We are all experiencing challenging and unprecedented times Numerous hours spent at home with an abundance of time to think. This is not always a good prescription for those of us who have lost loved ones coupled with the repeated stories of escalating multiple deaths on a daily basis. I have to distance myself from the news and try to focus on being grateful that my family and extended family are all safe and healthy.
With time on our hands, although taxing, for me the best practice is the attempt to produce a schedule into a non-scheduled existence. I have tried find projects and activities to fill up days that seem to be running into one another. During the COVID-19 quarantine I found myself reverting back to games of my youth, playing games like Rummy 500 and Monopoly.
One of my projects I tackled was to clean out closets that we always said we will get to on a snowy day. I came across old photos of my beloved sisters Jane and Margie. Jane died at age twenty two in 1981 in an automobile accident and Margie at age thirty in 1990 after a twenty year battle with anorexia and bulimia.
For thirty years I squashed and did not grieve for Margie and Jane. I did not talk about them. My work on grief opened my heart allowing Margie and Jane to be more present and share the stories I feared I lost but now can recall. Being sheltered at home with excess time to ponder not a good recipe for thoughts of sorrow and grief. I constantly have to focus, pause, and allow myself those moments but try to concentrate on a memory of Margie and Jane to shift some of the tension. Some days the plan works others I have to go with the flow.
Immediately after my sisters died, I frantically assembled a collage of photos. I scrambled to locate what I feared missing. The collage of various sizes of squares reflecting a montage of Margie, Judy and Jane throughout the years with various configurations, Margie with Judy, Margie with Jane, Judy with Jane, and all three sisters. I feverishly tried to cut the pictures to fit the squares into each box of the frame.
At the same time thinking I know somewhat delusional, somehow the pictures would bring my sisters back. Panicked in that moment that everything about Margie and Jane would be lost. The collage hung on my wall and continues to remain, the only photographs for all these years. I sporadically took a glance as I passed by, a small victory that my sisters never left me. Now, multiple pictures of my sisters surround me each and every day.
Today as I look at the photos my adored sisters Margie and Janie, it is as though I am starting a new book, the excitement of turning the page. I am not afraid to look at the pictures. Every view is unique, every emotion varied, every experience volatile. I become engrossed in the image and very often more questions arise. What we were thinking? What was the mood? Who took the picture? Sometimes I remember. Sometimes I do not.
I discovered a black and white picture of my older sister Margie and I playing cards on our screened in porch. The white scalloped edges are a bit frayed. We sat on a sofa that glided back and forth. Margie used to get annoyed at me because I used to push the sofa with my foot and the cards fell to the floor. It was my way of distracting her because she almost always won the game. In the photo Margie is looking down concentrating hard on the cards in her hand, I am glancing out at the camera. I adored and idolized my Margie and loved being with her.
Another photo I pick up is my adorable younger sister Jane with her blond bob and dimple in her right cheek. She stands holding her favorite Susie-Q doll . The doll a little larger than the Barbie dolls. The doll’s blond hair parallel to Jane’s. Jane and I shared a room and wherever Jane was her precious doll did not leave her.
The three of us spent hours in our basement playing with our Barbie dolls. We dressed them up, created stories, made a makeshift Barbie dollhouse, and car. Each girl had a case to house their Barbie “wardrobe” equipped with hangers and a separate compartment below for shoes. Changing an outfit entailed proper hanging up, and then brushing the doll’s hair. In my home I maintain a Barbie collection, a full shelf of dolls on stands in various outfits. The reminders of my sisters stay with me always.
Margie favored her special Skipper doll, the little sister of Barbie with her own unique mini case, clothes, shoes, and hairbrush. Today, the Skipper doll and case are in my hall closet waiting for a grandchild to someday play with.
Jane and I played Candyland at the round white Formica kitchen table. The game of bright colors parallel to her bright personality. Jane cried if she did not get her way. I am certain Jane cried as her way of winning the game. Despite it all we played the game over and over and maybe I won a few times. Jane always chose the yellow as her designated piece and I chose the blue. I took pride in being the big sister.
Saturday nights when my parents went out, Margie, Jane and I made a candy dish. This became a hi-light of the evening. The dining room drawer held the candy. We carefully chose the candy to be placed in the white bowl with wings on either side. Into the dish went Milk Duds, Dots, Charleston Chews, and Raisinettes, which were our favorites.
With the candy dish in the center my sisters and I played multiple games carefully selected – Mousetrap, Yahtzee, or Life were some of our favorites. In addition, we loved playing card games like fish and war. My heart is open and full remembering the fun we had playing games – laughing, fighting over which game to play, who had to clean up, chasing down the stairs to choose a game.
My “game” closet today although much smaller than the walk in closet housed in the basement of the home of our youth still maintains some of our games- Chutes and Ladders, Sorry, and Scrabble. Whenever I look at the games my heart skips a beat. Sometime a lone tear drops out of my eye as I fondly remember and reminisce about my cherished sisters Margie and Jane.
About the Author
Judy Lipson is the Founder and Chair of Celebration of Sisters established in 2011 to commemorate the lives and memories of her beloved sisters to benefit Massachusetts General Hospital. The annual ice skating fundraiser featured in Skating Magazine and the philanthropic efforts hi-lighted on the Mass General website. Judy is a contributor to Grief Digest Magazine, and a regular contributor and featured guest on The Open to Hope Foundation, helping individuals find hope after loss. Her passion for ice skating secured her the proud recipient of the United States Figure Skating Association 2020 Get Up Champion Award.