I had a friend who told me that our lives are set up in stages. We finish one and move forward to a new one. That held true in my sister's life and her battle with the terrible disease that ended it far too early.
This disease entered her life in an unsettling manner. It terrified everyone involved. It brought to mind an earlier stage in our lives, which could best be described as volatile.
My sister's visits to Western New York in the '70s and '80s were ones associated with pain and anger. My family walked on eggshells awaiting the next eruption. We loved her but knew she was tortured by demons from her early adult years. With each visit there would always be an episode with a family member. Her visits culminated with tirades. Things would then subside until the next visit.
All that changed when my sister met the man she said changed her life. I never knew how she and my brother-in-law Gene met, but I knew he brought a level of stability to her life.
She showed me a "portrait of her life" at my Dad's 80th birthday celebration. On that occasion, she reiterated her gratitude of having Gene in her life. I am certain it occurred earlier, but for me that was the date I knew she was at peace. For the remaining years, her visits home were filled with joy and laughter. Stories of growing up were exchanged. Good stories with happy memories. Stories now shared with my children.
Reunions were more frequent. In Denver, she took pride in showing off her new life. She was a doting grandmother to Gene's granddaughters and a gracious host to their many visitors. Eventually Gene and my sister retired to their new life in Mazatlan, Mexico, where she immersed herself in the culture of the Mexican people and befriended a close-knit collection of snowbird "girlfriends." Visits to Mazatlan were some of the most joyous times of my life.
She opened her doors to all who cared to visit, becoming Mazatlan's greatest ambassador. She embraced Mazatlan with a love and spirit and Mazatlan embraced her back. She was a gracious "gringo" who studied Spanish, became quite fluent yet strived to improve. She volunteered her time working at orphanages. An accomplished artist, it was in Mexico where her artistry excelled. She painted landscapes and portraits for many of the locals, yet never accepted anything other than the gratitude of the recipient of her work.
I remember speaking with her after one of my mother's visits. She told me they hated leaving one another because they realized it might be the last time they would see each other. While never stated, the connotation was that mom would go first. As mom stated the day my sister passed, it wasn't supposed to happen this way.
It's said that with death comes a level of peace. I share this sentiment. I see how the time line of this disease parallels that of the disease-free years she was able to experience. A genesis of horror, hurt and pain followed by happiness, recognition of all the good things life offers and, ultimately, peace.
I lost my father in 2001. Not a day goes by that I do not think of him. He'll have to move over, though, because I now have many wonderful memories of my big sister occupying my thoughts as well. A friend sent me a card upon hearing of Dad's passing. All it said was: "You made him proud." I share those sentiments in thinking of my sister. You made me proud, Binky, and I will love you forever.
Ed Bates is a seventh-grade math teacher at Springville Middle School and lives in the Village of Hamburg.