Sunday in the Park
July 1, 2011
Together, we agreed to donate to the Haiti relief fund. We have been good stewards of our mother’s money and of her person since we took over as joint trustees three years ago. We overcame a lifetime of being told that the other kid didn’t like us, trust us, maybe even love us, by our ill-suited-to-be-a-mother mother. We had different fathers. And though I never really knew hers, my father served as her stepfather and she adored him. So we shared that.
Last Friday, in a windswept cemetery in the hills of Oregon, I watched my nephews bury their mother. The casket was a mauve metallic color and there were multi-colored helium grocery-store balloons, to write notes on to my sister (as if she would jump off her cloud and read them). The Smurf-blue plush covers over the metal chairs might have been my personal tipping point. But the minister was straight out of Central Casting.
He was old. Old. With a shock of white fly-away hair and slumped shoulders inside an ill-fitting black suit. He was tall and thin and wore dark sunglasses during the entire graveside service. His gnarled, twisted, arthritic hands grabbed at the Bible pages as he explained he never knew Linda, my sister. He said he had spoken with family members and they said she was this and that and that and this. "Now, would anyone else like to speak?"
There was an awkward silence, a lack of movement from the group of 40 family and friends. Her firstborn son spoke up and told of his mother and her love of many things including her stitchery, which would have pleased her. The minister asked again for someone to speak. The second son shook his head. I had no plans to talk. (Hell, I’d only learned of the service less than 18 hours before.) But I inched forward, close to the solo potted plant near the open gravesite, covered in Astroturf, and I spoke about Linda and I being estranged most of our lives. And then being forced together to share the responsibilities of our mother (I left out mother’s nickname, Mean Jean) and how we not only managed to place her in the home for dementia, but we grew so very close this past few years.
Afterwards, at the reception, held in the fire station, I looked around and thought, "Nothing says, ‘Goodbye Linda’ like a big ‘ol sheet cake from Costco," which was what had been provided.
I was glad to see some family members I knew only by name and comforted to meet the group of former nurses my sister had lunch with often. They made me laugh. I knew my sister, a nurse, had some good friends who had been in the trenches with her. Those trenches included a twenty-plus-year addiction to prescription meds, along with lifelong smoking and weight issues. Her time was always going to be shorter than most, but 67 now seems too young an age for someone who was just beginning to understand she could have a voice of her own.
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Her one grandson, whom I’d heard so much about, I’d never met. He was tall and handsome. I introduced myself and the soldier from the 101st Airborne Division, who had served in some of the worst battles in Iran and Afghanistan, burst into tears. And his tears primed my mine. I knew his father and stepmother had thrown him out and Linda had finished raising him and later sent him parcels during his horrific service. And when he returned home, broken, she nursed him back to mental and physical health. He knew I knew all that.
I lost my sister last week. Which is a shame because I only found her a few years ago. She fled to Silverton, Oregon, about the same time I fled to Park City, Utah. And we loved our small-town way of life. We discovered late we had both tried hard to win our mother’s love, who gave it all away to the next guy who showed up to date her. I will miss Linda, miss her throaty laugh fueled by cigarettes, and miss her slightly snarky take on the waiters in any restaurant I took her to. I’m glad I taught her to use an ATM machine, just two years ago. Sad she won’t be here to slug through the Mean Jean detail but grateful she told me stories about years in my life I was too young to know about. I miss Linda already. I miss knowing there was one person on the planet who understood my childhood and loved me anyway.
I spoke to Linda last Sunday, by phone, from here in the Park.
Godspeed, my sister, my friend. Godspeed.
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the foundation that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.