Eulogy to My Favorite Baby Sister
I Really Miss You, Janice!!!
Sunrise: August 15, 1963
Sunset: February 3, 1987
Eulogized: February 6, 1987
She was a wonderful person, the best friend a guy could ever have, AND she was my little sister.
When I was a little guy about the age of five, my family got me started in school. I had so many things to learn, and yet, I was just starting Kindergarten. I had classmates, people who were trapped in the same classes within the same school. I made friends with them. When we got to school, we played together. All of that was fun until something happened one day.
When that particular day was done, one of my friends was picked up from school, but not by his Mom or his Dad. This person referred to themselves as being my friend's sister. She was in the upper grade, and she was to walk her little brother home from school. Off they went.
I would see this for the next year or two after that first time. When I was in second grade, I decided that I, too, wanted a sibling. I wanted a little sister.
I would return to school the next day and I would see all of my classmates and schoolmates with their sisters. Some had big sisters. Some had little sisters. All were happy together. I still wanted a sister of my own. No one quite sat down this seven-year-old brat at the time to explain HOW one gets a little sister. I always thought, at the time, that one just goes somewhere like a hospital and picks out a sister. Well, that is what I thought. It wasn't until I was in eighth grade that I really learned HOW a little sister was created.
Then it happened!!!!!
One day, my Mom met me after school. It was springtime! I felt really good about something, but I did not know why. I was too young to walk home by myself. So, after I was dismissed from school, I ran out of the school building to find my Mom. After a few seconds of looking up and down the block where I exited school, I saw her on the corner with her friends. Mom never had many people around her before, but there were about four to five people chatting with her. I saw why. Mom was pushing some contraption. It wasn’t a shopping cart. It wasn’t a wagon. It was something much more. As I got closer, I saw it much better.
It was a baby carriage!!!!!
I ran over to see who or what was inside. Maybe Mom went shopping and needed something to carry the groceries home. No! Maybe Mom found it somewhere and needed help getting it home. No! I had to see what was in this carriage. Even though I was slightly out of breath from running and all of the excitement, I still had enough energy to peep inside to see something... or someone.
My prayers were finally answered!!!! Mom told me, “Maurice, meet your baby sister. Her name is Janice.”
Janice was very small and very tiny. She was no bigger than my book-bag. In fact, she could have easily fit in my book-bag. That is how small she was. When I saw her for the very first time, she was asleep on her tummy. A bottle was near her mouth in case she woke up with a craving for more milk. I did not want to wake her up, because we had a long walk home. I did not realize that Daddy was there to take us all home. I finally had the beautiful baby sister I always wanted.
As the years went on, I helped her with a few things. I tried to help her to walk. Even though I was barely riding a bike correctly, I taught her to ride her own. I played with her, and so forth. When she started to attend school, the same school when I met her, she needed my help. I was called to her classroom once in a while—not often—because she cried and needed me. So, I dashed to help her. After all, she was MY baby sister. I wanted to help her. When I was done helping her, I gave her a hug and a kiss, and reminded her that I would see her after school so that we could walk home.
One day, as we were playing in a neighbor’s front yard, I wanted to play a trick on her. She climbed up on a four-step stoop and prepared to jump. I quickly pulled my arms away thinking that she would not jump, but it was too late. She crashed headfirst into the ground and injured herself. I felt so bad about my stupidity. When I thought back about my stunt, I realized that I could have lost her. From that day forward, I was done with my stupidity. I wanted a baby sister. I got one. Now, it was my job to really protect her.
Karma got back at me. One day at school, a bully challenged me to a fight. I had a really tough situation. Getting beat up was bad enough, but I had my sister with me. How was I going to do that, AND protect her at the same time? Before I could find out, the guy went after me. I figured that I would just have to take the beating and deal with it. Before any solution came to my head, I saw all sorts of papers swirling throughout the air. I started to laugh.
“Good! The dummy’s papers are being blown all over town.”
I turned to grab my sister and get the heck outta there. I saw the bully and he was laughing, too. Why? I was sure that those were his papers. My glee turned into sadness when I saw why. My buddy, my baby sister grabbed a whole handful of papers and threw them everywhere. She was having the time of her life.
“Don’t worry, Reesey! I am throwing his papers everywhere!!!” she said.
I had to break her little heart and say, “No, Jan! Those aren’t HIS papers! Those are MINE!”
She responded with a sheepish, “Oops!!”
That was okay. She was still, and always will be, my baby sister and nothing would or could ever replace her. I love her.
And so, after I saw the last of my papers drift away with the wind, I grabbed her arm, walked home, and tried to remember what I had for homework, and what I had to study for the next day. I even lost the only Science paper I ever had a 100 for as well.
I was a greedy little boy even when I started high school. I managed to ask my parents for just one more sibling. My sister and I were now the older siblings of a baby brother named Arthur. When I thought back about it, I often remember how my Grandpa, Dad, and new baby brother would have handled it if my Grandma called for one of them. I could easily see them scratching their heads wondering who she called, because all three of them had the same first name: ARTHUR.
I remember late 1971. We were approaching Christmas. I was on my second year of high school. I had just started music classes on the trumpet. I wanted a tape recorder so that I could record myself, and play it back so that I could see if my sound improved at all. That Christmas Day, however, we opened our presents so quickly that we honestly could not see the carpeting anymore. There were wrappings, ribbons, and all sorts of boxes everywhere. Dad and Mom cuddled up on the couch as they watched the three of us enjoy our presents. After much searching, I found my tape recorder. I tried it out and felt satisfied that it worked well. Our brother was busy playing with his toys. I left him alone. Instead, I took my baby sister, put her on my lap, and decided to show her how it works. After a while, we decided to make our own radio show. I called it "Owen's Ownies," a fictitious show named after a best friend of mine at the time. I created a funny voice, and made up corny jokes so that she and I could laugh at them. We had a good time. We played with the recorder until the batteries eventually died. It was the best fun we had together of all the Christmas Days of all time.
As time went on and we got older, I would graduate from high school and enter college. I was really hoping that she would have attended my high school, but I was okay with her attending a school of her choice. I was fine with it either way. She ended up attending Benjamin J. Cardoza High School. It is where she wanted to be because her other friends were going to attend there as well. Again, I was fine with it.
It was 1981 and two things happened with her. On the bright side, she graduated from high school. On the dark side, she started taking up smoking. The second event bothered me the most. It was a sign to me that something foreboding was about to happen, but I did not know what it would be. I spoke to her about it with the hopes that she would quickly drop the habit. When it came to health, I tried to be the model for my family. I never smoked anything, drank alcohol, or took any sort of drugs. Unfortunately, our parents did drink and smoke. Our little brother did likewise. I felt like Sisyphus pushing that huge boulder up that very steep mountain.
The next year, she gave birth to my very first niece, a beautiful little girl named Jasmine, Jazzy for short. Jazzy looked like the spitting image of my baby sister at the same age. Mom originally wanted her to be named Crystal, but my sister wanted her to have a name that started with a "J" as her name did. I could not argue. I agreed with my sister. Besides, I loved the name Jasmine, because she was a little, pretty flower to me. I would actively help my sister watch Jazzy whenever she went to school at John Jay College in Manhattan, or while she was working at Key Food in Queens Village. I always loved watching Jazzy, because it was like playing with my baby sister all over again.
I remember one occasion when Jazzy was learning to crawl. We were in the living room. On the table in front of the sofa was a Nintendo game console. The wires were drooping over the edge of the table. I put Jazzy on the floor. She started out crawling under the table, and got caught in the wires. I kept trying to show her how to back up, but she only had one gear—forward. It made for a good laugh for Daddy and me when I kept pulling her out only to watch her crawl forward into the wires each time.
I remember another time when my sister went to work and I asked to babysit again. I played with Jazzy all day. We watched TV together. We shared meals and everything. We had fun. Later in the evening, I had to drive to the nearest Long Island Railroad Station to pick up Mom and Janice. So, I wrapped my baby niece up the best way I could, buckled her up in my 1976 Chevy Vega hatchback, turned up the heat, and drove to pick them up. Their train arrived about 15 minutes after we got there. When Jan got into the car, she was mad at me. She felt that I had not wrapped Jazzy warmly enough, but Mom reassured her that I did. We headed home in my jalopy.
Life was going nicely until the beginning of the summer of 1986. I noticed that there was something really different in my sister, but I could not quite place my finger on it. She gave up the cigarettes, That should have made her look better than this. She just wasn't herself. At some point in August, we decided to take her to LaGuardia Hospital in Forest Hills on August 10, just five days before her 23rd birthday.
The doctors performed a few tests on her and kept her for observation. After a day or two, we found out what the problem was, and what our struggle would be. The diagnosis was extremely hard to accept. She had leukemia. If that wasn't bad enough, the doctor added a word to it at the beginning when he said that the disease was acute. I knew that leukemia was a cancer of the blood, but I wasn't too sure about the word "acute." After getting home without her, I rushed for a dictionary to find the meaning of the word. It meant "severe."
NO! NO! NO!
I could not believe this. In short, my sister was dying a very slow and painful death.
On August 15, 1986, my sister celebrated her very last birthday, but I did not really know that at the time. She was still confined to the hospital, for now. We could not get together as a family like we always did. So, Mom, Dad, Jazzy (with Mom), and I went up to see her at separate times. It was her 23rd birthday.
Jan spent most of her last days at home. There were times when she did go out somewhere, but it wasn't far or for long. I spent much more time going to church to pray for her to have more time. Even though she was fighting a battle in her blood, I would have been more than happy to give up all of my blood for hers, so that she could have gone on with her life. Unfortunately, the doctors said that no such thing could have been done. Transfusions would be the only thing that she could use, and even those would not guarantee her an extended life.
On some evening in November, I sat at our kitchen table doing my lesson plans for the school. I had half of my books scattered on half of the table. A few minutes later, Jan came in dressed in her bathrobe, the only item she wore once she returned home from the hospital. She placed a paper on the table, and then sat down. She put Jazzy on her lap and I watched for a while. Jan was showing Jazzy how to print capital and small letters. I stopped my work and I watched them. I was fascinated and sad at the same time. I knew for a brief moment that this would probably be the very last time that I would ever see them together again. At one point, Jan stopped, and Jazzy looked up at her. When their eyes met, it seemed like each somehow knew that it was their last time to physically feel their presence together for the very last time.
A few days later, Janice returned to the hospital. Despite our following the doctor's instructions to the letter, she was getting weaker, and we could not do anything to help her. So, we returned to the same hospital in Forest Hills. No matter where I went, my trips always included a stay at the hospital to be with Jan. This was my baby sister, and nobody was going to stop me from being there with her.
The doctors told me that her condition was getting worse. They never gave a time, but I always held out hope that she was going to beat this. I knew that she must have been feeling great pain. I looked at her when she got out of bed to use the bathroom. Her body looked very strange. In fact, she looked like she was in her seventh or eighth month of pregnancy again. I pulled a doctor who was familiar with my sister's condition to explain to me why she looked the way she did. I was told that her spleen was retaining her blood, and thus had enlarged to the size that I was looking at. When I inquired as to when she could be operated on to undo the damage, I was told that she was too weak and that an operation would kill her. In other words, nothing could be done until her body healed itself first.
One day, I sat alone with Jan in her hospital room. At this point, I was fighting back tears, but I could not show her my tears. Even my voice was beginning to crack as reality set in. If things did not improve, I felt that I was about to lose my baby sister to death. I did not want to lose my best friend. I loved her as much as the day I first saw her. Before going to the hospital, I brought with me a mini tape recorder. On it, I had Jazzy say a get well message to Jan. I played it for her in case she did not see Jazzy right away. Likewise, I had Jan record a message to Jazzy, so that she could hear her Mommy once again. After the recording was done, I broke down. My sister looked at me while she was on her back and told me, "I need you to help me get out of here." I knew what she meant. She needed me to stay positive so that she could get strong and leave. I tried. I really, really tried.
On another day, I brought Mom, Jazzy, and the mother of Jan's best friend to visit her at the hospital. We could not all go up at one time to see her. We were only able to go up two at a time. I parked as close to her window as I could. Mom and Jazzy got out of the car and waited for me to bring Jan to the window to wave at them. When I got to the room with Jan's friend's mother, we walked to the window where I pointed out to Jan where our Mom and Jazzy were standing. Jan waved to them, and Mom and Jazzy waved back. At that point, Jan broke down in tears. So did I. It was at that point that both of us realized that this would be the last time we would see her alive.
On January 31, 1987, Mom and Dad went to see Jan. It was good. I stayed home with Jazzy. We played for a while and watched TV together. Even though I was sitting with her in front of the TV set, my thoughts were on Jan all the time. I was hoping against hope that they would come back home with her, or at least tell me that she was getting much better, and that there were strong signs of improvement. The next day, Mom and I went to see her. Jan was talkative, but I was still hoping that she was getting better. The next day, Mom went to see her by herself while Jazzy and I waited in the car this time. When Mom came back, she told me that Jan was looking much better. She was lively and better than usual. I neglected to ask about whether her stomach looked flatter than before. I was just elated to hear some great news. I convinced myself that my sister was coming home at last.
It was February 3, 1987. I had to get to work. I got dressed and hopped into my 1972 VW Beetle that I rebuilt myself. I felt good. I thought about my sister coming home that day in my car that she rode in so many times before. That morning, however, I slightly changed my routine. Instead of turning on my car first, and then the radio, I wanted to hear music before I heard the engine. I turned on the radio first. At that moment, I heard the DJ mention that some 28 years before, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and JP "Big Bopper" Richardson along with their pilot, died in a plane crash that day in 1959. It was upsetting to hear, but I was happy because I felt that my baby sister was coming back home that day. Nothing was going to get me down. I headed off to work while listening to the Buddy Holly song "That'll Be the Day..."
I was busily teaching a Language Arts lesson that morning. I was really getting into the meat of my lesson when the Principal called me to my classroom door. I was told that I would be needed at the hospital and that the school secretary would drive me there. I did not know why I would need the secretary, but rationalized that maybe my Dad and Mom needed help with getting my sister home. It really did not matter. I was happy.
When I got to the hospital, I rushed up to the sixth floor to her room. When I stepped off the elevator, I noticed that the cart with the paper gowns and masks was gone. We needed that before we entered the room so that my sister would not catch any of our germs. Well, it did not matter because my sister was coming home.
When I entered the room, I saw my Dad with his arm around my crying Mom. I saw one of our parish priests. I also saw a hospital rep there. I looked at the bed and I saw why. My sister was lying on her back. Her eyes were rolled up in her head. Her mouth was partially open, and filled with what looked like orange foam. Nearby, I saw a bowl that once contained her favorite meal, Captain Crunch. I looked at her again and realized what had happened.
My sister had died around 8:45 AM on February 3, 1987. I lost my best friend forever. That was the day that the music died for me.
When Mom, Dad, Jazzy, and I got home we decided to start the funeral plans. I don't know about Mom and Dad, but I saw a few things that would make this situation even tougher than it appeared. We started calling relatives and friends of the family. That was no easy task to do without breaking up.
"Hello, _______. I have some very bad news. My sister Janice had passed away this morning at LaGuardia Hospital. She had been bravely fighting leukemia since August. As of right now, we are getting ready to make the funeral plans. When we are done, I will let you know when and where everything will take place."
If that wasn't bad enough, I took it upon myself to try to explain to Jazzy that her Mom had died, a concept that I knew would be very tough for her to handle. I knew this because it was very tough for me to handle. They say that children can handle matters like this in a much better fashion than adults can. Based on how I was trying to deal with this, I had a strong reason to believe that those studies may have been right. For the moment, even though there were plenty of calls (and crying) to do, I shielded her from some things until I felt the moment was right.
After a while, my brother joined Mom, Dad, and me at the funeral home to make the arrangements. Her viewing would take place on February fifth, a day that my maternal grandmother died when I was just two years old. The funeral itself would take place the next day at our parish church, ironically, the same place where I first saw my wonderful sister's face. The burial would take place at a cemetery way out on Long Island. Good or bad, we just accepted the location. The only problem here was that the funeral was going to coincide with another important day in our family. It was my Mother's birthday. I struggled all day long as to what to say to my Mom. I wasn't ignoring her. I was just dumbstruck. Eventually, I did say "Happy Birthday" to her, hoping that she would understand that I wasn't trying to be disrespectful, sarcastic, or funny. It was truly a very awkward situation for me.
We attended the viewing on February fifth. I looked at my sister lying in repose in her sky-blue casket. The mortician did the best he could to make her look like she was sleeping. Her cheeks were slightly enlarged, but not grossly enlarged. She did look like she was sleeping. I sat down after seeing her, and tried to compose myself not just for my sake, but for Mom, Dad, my baby brother, and for Jazzy who was not there to say farewell to her Mommy for the very last time. Daddy felt it best that she'd not be there despite my objections. I was forced to take her to a babysitter that we knew. Mom and Dad held each other close as they saw their first deceased child in that casket and decked out in a very nice dress and a veil. It was so hard to see.
The next day—Mom's birthday—we arrived at our parish church for the funeral. It was sunny out, but I felt stormy inside. When we parked in front of the church, Mom and Dad stood outside of the vehicles while my brother and I, and four more of my sister's male friends walked to the hearse. We unloaded her casket from the hearse, up to the steps of the church, and placed it on the bier so that it could be rolled into the church for the funeral Mass to begin. It would be the last time that I would ever carry my sister anywhere.
As part of our preparations, I asked (and my family agreed) if I could do the eulogy. As an English major, and teacher of English, I felt that I could best express the thoughts of the entire family. When it was time, I stood at the lectern to speak.
"Dear Janice, you are at peace. I know that you are enjoying yourself in Heaven. You were a fighter. You never sat back and said that you were going to let things happen to you. In the face of death, you fought to keep more time to stay with us. When the going got tough, you rolled up your sleeves and got going.
Janice, you touched each of us in a very special way. You gave comfort to Mom and Dad. You were always there when you were needed. You were a fortress to them. To our brother Arthur, you were a counselor. You were there to talk with him, and enjoy all of the many good times together. To your daughter Jasmine, you were the ideal mother. You always knew what was best for her, your only daughter. To me, you were the best sister I could ever have. You taught us, through your example, about faith. You never let go of your faith. It was through your struggle that you taught us to not give up. You walked with God then and you live with God now.
We shall always remember the good memories you left with us. We will remember your smile, your demeanor, and especially the way you made a lasting impression with everyone you met. Janice, you had a heart that gold couldn't match. To you, Janice, Christianity wasn't a religion. It was your life. You always prefaced an act of injustice done by someone to someone else by saying 'That's not nice.' In the face of grave pain, you always managed to smile with reassurance that you were okay and because you wanted everyone to think positive thoughts.
Janice, you will always be with us. You may have left us physically, but you are always with us spiritually. You accomplished many things in the short time that God allowed you to be with us. In your short time, you taught the strongest and toughest lesson anyone could attempt to teach. You taught us how to love.
The last thing you mentioned was the fact that you wanted to go home. Janice, you are home now. We love you.
Your loving family."
She was buried at a very nice, but distant cemetery called Nassau Knolls. It was very peaceful. For the first few months after the funeral and burial, Mom, Jazzy, and I would make weekly treks out to see my sister's grave. We laid flowers on it and prayed. Jazzy, who had no idea what the land was about, would run across four or five graves in order to run around a nearby tree while Mom and I prayed. Even though she was here for the burial. When it was time to go, she would run back to my arms so that I could carry her to the car for the ride home.
On another occasion, Dad drove Mom, Jazzy, and me to see her. We got the same results, except for this time, Daddy looked at Janice's grave and walked away while Mom and I prayed. Dad stood some five or six rows away. I saw why. For the first time in my life, I saw my Dad cry. He was hurting to see his only daughter's grave. I know that he was truly hurting that day.
In closing, it is June 5, 2019. I celebrated Dad's birthday three days ago. Since Jan died, Mom and Dad have also passed. Every night when I am sitting at home alone, I like to think back to the wonderful times we had together. It's what you do when you, not only had the best parents in history, but also when you had the greatest baby sister in the world.