#America · #friends · Family History · Fashion · Kindness · Sewing

Missing My Sister, My Heart Hurts

As a few of my readers know, my older sister passed away last month, due to COVID. She and her husband were immunized, so when she first got sick, she thought it was the flu. When they tested positive, they were told to go home and quarantine, which they did. When she called her physician a few days later, she was rushed to the hospital, was in ICU as soon as they could get a bed there, and passed on to the next life a day later. Someone said, “at least she didn’t suffer.” I think she did suffer, but she suffered quickly.

The funeral was as positive an experience as one can be, a true “celebration of life.” My husband and I were the only representatives from my side of the family, in an effort to reduce the germ-risk. There was beautiful music, a great homily by the associate pastor of Janice’s church, who obviously knew and loved my sister. He said she always told him, “You’ve just got to learn to be flexible!” What a statement for the past year and a half.

There were about 40 people there, self-distancing, wearing masks as the funeral home required. There were church friends, quilting and educator friends, and the first speaker was from Janice’s Pilot Club, who read statements from many of their members. I gave my first eulogy, as I wanted Janice’s friends and family who knew her as an adult, to know what she was like as a young person, and as a sister and an aunt. It is as follows….

Memories of Janice

Someone said to me the other day that it was amazing how my sister, who had never had children herself, enjoyed being around a whole bunch of kids, no matter how rowdy they were.  Janice was always around children, being a teacher, and in a sense, being a mother too.

When Janice was 15, she was the only girl in a family with two younger brothers, and she was the apple of our daddy’s eye.  Every night, Daddy would sing “Irene, Goodnight,” before bed—and Dad was the only one allowed to call her by that middle name, which was also our grandmother’s.  By the time she was 16, Janice was busy helping mom with her baby sister, me.  She never complained about having to share a room with a preschooler, although I’m sure it was trying at times.  I remember Janice studying on the front porch while spelling words for me to write in chalk, or sometimes with just a rock, on the sidewalk.

Janice was a tall, pretty teenager, conservative but very stylish in the days of miniskirts and the first supermodels.  She wore her hair in a blonde flip and painted her fingernails (and mine!) in frosted peach polish.  She made many of her own clothes, but soon supplemented that with her employees’ discount while working at a boutique, the JoAnn Shop in Marietta. She was one of the most popular salesgirls at JoAnn’s while working there through high school, college and while practice-teaching.  But even with her reputation for fashion, she didn’t mind having matching red, white and blue swimsuits with her little sister!

Janice served her entire career at LaBelle Elementary in southern Cobb County, suburban Marietta.  She was Teacher of the Year several times.  Sometimes part of her job involved abused children—we didn’t know the details, of course, but Mama and I knew how she grieved, and wanted to help those children.   Janice mentored young teachers and supervised student teachers.  She participated in textbook committees, Alpha Delta Kappa teacher’s sorority and eventually, Retired Teachers Association.  After moving to Monroe, Janice tutored students in the afternoons and substituted occasionally.

One of Janice’s greatest regrets was not having children herself.  But instead of being bitter about it, she babysat her best friend’s daughter, who called her “Aunt Jan.”  She helped Mama with my clothes, making me look more like a child of the 70’s than the 50’s.  When my first daughter was born, Aunt Jan was our first visitor.  She doted on my daughters Sarah and Lucy, and often made them matching outfits, as well as spoiling them with too many toys.  Both of our daughters still talk about going swimming at Aunt Jan and Uncle Bobby’s pool in Marietta.

Christmas Dinner at Janice’s was magical too—the entire house was decorated, tons of food, noisy toy drums and Bulldogs playing the fight song and she made sure everyone had a red sweater.  At my daughter Sarah’s wedding reception, Janice, Odell’s daughter Daphne and I enjoyed dancing together like a bunch of sorority sisters.  Just back in July, we had a mini family reunion at Chick-Fil-A, and Janice got to hold her new grand-niece.

Janice was happily married to Bobby for many years, but we were all happy to see her so happy with Odell.  She became “Mama Jan” to his adult children and “Gigi” to the grandkids, and she thoroughly enjoyed every minute.  She got the big happy family she’d always wanted.

Janice was busy, active, and gave of herself to many causes, to Pilot club, which we’ve just heard about, to quilting groups and church.  We’ve seen so many messages saying “She was my favorite teacher, my babysitter, a wonderful neighbor, my good friend for a long time, we worked together on…”so many different groups.  It was a whole lot of good, comforting words.  Thank you.

Janice enjoyed wearing bright colors, especially red and pink, and tried to meet every day with a smile.  She liked to always wear a scarf and never forgot earrings or lipstick.   Sometimes I teased her about being “sparkly.” She always complimented new hairdo’s and good efforts, always a teacher in some ways. In memory of my sister, I’m going to wear more bright colors.  I’ll wear red and pink for Janice–She could really light up a room, and she wants us all to be happy. 

The night before she passed, Janice said she was tired and ready to go be with Jesus.  We weren’t ready, and we will miss her.  But as Billy Graham said, “Once they get there, they don’t want to come back.”  Heaven’s got a little bit more sparkle, our sister Janice.

On Thursday, September 30, Laura Boggs wrote in the Atlanta Journal/Constitution, p. A13, ”’You do you’ time is over; get the shot”. I recommend looking up this article online, and reading it. During a world-wide health crisis, we need to think about doing the right thing for others, even if it cramps our individual liberty. I don’t like masks, but I wear them inside buildings, and on airplanes, even though I’m immunized. I wear them for the vulnerable, for children, who can’t be vaccinated yet, for people like my sister who, though vaccinated, have weaker immune systems. I wear masks for the medical community, who are trying to fight COVID before it mutates again. I will be first in line to schedule my booster shot when it becomes available for my demographic group.

Our “Sister’s Day” photo from 2018

There’s things you don’t put in a eulogy, like Janice used peach nail polish in high school because that’s the brightest color our mother would allow “young ladies”, or how Mom would consult Janice before letting me to wear lip gloss or another teenage privilege. I didn’t mention that the Georgia Bulldog toys and music were contrasted by two Georgia Tech fans who were raising their girls to love Buzz, but all that teasing was good-natured fun. I didn’t mention all the cross-stitch samplers she did through the years, a gift for every occasion. I didn’t mention how I had cried every day that week, while doing things that needed to be done. I didn’t fully realize that I was still in shock over her death, and even though I’ve studied the stages of grief, I didn’t think I would ever be angry.

I will get through this anger. I know it’s part of the grief process, and since I’m not a temper-tantrum type, most people don’t even know I’m angry. But the fact is that someone, probably not immunized, not wearing a mask, maybe had the sniffles eventually…that person passed the virus to Janice. I miss my sister.

Please, get immunized, and wear a mask in buildings. This shouldn’t be political or personal liberty, it’s about responsibility and caring for others in a public health crisis. Do it for the ones you love, for the neighbor who waves when you walk by and for the person across town you don’t even know. We all matter.

7 thoughts on “Missing My Sister, My Heart Hurts

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