Anthem for My Little Sister

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I can tell you exactly how it feels.

I’m capable of enduring almost any level of physical and emotional pain. But when someone I love is hurting, that pain is transformed into something epic and primal; a meat hook that suspends me from my sternum.

The greatest fear in my life has come to pass, and I would give anything to change the circumstances. Marilou, my little sister, is once again fighting cancer, with lesions on multiple organs, her bones, and her brain.

How many ways can a heart break?

Although she is gifted at friendship, Marilou is a thoughtful, solitary, private person, and I try to respect that privacy. But I want you to know her, just a little, and to see her as I do.

We have always been close, more friends than siblings, which is the way of our family. As a child she was a fussy eater, but ravenous when I held her silver spoon in my own small hand. Times when I came home with bruised knuckles often correlated perfectly with her tendency to speak her mind to much bigger kids.

But truth be told, whether she was singing to aunts and uncles for spare change, or making Dad laugh so hard he couldn’t punish her, Marilou always knew how to slide past trouble. She seldom needed anyone’s help. When she was in full flight, her banner unfurled, I was relegated to the supporting cast. But, even as a kid, I knew that was the proper order of things. It seldom bothered me.

How could it? Something about that curly red hair, that impish-yet-cherubic face, always turned anger to laughter and frustration to good times.

As we grew, skinning our elbows and our hearts, we became closer. I kept her secrets. I was an assistant coach for her volleyball team, and chaperoned her junior high school dances, and never once told Dad that she was watering down his vodka. Gail never learned that Marilou was driving her car around the neighborhood even though she wasn’t yet legal. We comforted each other when our father died young. When we were split down the middle by a devastating two-faced betrayal, we shared a bottle of good wine and chose to rise above it.

But she has always been, and will always be, my little sister. And she’s always been a caring and loving friend. I hope that helps explain how gutted and empty I feel these past weeks.

Great pain extinguished my belief in a higher power, but there are greater things that I cannot see or hold. Like my love for my little sister.

And while I could write about sweet, soft lullabies, I will not. I want these words to be a brother’s anthem, a rousing chorus that rises and swells, and promises great deeds. Because, like our mother, Marilou can lick her weight in wildcats.

She carries a tattoo on her hip. The Japanese characters recall Budo — The Way of the Warrior. We shared years of training in Shotokan karate, and both hold black belts. We’re both fighters, in the best sense of the word. We face challenges bravely, muster calmness when our insides are roiling, have the ability to endure pain that might well break others.

I cannot fight this battle for her. But I can cook meals, hold her hand when she’s inserted into that cold MRI tunnel, and show her I love her with words and deeds. Everyone in my family is doing much more, and in this way she is blessed. Her people in Queensland and Tantallon have already shown support for her in a way that would touch the coldest heart, raising thousands to help support complementary treatments and compensate for lost wages. Marilou has been overwhelmed by their generosity, and each member of our family has been touched.

We will pay it forward.

I wake to grief every morning, and it threatens to consume me. But I also possess the heart of a warrior, so I gain strength in good times, in fond memories, and know we will make new, good memories in the coming months. Why, we’ll become a great-aunt and -uncle in just a few weeks, and my first-born niece will soon be married.

And in the meantime, we can remember the best times. The event itself has been lost to memory, but I remember Mom catching Marilou making serious mischief even though she was still in diapers.

Mom was furious, but she looked at her little angel, and couldn’t keep from grinning.

“Marilou, you’re awfully cute,” she said. “But you’re B-A-D!”

Marilou beamed. “That spells ‘sweet’, doesn’t it?”

In our house, it always has.

Tiny

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20 Responses to Anthem for My Little Sister

  1. Kim Covert says:

    Aw, Richard, stop making me cry at work, dammit. Whatever happens to your sister, she’s blessed to have had a brother like you. And you’ve been blessed to have had a sister like her.
    Sometimes life just sucks.

  2. I don’t know that a better anthem has ever been written for a little sister, Richard. You’re one of the few writers who can make a grown man cry. Please tell Marilou that internet friends near and far are pulling for her, and channeling all the love they have to spare.

  3. My heart goes out to you and Marilou. I’m sending as much positive energy as I can her way.

  4. Dana Nielsen says:

    Wow Richard, that is truly beautiful. I’m sitting in the Bike and Bean as we speak, trying hard to hold back the tears. Marilou is one of the strongest women I know. She has all the love and support of friends, and one amazing family who I have grown to know well over the past few years. I send my love and support to you all. xoxo
    Dana Girl

  5. Nancy Bond says:

    Though I don’t know your sister, unfortunately, I do know you. And I know that with you by her side, Marilou will have only half the battle to fight, half the load to carry. Stay strong and know that positive, healing energy is being sent from here. (((hugs)))

  6. Laurel says:

    What a gorgeous homage. We will be thinking of you and your family, sending prayers and well wishes. XOXO

  7. Jan Everett says:

    It’s amazing just how much love we find inside ourselves at times like this. I don’t know you Richard, but I hope that you find it comforting, like I do, to feel the true privilege of having someone in your life that you feel so strongly about, however painful it gets. I remind myself daily that some people never even get close.

  8. Here’s a little more love from down south. You both have a capacity for strength that is greater than mine, but if you feel it waning, you are welcome to any I can give.

  9. Rufus Percival says:

    Beautiful mate, lots of love coming from me.

  10. Denise Carrigan says:

    Richard, unfortunately for me, you and I have not truly met but I have known Marilou for many years now as a friend and as big part of my family being that I am Dana’s sister. I too am very close with my brothers so reading this shows such love between siblings, a love that is special within close knit families. Marilou is so wonderfully blessed to have such love surrounding her at this time. The fighter you speak of in the touching anthem you wrote, along with all the love of her family and her many friends, may just yet prove the expression that “love can conquer all”.

  11. Oh, Richard. You write so beautifully about such a hard journey you are all on. When we find ourselves in the presence of a grave illness, the most generous act we can perform, I think, is to let the person know that she or he is cherished. It requires setting aside our own fear and keeping moving through our grief to focus on the other person. Staying close. It’s bloody hard, and it’s life changing. Marilou is lucky to have such a brother as you.

  12. Sarah Hina says:

    As the little sister of a big brother, this put a lump in my throat. Hell, as a human being, this put a lump in my throat. Your love is beautiful and fierce, and it shines through every word.

    I’m glad Marilou has you in her corner. All my best to both of you. Keep your grip firm on her hand.

  13. Dina says:

    Hi Richard,

    I can’t tell you how much your anthem resonated with me in an inverted world sort of way.

    I am that younger (also B-A-D) sister who had to watch an older sibling suffer an unspeakable tragedy (as well as my niece, as you know, having cancer last year).
    Tonight as my husband plays poker with his friends and my surroundings are filled with joy I’m writing about the symbolism of doors for a university paper:

    “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” – William Blake

    Symbolic gates, thresholds and doors are often hidden in stories within a subtle context reminding us that although passages and transitions, even pain, are always part of our lives not everyone sees them for what they mean.

    You are an exception. I’m sending you & your family my deepest prayers at this time.

    I hope we’ll see you this week,
    Dina

  14. j a zobair says:

    A brother’s anthem, in spades. There is the ranting feminist part of me, and then there is the part that is also a little sister, who finds great comfort in the idea of the love and strength of an older brother, watching out for her, protecting her.

    I’m so glad your sister has you as her big brother.

    I’m sorry it took so long to comment. The first time I read this, I simply had no words.

    Take good care, Richard.

  15. Roxie says:

    Hey Richard
    Wow…….as usual written from the heart and touching all of ours!
    Love
    Roxie

  16. Daniel Tam says:

    Thank you, Richard for your sincere words. My prayers are with you, Marylou and your family.

  17. John MacLeod says:

    I’m blown away……you have a way of expressing your heart!

  18. CHARLENE CORKUM says:

    God gave us brothers and sisters so that we would learn the true meaning of Love. Not romantic Love, not friend love, and not wishful or playful love. They are are ours to teach us true love, forgiving love, funny love, enduring love and trusting love. A piece of them lives inside us, the piece that never leaves no matter what. For when we fell their joy, their pain, their successes and their struggles that little piece rises up and screams “I’M HERE FOR YOU FOREVER, NO MATTER, WHAT. AND I LOVE YOU SO VERY MUCH.”

    Richard: You and Lou have been blessed with such a beautiful family. I know the strength you share will get Lou through this. I have learnt a lot
    about love through this terrible time for you all. Please keep believing…love can heal all.

  19. CHARLENE CORKUM says:

    God gave us brothers and sisters so that we would learn the true meaning of Love. Not romantic Love, not friend love, and not wishful or playful love. They are ours to teach us true love, forgiving love, funny love, enduring love and trusting love. A piece of them lives inside us, the piece that never leaves no matter what. For when we fell their joy, their pain, their successes and their struggles that little piece rises up and screams “I’M HERE FOR YOU FOREVER, NO MATTER, WHAT. AND I LOVE YOU SO VERY MUCH.”

    Richard: You and Lou have been blessed with such a beautiful family. I know the strength you share will get Lou through this. I have learnt a lot
    about love through this terrible time for you all. Please keep believing…love can heal all.

  20. Laura Leah Brown says:

    I’m Praying!!! Cling to the light.
    Genesis 1:3
    And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
    John 8:12
    [ I Am the Light of the World ] Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
    John 14:6
    Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
    1 Thessalonians 4:13
    [ The Coming of the Lord ] But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
    Ecclesiastes 3:11
    He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

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