My “Little Sister”

Posted: November 19, 2013 in Uncategorized
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I grew up the youngest of three on Ohio’s North Coast, the Cleveland area to be exact. Even though our ages seemed to be far apart, I was quite close with my two older sisters. Still, the fact was they both pretty much left home by the time I was 13. When I was in adolescence, I was basically an only child in some respects. Having a small group of friends through junior high and high school helped, but at home, it was pretty much becoming an empty nest in a lot of ways for my parents. As I was going through public school heading towards college, Dad was working overtime to pay for both girls’ higher education and even Mom went to work part-time. By the time I was 13, I was already three years into being somewhat of a latchkey kid. Do not get me wrong-it was probably a good thing for me.

There are times I thought it would have been great to have a younger sibling. Of course the reality of that idea was preposterous – even well over 30 years ago. What came closest to having a little brother or sister was the only first cousin who was younger than me in the entire extended family, Cousin Stacy, who was four years younger. Even though we were one school district over — and high school rivalries to boot – we saw one another maybe a dozen times at best throughout any given year. Personal life routines getting in the way seemed to keep those “get-togethers'” numbers low, but quite special.

I saw Stacy at plenty of birthday parties either for one of us or for someone else. We saw each other at weddings and bar mitzvahs including my own. What I recall most was when Stacy and I would be at our grandparents’ house for the high holidays, Thanksgiving or Passover. Our mothers’ father and mother were from Russia and Poland respectively. With their complicated backgrounds, they weren’t exactly religious, so the food served at the high holidays, Thanksgiving and Passover were identical. If one only looked at the cuisine at these events, one could never tell those occasions apart. From mushroom barley or chicken soup, farfel, turkey to the myriad of desserts like kugel, Grandma cooked and baked up a feast and served a number of us in one of her apartment’s bedrooms. The living room was way too small to handle the crowd. Grandma did it all including the serving. Papa did not eat with us most of the time. He was fed beforehand, all alone in the living room watching re-runs of Hogan’s Heroes.

As kids, things of course became a bit boring for us at Grandma and Papa’s apartment. This was all way before handheld electronic devices, laptop computers or smartphones. Certainly there was color television with about six channels, but Stacy and I had much more. We had imagination in the form of coloring, drawing and more importantly, writing scripts. In one such skit, I played Reverend Ernest Angley to “heal” any character that Stacy desired to play. In another skit, I would put two TV trays together and put on a Saturday Night Live “Weekend Update” takeoff  for us to perform. Most of the time, Papa was our audience since everyone was typically in the bedroom talking long after Grandma’s feast was consumed. Apart from the family feasts, my mother had me stay over at Grandma and PaPa’s apartment. On one such weekend, we made a few Super 8mm films since that was my hobby at the time. Stacy was a good sport and joyfully played along.

Grandma, Papa and Stacy’s mom Rita were incredibly close with Stacy. Stacy was an only child. Her parents split during her early adolescence. Additionally, Stacy lived close to her grandparents, which made it even easier for the four of them to be a tight-knit unit for so many years. Despite all of the family dynamics, Stacy and I kept in touch as we grew up through high school and college. I moved away nearly 25 years ago for work in the Atlanta area and now have a wonderful teen daughter of my own. Stacy went to school, got married and had two boys.

Time passed and we lost PaPa and Grandma within these past 13 years. On all of my visits to the Cleveland area, I did my best to see Stacy, her husband Frank and their boys. My only regret is that I wish I got to spend even more time with them. Stacy passed away from cancer this past Saturday, November 16 at the age of 42. Oh my, it’s so hard to type those words. I should not have had to type those words, but I did and it’s tragic and it’s so wrong on so many levels. I’m certain that in millions of different situations, similar words have been typed-it’s just that the names, dates, places etc. have been changed to suit that particular tragic story.

Too often we hear the statistics about how certain cancers take so many thousands of lives each year, but in those moments, we never have the time to hear each victims’ stories. All I can do at this moment is share this story in this space, not only as therapy for me and those who knew Stacy, but hoping that others will at least read this post and understand that he or she is not alone.

Stacy fought an incredibly tough battle and it would be so wrong to say that she lost. My mother, one of Stacy’s aunts, was speaking with me the other night. We agreed that Stacy did so much in the time that she was here-going from one activity to the next and doting on her sons and husband. No, Stacy won. I cannot say that she ever lost. My mother added that she saw Stacy the night before she passed and told her that Grandma is waiting to feed her some chicken soup. After conjuring up that visual later in the night, I broke down.

I’ll never know if I was somewhat of a big brother to Stacy, but I will say that after all these years that Stacy was essentially my younger sister. As of this writing, I am experiencing a profound sense of loss, but I cannot imagine how those who have been so close to Stacy all of these years feel. All I can write here is that I am so sad and so sorry.

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