Today is my sister, Gloria’s, 66th birthday. She was born on November 29, 1948. According to my parents, on her second birthday she asked them for a brother.On August 30, 1951, I was born. Apparently, our parents did not waste any time fulfilling my sister’s birthday wish.
Growing up, we were close. I followed in my sister’s footsteps. We went to the same grammar school. We sometimes had the same teachers. When she started piano lessons, I started piano lessons a few months later. She studied French in high school. When I had to choose which foreign language to study, guess what I chose? French. She went to college in New England. I went to college in New England.
In January of 1980 when the oncologist took my parents and me aside in the corridor of Mother Cabrini Hospital to tell us that Gloria had cancer and had less than six months to live, I cried.
Gloria survived for ten months. She died on Friday afternoon, August 10, 1981, 3 months shy of her 33rd birthday. When my father called me at work that Friday afternoon to tell me that “the pigeon” had died, I didn’t cry. Pigeon was my father’s term of endearment for my sister.
I didn’t cry at the wake, nor at the funeral Mass, nor at her grave when she was buried. For those 10 months, I was numb to her struggle with adenocarcinoma, a cancer that develops in the glandular tissues of the body. I didn’t know what to do to help my sister.I was uneasy being around her, especially if I was alone with her.
Looking back, I noticed I never went to visit her in the hospital by myself. I only went to visit her with my parents or when I knew at least one of my parents would be there with her. We were still close at the time we got the news about her having cancer. Cancer came between me and Gloria. Not knowing what to do for her, I practically did nothing for her. Little did I know back then that she didn’t need me to do anything for her. What I could have given Gloria was my compassionate presence. I didn’t realize that until after she died.
It took me years to get over the guilt I felt because I wasn’t there for my sister. I didn’t go to visit her grave.
One evening about 6 years after she died, I was driving home from New York City. That’s where Gloria and I grew up and where she died. At that time I was living near Princeton, New Jersey. On that ride home, I started to think about Gloria. I had just gotten onto the New Jersey Turnpike, when I began to cry. I cried until I got off the turnpike 30 minutes later. All the pent up emotions I had about her dying came up: the guilt about not being there for her, the sorrow of missing her in my life. It all came out.
For many years afterward, I would still cry when I thought about Gloria. Gloria has been dead for more years than she had been alive. Today, I can finally say I feel complete about her dying. I still miss her. I still feel a little sad when I think about her. But now I can begin to think about her with gratitude and joy.
Happy Birthday, Gloria!