My sister Linda, a year and a half older than I, died on Oct. 13, from Lewy body dementia. My post this week is my eulogy to her, dedicated to her memory.
|Linda Rose Stephens, 1943-2017|
Linda had our parents to herself for a year and a half, but I know, by extrapolation from the person she was in later years, that she was not jealous and angry when I arrived but generous and loving. I adored my older sister. We played dress-up together, had a wedding for Raggedy Ann and Andy, explored the woods like little elves, climbed the mimosa tree like monkeys. Dad's nickname for Linda was Monkey. When Linda went to first grade, I moped so much that Mom and Dad put me in kindergarten, but Linda shared school with me. She taught me to read. For twelve years I followed her through school. At the beginning of every school year, teachers would say to me, "Are you as smart as your sister?"
When Linda was a senior in high school, she wrote in my yearbook, "You have been my roommate for so many years it will be hard to break a new one in." We angled the heads of our beds in a corner so we could whisper late into the night, commiserating about the girls who snubbed us and mooning over the boys we loved. Linda handed down her clothes to me. We participated in church youth activities together, played in band together (Linda on clarinet, I on drums), were in the same Girl Scout troop, camping and canoeing and doing good deeds. Linda learned to sew through Girl Scouts and was a fine seamstress. It was through Girl Scouts that she learned about occupational therapy and decided to make that her career.
The summer before Linda's sophomore year in college, a man in our youth group at church asked me if Linda could cook. She couldn't, but he married her, anyway. Consequently, maybe, the marriage didn't last, and Linda moved back to Atlanta to raise her two boys and create a sparkling career. I have always had the greatest respect for her for doing both things so well.
I knew Linda as a sister and a friend, but not very well as an OT. I remember when she got her Masters degree, and I was vaguely aware of her leadership in the Georgia Occupational Therapy Association. Linda was never very good at blowing her own horn, and I understood how good an OT she was only when I witnessed her at work. I was so impressed with the way she handled the kids and, especially, with how much both the kids and their parents loved Linda. They thought the world of her.
Linda's happiest adult years were those with Bruce. She relaxed with him. The sharp edges blunted. She enjoyed life's pleasures. I am grateful to Bruce for providing that for her.
The last years were a painful degeneration.
|My siblings at my new house, 2010 (L-R: Sharon, Laura, Lee, Linda)|
It broke my heart to find her less and less cogent each time I visited her, all that intelligence and sweetness rotting away by her disease. I felt so far away and useless at my home in Oregon. I sent her cards twice a week until, last spring, even those became useless. All I had left was thoughts and sorrow.
|The sisters at the first nursing facility Linda was in, 2014 (L-R: Diana, Linda, Sharon, Laura)|
I am inexpressibly sad to have lost my sister. There is a hole in our midst when the siblings get together. It is hard to think of us as four instead of five. I know now the truth of something I said in an essay many years ago, about seeing a V of geese flying south: "Flying exactly, symmetrically in its place among the seven dark gray silhouettes, but barely distinguishable against the pearl-grey clouds, was an albino goose. Keeping up wingbeat for wingbeat in the rhythmic pulse of flight, it was like a negative of its neighbors, like a placeholder. It must be like that to have a beloved companion die: an emptiness in the shape of that person where that person had once always been."
There will always that emptiness now in the place where Linda had once always been. She is that albino goose in the flock of our siblings.
|2012. L-R: Diana, Lee, Linda, Laura, Sharon|
I am going to miss my older sister.
|2009 (I am in front, Linda behind me)|