A late-afternoon telephone call Wednesday ended a 49-year relationship. Karen was my first sister-in-law and the first new member of our family by marriage. Now she is the first of my generation to die of "natural causes," if you can consider cancer "natural."
Her terrible illness and the inevitability of its ending have stirred up memories long forgotten of the awkwardness of incorporating a new adult into the family and how she made the transition easy with her quiet tolerance and her quick laughter. I was 15 or so when she brought a newborn baby to our home and plopped my first niece into my lap one day with a laugh because I was the only family member who had not fought for a turn to hold the baby. I was 15 and too cool for that. When I married and had children of my own, she vividly enjoyed their presence and bonded with my wife, a decade younger than she. As her sister pointed out, Karen didn't like crowds of strangers but she reveled in gatherings of close family and friends, no matter how large. She never liked having her picture made, so we have few photos of her, just memories of her laughter and her softly worded advice.
The last weekend we had together, just five months ago, was before her diagnosis. It was obvious that she was not feeling well. Her laughter was not so quick and she was unusually reticent. I'll remember instead other weekends strung over 49 years of good times, good stories and good laughs. And the warmth of sibling love.