother. The lecture began with “why would you bring another baby into this awful world?” and ended with the tales of enduring hours of extreme pain. I would be sorry I had chosen to give birth.
Crushed, I turned to Joan. Her excitement shone through. She loved babies. My mother’s words disappeared as Joan painted an entirely different picture of pregnancy. She eagerly anticipated the first movements within me. Her face glowed as she talked of holding my child for the first time.
Then came the day she told me a secret. She was pregnant. At her age and weight, this was a life-threatening event.
The first doctor told her she would have to abort the baby if she wanted to survive. So she sought a second opinion…and a third. She had to choose between her life and that of the unborn baby. An impossible decision to make.
A family counsel was held…Lee, Joan, Ann and Sara. They wanted their wife and mother to live. She acquiesced to their wishes. No one else knew why Joan was in the hospital briefly.
Because I knew Joan so well, I knew she was dying inside. Therefore, it was no surprise to me when she told me, “I will not be alive on the day that I should have given birth”.
I believed her. I just didn’t know how she would accomplish it.
The pregnancy had been kept a secret. Even though she lived next door to our mother, Joan’s dilemma was never revealed to her.
One fall morning, my phone rang. My mother’s voice told me Joan had died earlier that morning. Of heart failure. How true that was.
At her funeral, her doctor expressed his condolences to me. But his next words caught me by surprise. “At least she died of natural causes”. And so I knew…he knew…she had not planned to live.
I miss her. I wonder what our relationship would have been like as two grown women. Would I ever have known the cause for her inner pain?
I loved her. She helped make me who I am today.
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