Sunday August 4, is NATIONAL SISTERS DAY. I lost my one and only sister Sandra this past March and wrote a tribute to her and the life we shared as siblings that I read at her funeral service. I am sharing it here to honor the bond we had and to remember her life.
Reflections of my Sister Sandra
I was just short of 2 years old when Sandra came along. Like any toddler who has to suddenly share the undivided attention of parents, I’m sure it wasn’t love at first sight. But I’m also sure it wasn’t long before this tiny, sweet-faced interloper won my heart. The bond and devotion we had for each other shook and wobbled occasionally, but never wavered. We were the Beck girls.
We were as opposite as siblings could be. I was the daydreamer, always walking around with rose-colored glasses, my head in the clouds, wondering what was around the next corner. Sandra kept her little feet planted firmly on the ground. She saw things the way they were, not the way she imagined. She was content to just be.
I went to bed early, she was a night owl. This may not seem like a big deal, except for the fact that we shared a room. And a bed. I was a restless sleeper, tossing and flopping around, I’d wake up at the slightest noise. When Sandra finally decided to come to bed, she was out cold in minutes. She could sleep standing up in a corner, and usually slept through the alarm clock, often running late for school.
I can still vividly remember one late night when I awoke, well after midnight, to the sounds of “thump, clatter, one-sies, thump, clatter, two-sies.” I got out of bed to find Mom and Sandra having a midnight game of Jacks on the kitchen table. They both looked up at me, “Oh, did we wake you? Sorry.” I waited until they finished ten-sies and went back to bed, dragging my sister with me.
I was considered the quiet sister. Sandra had the gift of gab. Her favorite amusement park rides were the Whip and roller coaster. Mine were the Ferris wheel and merry-go-round. She walked around barefoot while I kept my feet covered. Despite these differences, we did most everything together. And, I could usually talk her into some kind of adventure. As much as she looked up to me as her big sister, I admired her spunk and willingness to speak up when she saw an injustice.
We’ve had many road trips and overnight excursions over the years. Whether it was camping with the girl scouts, a trip to Keansburg or Cheesequake State Park in our home state of NJ with our kids, or a bus ride to New York, Sandra was game. When we were both empty-nesters, we took longer trips and spent more time together. We took a trip to Connecticut, a cruise up the Hudson River, and spent an evening at the Roseland Ballroom in NY where we got up close to Paul McCartney.
Living most of her life in NJ, Sandra had never been to Cape May. So one summer, I picked her up and we rode the old Route 9 all the way down the shore, stopping at roadside stands and anywhere that caught our fancy. I drove my Chevy Lumina at the time and when the odometer hit 111,111.1 she captured the moment with her camera. We were so excited, laughing at such a silly thing.
We grew up in a household that celebrated everything. Not just birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and holidays. We celebrated Tuesdays, snow days, Saturday morning cartoon days, back-to-school-shopping days, I survived a trip to the dentist days. Sandra carried that feeling of celebration with her throughout her life.
We both enjoyed entertaining Mom and Dad as we sang and danced to our 45 records. We loved to read and share books. As we got older, Sandra especially enjoyed horror stories by Stephen King and Dean Koontz, and anything with vampires. We loved board games, especially word games like Scrabble, Boggle, and Perquacky. We spent countless hours playing game after game, Sandra winning 80% of them. She never boasted about it, and on those rare occasions when I actually won, she was as happy and excited as I was.
Here are some of the things my sister loved:
- Rock ‘n Roll – except for Supertramp. What’s up with that? Her favorite Beatle was George, and her favorite Monkee was Davey Jones.
- Although she disliked flying in airplanes, it didn’t stop her from traveling. She and her husband Ken traveled up and down the east coast and all over Arizona. She took tons of pictures of her adventures and collected magnets from every place she visited. She proudly displayed them on the refrigerator as a reminder of those trips.
- Sandra loved living close to the Raritan Bay. She splashed in it, as did her daughter and granddaughter. When I asked her if she would miss it when she moved to AZ, she said no, AZ has the same kind of wide-open feeling without the water.
- She loved watching western reruns of Gunsmoke and Bonanza, Judge Judy, the Food Network, and rarely missed an episode of Jeopardy.
- The kitchen was Sandra’s arena for adventure. In it, she was brave and fearless, pouring through cookbooks and trying new recipes. She was so good at the Art of Cooking, she rarely produced a dud. She made Fried Flounder every time I visited because she knew it was my favorite.
- She enjoyed a cold beer. Her favorite fruit was strawberries and her favorite food group was bacon. She loved everything greasy.
- More than anything, Sandra loved her family. She loved being a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. She loved me, my husband and children. Just talking about her Kenny – as she called her husband – her daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter Gabby lit up her face with a warm glow. She never grew tired of singing their praises.
- She loved her friends. Sandra’s back door was always open to anyone who needed a friend. She was a surrogate grandma to the neighbor’s kids and always made time for anyone who stopped by to visit.
- One of the biggest joys in her life was babysitting her granddaughter Gabby. When you walked into the house while she was taking care of Gabby, it was like walking into a preschool classroom. There was so much fun going on. Cooking, crafting, dressing up, camping out, dancing, tumbling. Nothing was off limits if it brought joy to Gabby’s heart.
When Sandra got the diagnosis of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, she didn’t complain or ask “why me?’ She continued to live her life. And thanks to the selfless, loving care from Ken, she woke up every day looking forward to what lie ahead. Even when the disease took so much away from her, and her mobility and communication became limited, Ken gave her something to look forward to every day. Casino trips and outings on birthdays and anniversaries, rock concerts at indoor and outdoor arenas, movies at the cinema on those comfy reclining seats, motorized wheelchair walks around the block, Saturday breakfasts out, empanadas on Wednesdays, pizzas on Fridays, hot fudge sundaes from Dairy Queen or Rita’s. They traveled to Las Vegas, San Francisco, and all over Arizona, her second favorite place on earth.
Through all her struggles with this monstrous disease, she kept her sense of humor. My favorite story was one Ken shared right after they moved to AZ. They had been out having Saturday breakfast, and Ken was helping Sandra back into the car. Because her body was so stiff and it was hard for her to bend her limbs, he sometimes had to wedge her into the seat. On this occasion, it didn’t go unnoticed. When he pulled into the driveway back home, a police car pulled up. The officer got out and told Ken he’d had a report of “elder abuse.” Ken explained Sandra’s condition and the officer apologized and left. Sandra’s reaction: “Who’s he calling elderly?”
Sandra never pretended to be someone she wasn’t. She was genuine and comfortable in her own skin. Once you got to know her, it was impossible not to love her.
Sandra found joy in every day. Whenever I called and asked her how she was feeling, she had one word to say: “Wonderful.”
I think it’s fitting that her favorite Christmas movie was IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. For Sandra it was, and she lived it her way. No apologies and no regrets.
Rest in peace my dear little sister…and until we meet again, keep your light shining for me. XO
Visit: http://www.CurePSP.org to learn more about the Neuro-degenerative disease that took my sister in the prime of life.