Now we are four

There is a young mother in our congregation who has two daughters. She is expecting and not long ago she informed me that they had learned that their third child is also a daughter. I joked with her and told her that it worked for my family. “My folks had three girls. Then they had four boys.” She stated that there was no plan for their family to become larger than three girls. I told her that I think that three daughters is a fine configuration for a family as well. My wife is the oldest of three daughters and I have deep admiration for her parents and for her family.

I’v always enjoyed telling people that I come from a large family. When asked how may brothers and sisters I have I am quick to respond, “Three of each!” We had a nine passenger car and could fill all the seats.

Actually, our family was a bit more complex than that. It is true that there were seven of us but we became a family through a unique set of circumstances. My parents adopted two daughters, who were sisters. Then they had three children born to them. Then they adopted two sons, who were brothers. All of this happened over a wide span of time. We only had five children in the house at a time. I was only three when my oldest sister moved out of the house. She had her first child a couple of months before my fourth birthday. The brother who is nearest to me in age became an uncle when he was four months old. Myth youngest brothers became uncles by virtue of being adopted into our family.

I don’t have clear memories of my oldest sister living at home. I remember her as an adult who lived on a ranch north of town with children of her own. I was only 16 when she died. She was dancing with her husband. The bullet that tore her aorta when through her and injured her husband. The man who fired the shot received a life sentence and died in the Montana State Penitentiary.

So we were six. But I usually told people that we were seven. I still do, when asked. I don’t hide the fact that there have been deaths in our family, I just enjoy the distinction of being a part of a large family.

Our father died a decade after our sister. He had a brain cancer that was treated with surgery and radiation, but the illness overcame him. It was a tough loss for our mother and for all of us, but we picked up the pieces and went on with our lives.

Then, eight years ago, my brother suffered a fatal heart attack as he got in his van to make his deliveries. The van went off the road and into the Missouri River and it was several hours before we learned the cause of his death. He was the second youngest of us and in his early fifties.

We were five, but I still speak about growing up in a family of seven children.

My mother died less than a year after my brother. As she moved into her late eighties, she suffered from congestive heart failure as well as having become a brittle diabetic. Her eyesight was beginning to fail and she had not recovered from the layers of grief. Perhaps one never recovers from grief. She was alert and of a sound mind when faced with a serious condition that would have required surgery had she been strong enough to be a candidate for surgery. As it was she followed her advance directive and died peacefully after a brief stay in the hospital. My sister was with her and I was just a couple of blocks away when she passed.

In the way of all families, our count was going down.

Now another sister has died. She suffered a very serious aortic aneurism a year ago and was in the intensive care unit for quite a while recovering from emergency surgery. She never fully recovered her normal pace of life after that event. She got well enough to be active on FaceBook and keep up with her grandchildren. She downsized to an apartment in the city to be close to medical care. Then on Halloween night she suffered a stroke. When she was stabilized her body began to shut down. Hospice care was ordered and her children were summoned. I spoke to her on the phone, but she couldn’t get many words out. And now she is gone.

Her children are having trouble getting along with each other. There have been quite a few angry words. She said that she didn’t want a funeral and they are honoring her wishes. It feels very, very strange to me. I didn’t rush to her bedside when she was sick and now there is no funeral to attend. I spent a long time talking to my other sister on the phone and we will be together in a little over a week. There are cousins to inform and chores to be completed.

We are now four. We’ve no need for a nine passenger car.

And we are four living in three different states. My two sisters were just 19 miles apart before the elder suffered her aneurism. Even after she was in the apartment they were just 80 miles apart. Now the closest any of us lives to another is 270 miles. My sister lives 400 miles from where we live. The older of my brothers lives on the West Coast, 1200 miles away. and it is 560 miles from my home to the house of my youngest brother.

It doesn’t look like we will all get together to share our grief over the death of our sister. It will be different than the other deaths in our family. Grief stirs memory and memories remind us of each other. The phone calls and emails will increase for a while as we sift and sort out our new way of being family. For now I’m just sad and I am not ready to not be sad.

Someday I’ll write a journal entry with good memories of our sister and our growing up years.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!