Posts Tagged ‘sister’s death’

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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Today is the 13th anniversary of my little sister’s death.

She was my sister. I loved her, hated her, feared for her. Sometimes, we were best of friends. Sometimes…

Well, sometimes she borrowed my clothes without asking. Or she dressed like me.

The good points of her life:

She gave me my second cat, Buddy Jacopo, for my 15th birthday. She rescued him from a group of grade school bullies who were bent on tormenting the stray black kitten to death. She just walked into the midst of them and grabbed the kitten out of their grips. Not on her watch, she told them. Not ever.

My mother worked in an office right next door to the grade school. Deni had no plan, but she carried the kitten over to the office and set it on my mother’s desk. “I think I should give Jaci this kitten for her birthday,” she announced.

I won a duck for her at a carnival. I tossed 18 dimes onto saucers and finally scored a win. She carried the duck in an oversize drink cup all night and named it “Sam” after herself. (Sam was her familial nick-name.)

I got to keep the kitten, but she had to give the duck up to some kind ranchers 60 miles away because my dad would not allow a duck to live in the house. It was one of those unfair moments in life when a parent loses perspective of the important things. I’ve never quite forgiven myself for winning the damn duck and getting her hopes up.

She started abusing alcohol in the 6th grade, the year we moved to Ely. Her development arrested somewhere in high school. She abused sex, drugs, alcohol, relationships. She was afraid of nothing and no one, and many a bar room brawl saw her in the middle of it, fists flying.

She was terrified of not being loved. She was terrified for her children when she sobered up.

She did make a clean break of it and lived relatively drug and alcohol free for many years. My brother and I joke that she went from age 16 to age 21 during her later, sober years. It’s a half-hearted joke.

Her friends were fiercely loyal to her. Her enemies… well, I have never met her enemies. I suspect that we were her greatest enemies: the family unit that she wasn’t certain truly loved her. My brother and I moved away from home. Deni never moved very far and always ended up living back in town where she could just pick up the phone and call my dad six or seven times a day. She didn’t call my mom as much: she called the man whose love seemed to elude her.

He advised her how to fix drain pipes, run a snake through a toilet, repair broken cupboard doors – all over the phone. He told her that she needed to know those skills to live on her own.

My parents took temporary guardianship of one of Deni’s children during a dark period in her life, but when she got her feet back under her, they shared him with her. My mother despised every out-of-wedlock pregnancy, but when Chrystal was born, she adored her little granddaughter with all her heart.

I wish I could write happy things about my mother and Deni, but when I arrived in Reno to wait by Mom’s death bed, there was no Denise. I asked why she was not also present and was told, bluntly, “She’s pregnant with another bastard child.”

They never told me when Deni was pregnant. I knew about my oldest nephew because she was 18 and was forced to give him up for adoption. Deni wrote me long letters: she didn’t want to give the baby up but she would not abort him. She felt coerced. I still have all of our letters. I knew about my next nephew because Deni was married and he was a “legitimate” baby.

I found out about Chrystal the day she was born, when someone called to tell me I was the proud aunt of a little girl.

So I was taken by surprise when I stood by mother’s death-bed and learned that Deni had not been called because my mother didn’t want to see her just now, not pregnant and unwed.

The next time I saw my sister was at the memorial service a couple months later. She had her newborn son in a carrier and I watched him struggle to breathe. He was so tiny and so ill, and my sister was so protective of him.

Deni and I fought the most during her druggie years in high school. Once I graduated from high school and moved far, far away, we became friends again. She wrote me long letters when she was in a manic place and she felt like life was (finally) moving forward for her. I wouldn’t hear from her for long spells, however – and during those long spells she was was using and abusing and dying in increments. She was always looking for a father’s love in all the wrong places.

After our mother died, Deni’s relationship with Dad changed. They became friends. He began to enjoy her six or seven phone calls a day. He worried if she didn’t call. He purchased a little trailer in a trailer park for her to live in after her little pink rental house burned to the ground (no one was injured). She became the child my father poured most of his positive energy into.

Her death devastated my father. It tore up her little family. The oldest boy was an adult, but he was too much like his mother to not be affected by her loss. One ex- came and picked up his child, declaring he would raise the boy and no one else. Until then, he had not disputed my sister’s custody. One child was left an orphan. One child would never remember her mother, but would be raised by her step-father and his new wife – and they would be the people she would identify with most strongly.

We joke now about her. Sometimes I think I see her standing in the periphery of my vision. This usually happens when I am up in the woods or alone in my studio. She is no older than 10 when I see her there: skinny little legs, ratty brown hair, tanned skin. Her black eyes glitter. The first time I saw her, I was a little startled and tried to turn my head to look directly at her. Of course, she melted into the forest, laughing. I could hear her laughter.

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Grandma Melrose’s 72nd Birthday Party, 1978. Deni was 19. (Aunt Phyllis on the left.)

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I have never seen another photograph that captured Deni’s spirit like this one did. Even then, it had an eerie quality to it, as if she could see into the future and envision her life. It is my favorite snapshot of my sister (and my aunts in the background, but it is Deni that I am drawn to).

Sometimes I wonder who she would be had she lived. Other times, I thank her for letting me raise Chrystal. And always, I hope she can look down from Heaven and see the children she so fiercely protected and she can know how much they protect her memory. All four of them that I know.

Her first son has no knowledge of her, but I am certain he has all of her good qualities and her black eyes.

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