Saturday, May 23, 2015

Memories of Maureen, my Sister

Losing a sister is like losing an arm or leg. Both are irreplaceable. My sister, Maureen, took her last breath and passed on peacefully to eternal life, surrounded by family in her home, on Saturday, May 16, 2015, due to complications of an aggressive cancer, multiple myeloma.

She was my youngest sister, the baby of the family, and someone I felt I needed to nurture and protect. However, she was a feisty and independent lady with a bit of rebelliousness in her blood. I remember when my mom, worked the night shift in a nursing home, she asked that we play quietly in our rooms while she slept during the day. Maureen often had difficulty playing quietly. It seemed that her play time frequently required noise. I don’t remember her doing anything quietly. Her music, singing, dancing, talking, arguing, and playing were all loud. She may have been the youngest, but she was bound and determined to get attention one way or another. During mom’s sleeping hours, I usually quietly read books or acted out a play with my collection of plastic dolls and stuffed animals. Maureen, on the other hand, was often moving furniture, stomping on the floor or making some disturbance that woke up my mom, who was fast asleep downstairs. I warned Maureen to stop, but she ignored me. Then, we heard the sound of angry footsteps and upstairs my mom would come. Maureen was nowhere to be found. Guess who got punished for her actions? The one time I tried to hide in the closet with Maureen, mom pulled me out, while Maureen ran away. I was once again the innocent party who was punished. As it turned out, we moved from that house and mom eventually stopped working the night shift, and that problem worked itself out. But remembering it makes me chuckle over her cunning behavior.

Maureen got away with a lot that I wasn’t able to and, at the time; I envied her a little for that. She was an attractive young woman. As a teenager, she had long light brown hair, beautiful big brown eyes and a smile that lit up a room. She had a cute figure and a sweet, sassy personality to match that attracted a collection of admirers. However, the rules in our family prohibited us from dating until we graduated from high school, so Maureen would tell mom and dad that she was going out with her girlfriend, Joanne, and secretly meet a young man for a date. She confided in me that the white men she dated took advantage of her and treated her poorly, but that a black man that she had dated had treated her like a queen and she liked being put on a pedestal, rather than being used by men.

At age 15, she did the unthinkable for a white woman growing up in the 60’s in a small Midwestern city – she became secretly engaged to a black man! This was something that was very much frowned upon in those days. The attitude back then was that a white woman had to be desperate to date a black man, which was considered to be something beneath her dignity. At age 19, when she became pregnant with her first child, she was determined to marry him, despite the protests of my parents. Both my mom and I spoke to her about having the baby as a single parent and reassured her that we would help her care for the child, while she remained living at home. We both tried to dissuade her from the marriage because we believed that she was too young to marry and thought her marriage would end in divorce. However, she was insistent on getting married to him and did. They seemed happy together initially, but two children later, her husband, an alcoholic, was physically abusing her.

Following her divorce, she lived in public housing prior to buying her own home and found a job working as a mental health technician for more than twenty years. She loved being a mom and did the best she could to raise her children. Our family always helped her out when she needed it, so she was never without support. However, she often preferred to do things on her own in her own way.

Like my mom, Maureen was very creative and loved knitting, crocheting, cross-stitching, and making stuffed animals.  She made beautiful t-shirts and sweatshirts embellished with angels for Christmas. Like my dad, she enjoyed sports; especially the Chicago baseball and football teams. Maureen also loved animals and adopted a number of stray dogs and cats over the years. She was an avid reader and a born teacher who read to her children, played games with them, and always provided for their needs. They were a typical middle class family and never went without any of the necessities. When I moved away from the area to return to college after working for seven years, Maureen consistently invited me to her home for Christmas dinner, as my parents had moved out of state. She was the best cook I know, next to my mom. She could cook anything and make it taste good.

Maureen and I seemed to be good friends for many years, and then something happened. I don’t know what it was or what I did to upset her, but whatever it was, it must have been a humdinger, because for several years, I wrote, sent gifts, cards, and phoned her (she had no email) but received no response. I even confronted her face to face one time and asked her, but she remained silent. This was unbelievably painful for me. My spiritual director encouraged me to continue writing her, regardless of her lack of response. Then, I did not see her for several years more when I moved out of state.

In 2007, my husband and I drove to our home state and I contacted everyone in my family telling them we were coming. I met with my brother at his home and I had left messages on her home phone. However, when I went to her house, she was not there. Once again, my heart sunk. I had traveled thousands of miles to see her, but she was not there for me. “Why does she hate me?” I asked myself. I could not figure it out for the life of me. I continued to pray for her daily.

Finally we had a breakthrough. She phoned me a couple of times after that. Just when things seemed to be looking up, all communication ceased. Then, I found her on Facebook and requested her friendship. I was ecstatic when she accepted! Initially, we played games together, which I enjoyed a lot, then we had a couple of chats that seemed to go well. One day, I posted a news article about President Obama stating his position on birth control and she commented that I should not post “political” articles like that on Facebook, told me that it depressed her, and then immediately unfriended me. This cut me to the core. I didn’t understand why she just didn’t delete the feed if she did not like the article, rather than unfriend me, as this was now our only line of communication.

Our relationship reverted to the former mode where I called and wrote, leaving messages on her machine, with no return calls. Then during the Christmas season in 2014, I received a surprise gift of popcorn with her return address, but no note. I wrote and thanked her for it.

A couple months ago, I learned through Facebook that Maureen had multiple myeloma. I had heard from family members in 2013 that she had had an operation on a cancerous tumor a day or two prior to the surgery and had prayed for her.  I was tactfully informed that she wanted no phone calls.

Now, the cancer had returned. A day later, I learned that her heart had stopped beating for four minutes and that she had been resuscitated.  I wanted to go see her so badly, but we had neither the money nor the time to do so.  Then, one day, I received a phone message from her daughter, saying, “Mom insisted that I call you. She wants you to know that she’s sorry for what happened between you two.” I contacted her daughter and told her, “Tell your mom that I forgive her and love her.” I cried tears of joy and told my husband, “I have to see her. I may not get another chance.” At this point in time, she was unconscious and had already received Last Rites (which was the answer to prayer, as she had been away from the Church for over 40 years.) She was being kept alive by machines. Nevertheless, I knew that hearing is the last thing to go and that she would still be able to listen to my words. We learned quite unexpectedly that my husband had two days off from work before and after the weekend. Exhausting the last bit of our savings, we made the thirteen hour drive to the hospital.

When I met with Maureen in the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital, she was conscious, but had a breathing tube and was unable to speak. She was hooked up to many tubes and wires and was on dialysis. I held her hand and told her I loved her and we had a beautiful visit, reminiscing on times past as we looked at old photos of the two of us and our family. She smiled, laughed, and squeezed my hand. That was a little over one month ago. Now she has passed onto eternal life, and I pray that she is resting peacefully, enjoying the ecstasy of the beatific vision along with my sister, Mary, my parents, and all the heavenly saints who have preceded her.

~ Copyright Jean M. Heimann May 2015

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