The Butterfly Lady

This past Saturday morning I was packing away Thanksgiving decorations and bringing out the Christmas trimmings when my phone rang.  It was my sister Jeanne calling to tell me that our sister, Suzi, had died that morning.  It was unexpected and left us both stunned.

Me, Suzi and Jeanne – 1985.

Ours is a fractured family and I hadn’t seen Suzi in over 15 years.  We had sporadic contact at best, not truly part of each other lives, so I was taken aback by how sad I felt.  After the initial shock wore off a bit, my mind was able to drift to better times and those memories made me smile.  I thought about her letting me dress up in her prom formals and spritzing me with cologne. I thought about her coming home from school, turning on American Bandstand and dancing.  And I thought about my mother’s excitement when Suzi won a regional oratorical contest during high school.  My mother, who never showed much happy excitement, was jumping up and down screaming “That’s my girl, that’s my girl!” Suzi was ten years older than me and I saw her through adoring little-sister eyes.  Despite our differences as adults, she was a special part of my childhood.  

When I started high school, we were living on the same block.  But before I graduated, she moved out-of-state with her husband and three sons and we never lived in the same state again.  That marriage ultimately ended in divorce.  She went on to marry twice more, both ending in divorce. She experienced more than her share of tragedy, losing two of her three sons. And while she sometimes floundered in her overwhelming heartache, she somehow managed to get on with life.

For over the past decade, Suzi had been living in Texas where she made a life for herself.  She developed an intense interest in monarch butterflies, planting gardens for them and following their migration, earning the nickname The Butterfly Lady.  She made wonderful friends and did some traveling with them.  And she died surrounded by love, with her daughter-in-law and her best friend at her side.  Her friend held the phone up to her ear so her son, Todd, could say goodbye. 

The loss of a sibling leaves a hole in your life whether you had a close relationship or were estranged.  Suzi’s death means the loss of years and all the life events that mark that time which can never be recovered.  I will remember Suzi through my little sister lens, wonderful memories that were never lost.

C’est la vie.

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