Mary Lou

The Pretty One. That’s who she was amid the gang of sisters.

She was also the quiet one, the creative one, the sweetest one of all – if we admit to the truth.

She is also, now, the first to go. Too soon, of course, but also at the right time for the journey she traveled.

You all know the smile, broad and given easily. You all know the eyes, large, lit with curiosity and whimsy. You all know the heart, doors wide open, permitting passage of both blessings and troubles.

I didn’t know her well enough, at least not as a brother of so many decades should have. For a time, while I was writing a book and lonely after a day of scribbling, I called her regularly in the evenings, she in Dallas, me in San Francisco. We talked a lot, but now I realize, as I try to recall what she told me in those conversations, that she did most of the listening. It was an imbalance I wish I could correct.

To say I miss her does not seem right because in many ways the disease took her long ago. What remains is an absence, a sense of something – someone – being gone who was once here, who was part of this random grouping of humans we call a family.

Most of us, as families and as individuals, live without expectation of death. We must. It is how we get through what life tosses at us. Children don’t imagine their parents dying – but then they do. And the line moves forward. Siblings march on to their generational cadence, advancing, traveling through time as a unit – until they don’t. Until one is missing.

Mary Lou lives on in our hearts and our heads, but what remains is more than these memories. More evident than any photograph or anecdote is what she leaves us – a crack in our foundation, a link fallen from the chain, an empty chair, an icy plastic mug sweating on a kitchen counter.

Now it is up to us. To live on. To honor her absence by embracing it and using it to hold ourselves together.