Unfulfilled Promise

Yesterday morning, I sought out a post I wrote on an old blog that remains accessible, but to which I almost never contribute any longer. I do not know exactly why I went looking for that post, but something pushed me to find it. The post, from March 7, 2010, addressed my experience and the accompanying emotions surrounding the March 6 memorial service for my late sister, who died the month before. Reading that post was just as emotional as was writing it. Because I do not feel sufficiently energetic or intellectually capable of writing anything of merit this morning, I am reposting here what I wrote 13+ years ago. The promise I made in the closing paragraphs of that post remain unfulfilled; that is both inexcusable and painful.

Yesterday morning, we held a memorial service for my sister, who died February 19. I say “we,” but my niece is the one who did the lion’s share of the work of organizing it. She did a magnificent job. My niece and my nephew, her brother, were two of the many people who reaped the rewards of being dearly loved by my sister. My niece lives in the same city where my sister lived, so was able to see her often and benefitted from being near her aunt. And she dearly loved her aunt, and the work she put in to arrange the memorial service showed it clearly. While she and her brother were deeply affected by my sister’s death, they were more deeply affected by her life.

My sister was a Catholic, and so is my niece. So it was fitting and right that my niece arranged a service at the Catholic church, though some of my sister’s siblings are like fish out of water in that setting. Despite my atheism, the words and actions of the priest and the religious ceremony of yesterday’s service moved me. The music…Ave Maria, Amazing Grace, and How Great Thou Art were exceptionally moving and, remembering how much my sister loved that music, made me cry. Some other things moved me even more.

My ex-sister-in-law, my niece’s mother, delivered a eulogy that was nothing short of the perfect remembrance of my sister’s life. Despite having split from my brother many years ago, she remained close to my sister and her presence was yet another testament to how my sister affected people.

She spoke of all the thousands of thing my sister did for others, from giving people shelter, to handling income tax preparation for people unable to do (or pay for) their own, to making raggedy-ann dolls for children who desperately needed a bright spot in their otherwise dull and dreary and poverty-ridden lives. She described my sister’s love of her brothers and sister, and her niece and nephews, and she spoke of the things my sister did that were natural to her but invisible to most others who never saw all the good she was doing. The eulogy described my sister as someone who just naturally helped people…it was just “what she did.” One day I will post that eulogy here.

Something else that moved me was the presence at the service of my sister’s doctor, who had been her primary physician for ten years or more. He spoke to several of my siblings about her, describing her as “brilliant” and as someone unlike anyone else he had ever known. He said he could talk to her about things he had never been able to with other patients, personal things outside the doctor-patient relationship. “I don’t know if you realize how much she did for people. She got things done,” he said, “when no one else could,” going on to relate an incident in which he had told her of another financially-strapped patient who needed a motorized wheelchair but apparently did not qualify or could not get through the red-tape of getting one. “She didn’t need to do anything about it, but she did.” He said she got the wheelchair for the guy in a matter of days. “I don’t know how she did it, but she did. She was remarkable.” I had heard my sister talk about her doctor before, describing him as someone who was not in the profession for the money but, instead, for the opportunity to serve. His presence at my sister’s service was a tribute to her, and a tribute to him as well.

Other people who made their way to the memorial service spoke volumes about my sister, too, though the people did not speak. At least three people confined to wheelchairs were there, people my sister had helped in one way or another. I had met one of the people, a man who’s probably in his forties, at my sister’s apartment not too many months before. Since I had seen him, he had undergone a leg amputation. I remember him wheeling in to the room when my sister had opened the door, looking sheepish as my sister dressed him down for failing to get tax documentation to her earlier so she could help him file his return. Yesterday, when I spoke to him, he said “I don’t know what I’m going to do without her.” He meant it; he was lost without the help that my sister regularly gave him just to get by in his daily life.

I don’t know just how I’m going to do it, but I’m going to keep my sister’s legacy alive by doing something to continue her work helping people, particularly people in the apartment building where she lived. The building is for people over age 62 and the mobility-impaired; all residents pay a significant percentage of their income in rent. I want to do something to carry on my sister’s work. I’m not going to replicate it…I won’t even try…but perhaps I can honor her memory by honoring what turned out to be, in a very real way, her life’s work.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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One Response to Unfulfilled Promise

  1. Meg Koziar says:

    Beautiful , John. Thank you for reposting this.

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