Thursday, March 24, 2005

Close to Nowhere
By Linda Jones

In celebration 1945-2005

We buried my sister Saturday.

Somehow, those words are still foreign — not “my” sister.

Peggy had not been in good health for a long time. After the death of our mother in 1978, she started downhill and for the past ten years or so has been virtually housebound and not well.

My brother-in-law called one of my nieces last week and said Peggy wasn’t doing well and he believed they needed to try and make her go to the doctor. Easier said than done, as she didn’t believe in or have confidence in doctors of any kind.

She finally went Tuesday and went back again, this time with my niece, on Wednesday.

None of her tests came back good, in fact, they all came back terrible. But, she chose not to go to the hospital — adamantly refused actually.

My niece stayed with her mom and dad Wednesday night and they became so concerned that evening they called an ambulance. My sister again refused to go.

I was on my way to Searcy, Ark. at 8 a.m. on Thursday morning, to help my niece and my brother-in-law convince her to go to the hospital. I’d talked to my nephew, who lives in Boston, Mass., the night before and he said whatever we could do to get her in the hospital, please do; he was behind us 100 percent.

My niece called me about 8:15 a.m. Thursday. I was just about to the gas station. She was sobbing and said her mom was gone.

I went numb at the news and was just driving and not comprehending when I felt a little hand reach out from the back seat and pat my shoulder. My oldest granddaughter, who was on her way to a friend’s house, continued to pat me and said, “It’s all right Bumpy, she’s with your mother now.”

The rest of the week has been a blur. I went on to Searcy and instead of spending the day getting my sister in the hospital, we spent the day preparing for her funeral.

I came home Thursday night, packed up some things and headed back to Searcy Friday to stay for a few days.

All my nieces and my nephew were there soon, with their children and it almost was like it always is at my sister’s house — loud and packed with children.

The only difference was Peggy wasn’t sitting on her stool in the kitchen at the bar directing us in fixing food or on the couch in the living room, directing us at whatever else we were doing.

My sister and I have planned two funerals together. Our mother died in 1978 and Daddy died in 1982. When our mother died, we were sitting in the funeral director’s office making plans and he asked, just to be sure, how we spelled Mama’s name.

T-h-e-l-m-a — then very distinctly D-u-c-k. He spelled it back to us, we repeated it and he spelled it back to us again, asking were we sure. We kept looking at each other, getting really cranky. We did not need a smart-aleck funeral director at this point. Finally, the poor man spelled D-u-c-k back to us and said, “Duck?” (Our mother’s name was Duke.)

Peggy and I looked at each other and collapsed laughing. We couldn’t sit up and had to hold each other up to keep from falling out of our chairs.

After Mama’s funeral, as often happens, Peggy got upset about something and there was an argument and for several years, we were very cool to each other.

Planning Daddy’s funeral five years later broke the barriers we’d each put up and things went back to as normal as they can be when you live a long distance from each other.

My sister was eight years older than I am and when we were young, often acted like another mother to me and our two younger brothers.

One of my strongest memories is when she and my mother would make fudge and Peggy would hide it, so I wouldn’t eat the entire plate and be sick — besides, she loved fudge as much as I did and was going to force me to share.

She’d put the fudge on the highest shelf in the far back of the pantry in our kitchen. Naturally, as soon as she and Mama left the kitchen and the way was “safe” I’d climb the shelves and eat fudge until I was sick.

If Peggy was the one that caught me, I could count on getting a swat on the bottom and a severe fussing at. Then I’d cry and tell her she wasn’t my mother! She’d respond by telling me I was a brat.

We’ve laughed about that for years now — although when I was a kid, it wasn’t the least bit funny.

Whatever happens after you grow up, when a sibling passes away, you’ve lost a huge chunk of your childhood. We had a small family to begin with and now, with only me and my two younger brothers left, there are parts of my growing up that no one else can remember with me.

My sister left four living children. She and Gene buried their fifth child, a daughter, at six months old. When our mother died, years later, we put Mama in the same cemetery and I think it offered Peggy some comfort that the baby now had Mama in heaven with her.

We buried my sister beside Mama, with Daddy on the other side.

Now, our parents, my sister and my baby niece are all in the same cemetery. I like to think Mama greeted Peggy at heaven’s door with open arms.

Peggy’s children and husband are coping as well as you can after losing a mother and a wife of 42 years.

I don’t know about them, but I couldn’t have made it through these past few days without my nieces and nephew and especially their children. I looked at all of the kids running through my sister’s house this weekend and thought that as long as they’re around, so is my sister.

Rest well Peggy. And in celebration of your life, we’ll cope and go on and do well. You raised us all to be strong enough to do that.

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