Laughter Through the Tears


Laughter Through the Tears
Laughter Through the Tears

I held her hand and stroked her cheek. Tears formed in the corners of her eyes. Her skin felt so soft, and the freckles sprinkled across her nose and cheeks made her look just as young as the days of our childhood. I squeezed her hand and told her not to be afraid; we were right here with her.

My sister and I were two separate souls existing together in that impenetrable bubble that only sisters share. We had the same background, knew the same stories and shared a bed with a dent in the middle of the mattress where our young bodies had curled up together. When Mary Anne was barely twenty she left me to marry the boy she loved. Then, before we knew it, we were both grown up with six children between us, living and raising our families just a few blocks from one another.

I was the younger one (by three years), and Mary Anne was quite comfortable in her role as older sister. While she could easily, and sometimes ruthlessly, tease me, she always made me laugh. Even when her tormenting went a bit too far, I could never get angry with her. What would have been the point? We were stuck together like peanut butter to bread, and nothing could pull us apart.

Our young families shared many good times, but my sister and I also pursued our own lives and interests apart. It was a good balance. The times that we were together were chock full of laughter and love with memories that will forever fill my heart. One such time, when the children were very young, we spent seven long days at a cottage in Ontario where it rained every single day, from dawn until dusk. There was also an unusual infestation of budworms that summer – tiny caterpillars that covered the ground and dropped from the trees. One evening, when the rain had subsided for a few hours, our husbands braved the damp and started a campfire in a clearing in the woods. Mary Anne and I tucked the kids into bed and donned sweaters with hoods, clipping them tightly around our necks with wooden clothespins. We tied the legs of our pants with twine, pulled on work gloves we’d found in the cottage and joined the men by the fire. We must have been a sight for sore eyes, but we were determined to have fun, despite the budworms that fell like the rain on our heads! We were just those kind of girls. That afternoon we’d played a rousing game of charades, Mary Anne acting out Joni Mitchell’s song, “Yellow Taxi,” laughing so hard that she’d had to make a quick dash to the outhouse. Now every time I hear the song, I have to smile. What could have been a miserable week actually turned out to be a lot of fun.

As our children got older, and a few had left home, Mary Anne and I found more time for each other. When we were free on weekends we’d often get together for dinner and our favorite card game, Euchre. It’s played in pairs, and we girls would always form the opposing team to our husbands. We’d start off playing as seriously as we knew how, but after a glass or two of wine, Mary Anne and I would begin our secret hand signals, trying to cheat, which never worked since we always ended up in fits of giggles. We never could control our laughter, as children or as adults.

One Thursday night the two of us met for dinner after work. We had two glasses of wine each and split one more. We almost closed the Italian restaurant down, talking late into the evening. I can hear her laughing now, telling me a story about her husband, her “cute little man,” as she often called him.

They were going on a weekend trip to Minnesota the next day, and I wished her a good time. Two days later there was a phone call. Mary Anne had suffered a severe headache while shopping at the mall and had eventually been taken to the hospital in Minneapolis. She was in surgery. Within hours, her daughters, my mother and brother flew from Toronto and were at her side. But Mary Anne never regained consciousness. Within thirty-six hours she was taken off life support.

I held her hand as the doctors removed the many tubes from her small body, and when the breathing tube was taken away and everyone had said their tearful goodbyes and left the room, I climbed up onto the single bed where she lay, curled up beside her and with her still warm, soft fingers curled around mine, I told her some of the stories of our life together. For forty-three years she had been my big sister, my best buddy, my shining star. And even while tears streamed down my face, my heart was smiling.

It has been eleven years since Mary Anne left us. She was forty-six years old. As I type, tears form in the corners of my eyes but I feel her with me, holding my hand, making me smile.

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5 Responses to “Laughter Through the Tears”

  1. Doug Foley says:

    Thank you

  2. Patrick Foley says:

    We all remember Mary Anne – who could sing !

  3. Marion (Atkinson) Stevens says:

    Our lives were brighter with her in it.

  4. Marty Foley says:

    Gone but NEVER forgotten!

  5. Karen Carter says:

    Beautifully written Virginia!

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