Posts Tagged ‘little sister’

My dad called me 15 years ago on the 2nd of March. He was upset. My sister was on a helicopter to Reno. It came on suddenly: she didn’t feel very good one day. the next day, she called Dad because she hurt all over and she was frightened. She was married, but she called my dad. 40 years of a love-hate relationship and the first person she turned to was her father.

And he felt helpless. He didn’t know what was wrong with her. This wasn’t her usual hypochondria. This was worse than her bout with Hepatitis C. She’d gone to the hospital in the afternoon one day, and the next day she was in a coma, on the way to Reno’s best hospital.

Six of one/half a dozen of another: when people are flown out of Ely, Nevada, on LifeFlight, they head to Reno or Salt Lake City. Funny that after all these years, I don’t know of anyone who has been flown to Las Vegas. It’s all the same distance: Reno/Salt Lake/Vegas.

I called my prayer chain. I emailed my homeschool support group. I prayed.

March 3, 2000. My sister, my little sister, my baby sister who made my life both frustrating and richer – the sibling I shared a bedroom with for the first 13 years of her life, was gone.

I had not been able to attend her wedding the previous October. She was so excited to finally be getting married to the man she was living with. He was her second husband, but what number he was in the long line of boyfriends was beyond me. For the first time since her divorce from her first husband, her last name was changing legally.

Sometimes, I stretch to remember her. Her laugh. Her black eyes. Her short brow. Her quick smile.

She was slow on the uptake in a family that thrived on one-upping each other. We took turns being the butt of family jokes. She was an extrovert. She walked in her sleep, stole blankets, and bit me. I dropped a glass light fixture on her. She broke my porcelain cat. She had boy friends and I thought all boys had cooties.

I don’t think you ever get over the loss of a sibling.

Somehow, her death always hurts more than the death of our parents. I don’t know if it is because I was close to our parents and my sister was something of an enigma to me, or if it is because my sister and I shared secrets that noone else could share, simply by virtue of being sisters.

She gave up a child for adoption in 1977, the year she graduated from high school. Somewhere, buried in a box, are the letters we exchanged during that painful period of her life. She wanted to keep the baby. The baby’s father wanted her to wait for him to graduate from college, and then they could get married and have a real family (but she would have to be a single mother until then). Our parents wanted her to give the baby up for adoption.

Did I mention she wanted to keep the baby? She was barely 18. No job skills. Dependent on our parents and the boyfriend who wanted her to wait (but he would send support money).

Don’t disparage the boyfriend: my father told me that that boyfriend called once after my sister died. He was hoping to find her, to talk about the past. I think he truly cared, but he was bound by his family’s dreams for him, too, and those dreams did not include the crazy girl who got pregnant.

He was born in October of 1977 at William B. Ririe hospital. My sister mourned him every October, and after my mother passed, so did my father.

I pass these anniversaries. Some hit me harder than others. Today, I was at work, feeling suddenly depressed. What is wrong? I thought.

Oh. March 3. Fifteen years.


This was posted on my youngest niece’s wall on Facebook tonight. It could be my sister. It isn’t; it is her youngest daughter.

She left behind a legacy of broken family and children struggling for identity. Strong children with her bullish will for survival. Children who hardly remember her. Children who will never know her in her bra-less bandana mini-top over wide bell-bottoms or jeans tucked into hip-high boots. Children who will never remember her with her teeth in. Or out. Children who will never remember her as the beauty she was at the age of 17.

I regret every temper tantrum I threw in my high school years because she: dressed like me, messed up our shared bedroom, wanted to talk all night, tried to draw like me, and – GOD FORBID – wore the same clothes on the same day that I did! I regret every time I teased her.

I treasure every gift she gave me, especially the living ones like Buddy the cat, and my nieces and nephews.

I forgive her for breaking my ceramic cat.

I hope her son who was born in 1977 knows he was loved by both of his parents.

Mary Denise Wilcox – SAM!!! – I miss you. I feel you watching me. I miss you so very much. Oh, hey – guess what!? Jessi wants me to paint a picture of her!!

I’ll do my best, Sam. I promise.

*unedited. I can’t reread this. 15 years is hitting me hard.

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Tonight marks the 14th anniversary of the last night that I had a living little sister. It doesn’t seem like 14 years, and her last night on earth was spent in a coma, and far, far, far away from me. She touched a lot of lives and is remembered fondly by so many.


One year, we held a huge wedding in the backyard of our house in Winnemucca. Teddy Bear and Pinky Cat got married. Teddy still lives with me, safe in a box with his Best Man, Lucky Dog. Pinky Cat went on to live with Deni, and was lost somewhere along the line. Perhaps she died when my sister’s rental burned down. Teddy and Pinky never got divorced, they merely lived separated.

We baked a heart-shaped two-layer cake and frosted it with home-made icing that didn’t mix quite properly, so it was a pink frosting it white powdered sugar polka-dots. The stuffed animals spent their honeymoon in their tree house (pictured).


When asked by the Mayor of Winnemucca what she would do if she was Chief Winnemucca ( a real historical figure) and all of her people were starving, but someone brought her two chicken eggs, Deni replied, “I’d scramble them and share them with everyone.”

Her family nick-name was “Sam”. When she was very little, there was a back yard baseball game. The neighborhood boys protested that girls could not play. The father in charge looked around and said, “I don’t see any girls. Oh: here’s Tommy, George, and Sam.” Sam was the name that stuck.


Deni, Terry, Jaci

We never wore shoes, my sister and I. We walked from our house to the public swimming pool across sidewalk, asphalt, dirt, gravel, and railroad ties (the worst!) in 100 degree weather, but we never wore shoes.

My father believed that my sister got a cut on her bare foot and that was where the infection began. Certainly, the era of going barefoot was over after March 3, 2000.


Terry, Jaci, Sam

It happened quickly. She cut her foot and washed it, then forgot. But it hurt more than usual. And her leg began to throb. and then she was sick to her stomach. She called my dad, a widower by then, and cried that she was “afraid…” She was newly married to her second husband, struggling to raise her three small children, and living in a single wide trailer my dad bought her.

Dad called me on the 2nd of March to tell me that Sam was being rushed to Reno via LifeFlight. She was in a coma already.


She was not quite 41 years old and trying to get her life straight. She’d been a drug addict, an alcoholic, and she’d done her time in jail. She had four children by different fathers.

When Mom died in 1995, Sam was probably 17 years old emotionally. That’s what chronic alcohol and drug abuse does: arrests your emotional development. She was an alcoholic by the time she was 17.

When Sam died, she was probably 23 emotionally. She was close to Dad, and he mentored her (sometimes begrudgingly) in home repair and keeping a steady job. She wrote me long letters on how she was turning her life around.


We fought like sisters. We giggled like sisters. She was the brave one who knew no fear; I was the shy one who needed to consider all the risks. She was a talented artist, a loving mother, and a loyal friend. She had a temper to go with those dark brown eyes.

The diagnosis was “necrotizing fasciitis” (Flesh-eating bacteria). It is a deadly form of the Streptococcal bacteria that gains entry through a wound. It can be a pin-prick size of a wound, but if the bacteria is present and there is no immunity, it begins to attack the muscles. It rapidly moves to the organs, and most people who die of it, die of Toxic Shock Syndrome when their organs simply shut down. The lucky ones may end up losing a limb, and a few emerge apparently unscathed (but deeply scarred internally).

My great-grandmother on my father’s side died of a streptococcal infection that attacked her organs. My dad believed it was the same disease, but Grandmother died in 1930 in Salt Lake City and her records were lost. We have only my grandfather’s diary entry to go by, and his description is terribly like what took my little sister down.

Both women died too young to leave small children behind.

I flew down for the funeral. It was a much harder funeral to attend than my mother’s. Mom’s death was slow and agonizing and predictable: emphysema robbed her of her ability to breathe on her own. My sister died pretty much overnight. There was no warning for me, no way to prepare myself emotionally – and then I had to face her orphans!

Chrystal cuddled up with me during the funeral. She was the oldest of the little ones. Her big brother sat on the other side of her, a young man already.

It wasn’t all sad. My brother did the eulogy and he told all the funny stories he could think of. The crowd was tense: nearly everyone who came wore their “colors” – members of an outlaw biker band that had the local city police circling the church in hopes of serving a warrant or two. My brother was still a county deputy. The pastor had never had so many obvious sinners in his church before (it was standing room only). There were childhood friends who came hundreds of miles to say “good-bye”. All the strays my sister had taken in over her short life.

Terry played the song that he said best exemplified Deni’s short life on earth, a life she embraced fully.

It brought the house down.


I get sad when I think about the good times we had together, the bad times we shared through letters, and when I watch Deni’s kids struggle to grow up. Sam wasn’t successful by business standards, but she remains an icon of fierce loyalty and love for the hundreds whose lives were touched by hers.

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥Lovin’ Denise♥♥♥♥♥♥♥
Fourteen years.

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