Lessons from My Sister

My sister, Ann, passed away on February 18. In reflecting on her life, I realized she was true to herself. She lived authentically; something we are all trying to do and talking about doing these days.

Her death reflected her life. All of the elements of her personality shone through during those last few days.

She was dramatic. As the photo captures so well, Ann loved drama. It could be argued she also created drama or that drama found its way to her. She had an abundance of stories to tell about adventures including wild places, exotic characters, and strange happenings. Her last few days on earth, in keeping with who she was to her core, were very dramatic. The hospital stay had many ups and downs entwining hopes for a recovery with uncertainty until revealing her stay on earth was ending.

She got to yell at someone. Ann was a yeller, declaring this tendency to be very Sicilian and taking pride in it. She had big opinions and told people what to do; often speaking very abruptly and loudly. It made her happy. At her deathbed, she grabbed the opportunity to yell at a few family members to learn to get along with each other. “You love each other! It’s not worth it (to fight). Get along!” she cried. Forming the words was difficult in her condition, and she found a way.

She defined many moments of her life with music. Music filled the background of Ann’s days and nights. She listened continually and I believe it numbed her pain by offering a safe place for her mind to seek relief for her body. On her deathbed, she chose songs to play at the funeral. “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles occupies space at the top of the list. We played it for her several times while she drifted in and out of consciousness.

She was creative. Ann was gifted with great creativity combined with a process-oriented mind. I was in awe of her ability to take a few pieces of broken artificial Christmas tree limbs and magically turn them into wreaths that could have come from a high-end catalog. Her description to Harry & David in a complaint letter about the less-than-perfect peaches she purchased made your mouth water craving the perfection she knew from the fruit. In death, she vividly described everything and everyone she saw in the in-between world she was experiencing. ” I see pink, and blue swirls. I see sparkles,” she described. She told us she saw a loved one who passed a few years ago and she was cooking.

She spoke her mind. If you regularly flamed visibly when embarrassed, you did not go out in public with my sister. She said what came to mind in every situation. The upside was you always knew what she thought. In death, she told us several times, after waking from a turn surfing in the in-between world, “I’m not dead yet! I’m not dead!” All of us reassured her that we knew she was alive.

She was spooky. My sister saw ghosts, encountered the mischievous doings of poltergeists, and was very interested in the mystical magic elements of our Sicilian heritage. My husband, Steve, is also a bit spooky. Her only words to him were, “I’ll talk to you later” meaning after her death. I have no doubt she will keep her word.

She loved enormously. Love was a four-letter word to Ann both positive and negative, filled with enormous happiness, great sadness, betrayal, disappointment, soaring bliss. Love was the most important part of life. Upon seeing one of our nieces at her deathbed, pure bliss spread across her face. “Is it my Aimee? My little Aimee?,” she said over and over again. Her primary message for everyone was a simple, “I love you.” She shouted it into the phone for friends who called. She spoke it loudly at times and softly at times to those who gathered in her hospital room. And, finally, she spoke it with her eyes as she looked up at us with recognition at the very end.

Often during my life, I would get caught up in the woulds and shoulds. Should I do this or what would happen if I did that. Ann’s advice to me remained consistent. “Do what you want,” she said, “And don’t worry about it.”

She was right. I am the happiest when I am being myself. I also worry less when I direct my own destiny rather than worrying about what other people will think of me. That was the key to her longevity.

She was completely, authentically, gloriously Ann to the end.

Published by Mary Balistreri

Mary Balistreri offers a variety of coaching and professional development services to individuals and organizations focused on harnessing strengths to develop more business. Mary’s approach is goal driven, focusing on measurable results and developing actionable plans to move past obstacles that hold individuals, teams, and organizations back from executing on the plan. Mary offers expertise in business development, team building, and leadership development coupled with strategies to improve conversational and emotional intelligence to support clients moving toward their goals and aspirations.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: