I made a promise to myself that I would do this and so you’ll have to bear with me. It started when my brother Ray died. I had to write about him. Then my oldest brother Roger passed and I had to write about it. Now, we have lost our oldest sister Kathy and, well you know.
I have no monopoly on grief but from my perspective as the youngest of 10 children, I knew these eventualities would come my way and now that we are 7 instead of ten, it is painfully clear that it just doesn’t get any easier.
Roger was the greatest of us, Ray was the bravest and Kathy was the hardest worker. She was our family’s “Martha,” as in the Martha of Luke’s Gospel. Not that the rest of us were too busy communing with Jesus to be bothered by such trivial things as who is going to put the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner on the table, but that Kathy was the one with the rolled-up sleeves and willingness to do whatever it took to make holiday’s special – even if she had to complain a little about the amount of work.
After our widowed mother, could no longer manage big holiday meals due to the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease, the same disease that just claimed our sister, Kathy took it upon herself to out-Martha her biblical counterpart ensuring that no family gathering would be wanting due to her herculean efforts.
To me, my sister Kathy was my first “second” mom. Each of my sisters took turns looking out for me (the baby of the family) but Kathy was the first one with her own car and means to get us younger kids to Disneyland and to swimming pools and to McDonalds for those 15 cent hamburgers.
She always remembered birthdays and as we younger ones spread our wings and started our own families; she remembered anniversaries and nieces’ and nephews’ birthdays. By the time my oldest child was walking and talking my mom was already in the throes of her own battle with Alzheimer’s. My children would sometimes accompany me to Santa Teresita in Duarte, a beautiful facility for people suffering from dementia operated by equally beautiful Carmelite nuns, to visit my mother. But they never heard her speak a word to them.
Enter my big sister Kathy. She stepped in to the role of surrogate grandmother to my kids and for that act of kindness and generosity alone I should be forever grateful. When you’re the “baby” in a big family you get accused of being grotesquely spoiled…guilty. And my sister Kathy was one of one of the worst offenders. She knew I never cared for our mom’s Thanksgiving and Christmas chocolate pie desserts. So, she would make a special strawberry cake with whipped cream just for me every Thanksgiving and Christmas. This would upset her husband to no end and every holiday dinner he would whine about how spoiled I was and how Kathy always went out of her way to pamper me. I would respond, in between bites of my specially made cake, “…And your point is?”
I wish I could say my sister’s life was all rainbows and unicorns but it was not. It was fraught with not so great things. Yet she soldiered on in an in dominatable fashion.
Like her mother before her, our sister was reluctant to throw stuff away. Not in the hoarder sense but more in the keeping the home fires burning sense. This turns out to be a beautiful legacy both our mom and our sister have bequeathed as simple things like Easter decorations or school projects become touchstones of connection. These “things” remind us of the persons behind them and their motivations…which in both cases, was to manifest their love for others. My sister’s long descent into dementia purged like purifying fire, the harder elements of her life, leaving behind for her four children, and for her brothers and sisters a feeling of warmth about how loving and dedicated she was to her family - Another blessing heaped upon all our backs.
Luke doesn’t tell us what planning went into the upcoming visit of Jesus to the house of Martha and Mary. Rest assured that if our sister was part of the strategic preparation everyone would have been given an assignment and everything would be perfect. Yes, Mary “got it” when it came to being in the presence of Jesus like far too few of us ever get it. But remember, Mary had the leisure to be with Jesus because somebody else was slaving away in the kitchen. If my sister was there, she certainly would have joined Martha in complaining about Mary’s lack of assistance, but the feast would be on and Jesus honored by love distilled into hard work. Jesus would have also had an excellent chocolate cream pie…or strawberry cake with whipped cream if it was okay with me.