Happy Birthday, Carolyn


Today would have been my sister’s 39th birthday had she stuck around long enough here on earth. Unfortunately, when she was 18 years, 8 months and 23 days old she went through a windshield of a car and ended up on the other side of eternity. But you know what? I think that is exactly what she would have wanted her ending here to be like.  She left this earthly life just as she lived it: a white-hot shooting star trailing spit-fire and sparks, hell bent on rocking the boat, challenging the status quo, and never ever taking the easy, quiet path.

I was just 20 months younger than her and we grew up sharing bath time (that’s me on the right – I sure was cute, wasn’t I?), bedrooms, toys, clothes, fights, and friends. As we got older, we continued to share our bedroom, clothes, fights, and friends, but upped the ante with cars, lockers at school, and jobs. When she died the Saturday before my senior year began…it was like losing a limb. I was exactly two months shy of turning 17 and I hardly knew how to function. Living without her constant, daily big-sister presence in my life was like trying to learn how to walk again.

She was quite the big sister to have and perfectly suited for the role. (That’s me and her in the picture above on Christmas morning 1977 when we were living on Guam.) There was something magical about her; everyone that met her adored her. She had a special tenderness for the elderly and was a fierce protector of the disabled. When she was angry, the gold flecks in her crystalline blue eyes would deepen to a dark amber. When she was happy, it was like basking in the warmth of a full sun in the spring.

Speaking of the spring, whenever the snows there on the mountains in Utah Valley would finally start to melt, we would forge a note from our mom (sorry Mom) and skip school (sorry again Mom) so we could head for the foot hills.  (That’s her at her high school graduation, exactly three months before she died in the car accident. If I could just pan to the left a bit in the photo, I could actually point out the spot on the mountain where we spent much of our school-skipping time). Finding our favorite secluded spot, we would shed our winter clothes for the swim suits underneath and climb up on the hood of the car and soak in the newness of the season. Those were good times. Good times indeed.

She had an impish grin, cavernous dimples and a quick-silver temperament. Above all though, she loved each and every one of her siblings – all eleven of us – with a fierce loyalty that I have yet to ever find equaled in another person (that’s her above with Elly, baby #8).  She was always our protector and our champion. It wasn’t our big brothers who came to the rescue when the neighborhood bully would start picking on us – it was her. It was always her. Scrappy and bird-thin as she was, she always kicked the dog-snot out of anyone giving her siblings grief.

She was the third of twelve children that came in quick succession and the oldest daughter. Watching out for us was a full-time gig.   (That’s her and Angelyn, baby #9.  My mom was raised Catholic and then joined the LDS church. There was never any hope that our family would be small.)  Aside from keeping us from getting beat up by the meanies in the neighborhood, her chief role was to entertain and instigate.  While I was the quiet, studious, obedient daughter, she was the one who was always finding new ways to make us laugh and more elaborate plans to get us into trouble with the parents.  While I was the voice of caution and prudence, hers was the voice urging us to throw off the bow-lines and explore uncharted territory.

She was magnificent.

So today, I wish my big sister a happy birthday, where ever she might be.

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3 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Carolyn

    • Mary –

      Thanks so much. The Adopted Feminist describes this kind of grief so well when she characterizes it as being “… not a season but a thread, a bass note in the structure of our lives and part of healing is coming to terms with that, of building something positive out of that grief and sadness, but also just living with it….Grief is part of the kaleidoscope of who I am, I wouldn’t be myself without it.”

      Thanks for the hugs –

      M.

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