St Paul’s Episcopal Church, Wilmington, NC, February 3, 2018
My sister Alice and I grew up in public housing in Brooklyn, New York in the 60’s. I share these words with you today so you can understand Alice’s beginnings and how she became the beloved woman, sister, mother, and friend to all, despite an arduous and difficult path. Alice’s very beginning of life was wrought with challenges when my mother became so mentally ill that her newborn’s life was in danger. I was thrilled to meet my brand new red headed sister, but, she was taken away to live with our aunt in Long Island for the first year of her life and we have remained eternally grateful to Aunt Agnes for saving Alice.
As struggling survivors in a sea of mental illness we shared an impenetrable bond all of our lives. In many ways, I was her protector but in all ways we offered each other whatever was needed for survival. We understood. We knew the secrets, the damage, and held onto the love of our father and grandmother. As years passed, we also came to find humor in the not-so-funny times that as we aged became hilarious to us. So Alice and I would lie in her bed sometimes just roaring laughing at the crazy memories we had. We also held hands in that bed and wept.
Alice became a nurse, which was the perfect field for her where she could offer her compassionate care to all she met. She went onto meet Roman whom she married and had a wonderful life on Long Island with her precious daughters Katie and Maddie. She would bring the girls out to visit us and our kids would play at the beach all day. It was an idyllic time in all ways despite our mother’s relentless rages.
When Roman died ten years ago it was a shock to Alice and their daughters. In Alice’s typical fashion, she promised me on a Friday that she felt she should stay put in their Wake Forest home for year or so until the dust had settled but on Monday she called me to say she’d just bought a home in Wilmington and was moving! I dreaded the two-hour distance between us.
However, it was likely one of the best decisions Alice would ever make. Her daughters were also in Wilmington at this point and Alice began creating a life for herself in which she thrived. She began dating and making friends and suffice to say that ten years later she has more devoted and loving friends than I could have ever imagined. Alice’s love for her two strong daughters is nearly indescribable and it breaks all limits of pride, hope, and adoration.
Alice was diagnosed the day after Christmas 2012. When she called I vowed to be with her every step of the way, but the last five years of Alice’s journey are truly inspirational. She never faltered but forged on from one treatment to another, the next plan, and always with her eye on where the next fun time with her friends and family might be. The beach called her whenever there was a ray of sun and this was truly her happy place toes in the sand, a good book and a friend or daughter.
Alice loved lying out on the couch on her back patio under the covers where we were never lost for words and continued to try and solve the mysteries of our past and all current dilemmas. Her patio was bliss and her yard was beautiful. The red cardinal that visited her in these last few months seemed to be on a mission and she relished in his visits. I am so grateful we got to spend Christmas Eve together.
But mostly Alice loved to dance more than anything and even when she was wheelchair bound for a time, she managed to go to Bluewater with her friends to “dance.” She even went on a cruise THIS past November, with her dear friend and had a great time. And always her airbnb business thrived, as Katie and I would marvel, “How can a woman dragging an IV pole meet her guests at the door and get 5 star ratings?” They all loved staying with Alice and her beloved dogs and Alice was proud of her life as an entrepreneur as well.
Katie took good care of Alice as she lived nearby and their love and laughter was endless. They always “got” each other. Alice’s independence was key and typically NONE of us was allowed to drive since she had to be at the wheel. In the hospital three weeks ago, the hardest news for Alice was “no more driving” and “no more living alone.” Maddie arrived from NYC and moved in with Alice and me and cared for her mother with the most devoted, tender loving care I have yet to witness, including sleeping with Alice, and following all Hospice directives.
It may seem odd to you to hear us say, we were shocked when Alice became so ill on Thursday morning and was gone by evening but we are. Supposedly she had a month or so left on the meter and wanted to visit funeral homes, choose urns, etc with us. We did do some of that and even then we had laughs over all of it. The directors would ask “who is this for?” because Alice looked so good. Her time ended abruptly and we have that empty feeling that will likely remain with us.
I don’t know what I will do without being able to call my sister every morning on my way to the office and every evening on my way home. I don’t know who will care as much about my sons as their dad and I do. I don’t know who I will argue with, plot with, cry or laugh hysterically with. I do know that it took me a long time to realize that all this time, my baby sister has had it more together than I do, with her positive, loving attitude that accepts all in every way and puts kindness and tolerance ahead of all judgments. Quoting from the song “I Want You to Stay,” “Funny you’re the broken one but I’m the only one who needed saving, ‘cause when you never see the light, it’s hard to know which one of us is caving.”
I have truly borne witness to Christ’s love through my sister. I am here as needed or desired for Katie and Maddie as our hearts break. As for her friends – you were her life’s blood in every possible way. YOU gave her the life she’d craved and dreamed of and I am deeply sorry for you to lose her.
When I leaned over to kiss my sister as she lay dying in Hospice Care Center I will share with you what I said to her. “Alice, I have loved you from the moment I first laid eyes on you, my baby sister and I have never stopped loving you for every moment you have been on earth, nor will I stop loving you until I join you on the other side and all begins anew. God bless you and keep you my dearest sister.”