This weekend our extended family is gathering to honor the life of our sister, Maureen Snead, who passed away on April 8th of this year. Today at her Celebration of Life, I read a little (okay, it’s long for “little”) thank-you note I penned. It’s not a eulogy or an obituary — it’s a casual, very Classical Girl-esque musing. Which means it’s only logical that I share it here, too.
Hey, it’s Terez, but you know that. So this is just a little note I penned, to thank you, for all that you’ve been in my life.
Thank you for being born sixteen months before me, learning the ropes before I came along, making you older, wiser—and, okay, bossier. Thank you for sharing a room with me. Although at the time, I didn’t feel particularly thankful. You hated how sloppy I was and used to gripe constantly. I’ll have you know I became neater, finally, around the time I got married. Which is ironic, because, while I married someone who keeps the room neat, you married someone who liked to keep it sloppy, just like I did. Oops. That’s karma for you.
Thank you for collaborating with me, that one night when you and I were on clean-up duty after dinner but focused instead on throwing leftover cooked spaghetti up at the ceiling, where it stuck, which cracked us up. Problem was, Dad was in the next room, on a business call, and he kept hissing for us to keep it down. We didn’t. Or let’s say we forgot. Blame the spaghetti. Dad finished his call and hung up in a fury, yelling that it had been an important call. You looked down, all contrite, which meant you missed the way some of the spaghetti was falling on Dad’s head, which made me laugh. He swung my way, all wrathful. “Hey, smart mouth,” he bellowed, “do you think this is funny?” To which I had to pretend to be scared, and on the verge of tears, which was easy to do, because laughter uses the same muscles, you just need to scrunch up your face like you’re crying. Come to think of it, that’s the only time I saw you get yelled at, Maureen. Thanks for taking one for the team.
Thank you, in our teen years, for showing me what “normal” looked like. For being responsible, sociable, studious, respectable, well liked, eager to please. You and I were so different, I can’t say I emulated that, but I sure admired it.
Thank you for getting married and having kids before me. For being a living example of parenthood, so that when my fiancé Peter and I took in your family chaos during a visit to your home in Waldorf, MD. Lara and Andrew were these young, screaming, demon children, and when you blithely inquired, “Almost ready for kids?” my answer was a decisive “nope,” and another seven years of birth control.
And later, when I was pregnant, and later, with a new baby, then a toddler, then my own young, screaming, demon-child, thank you for listening to my uncertainties, my tearful litanies and offering me palatable snippets of advice. “Hang in there” and “just love him” and “maybe stick with just one kid.”
Ah, your kids. Your beautiful, smart, sensitive, witty, engaging kids. Lara, Andrew, Christopher. I love them so much. Thank you for naming me as godmother to Andrew. In the past several years, as you declined, it’s given me the opportunity to take on a more nuanced role of what constitutes a godmother. Aunt, but more. Surrogate mother, but not. Friend, family member—there for him always, particularly once you could no longer be.
Thank you, sis, for being such a warrior, through your acoustic neuroma diagnosis, through the surgery and recuperation, the facial paralysis and raging tinnitus, through the surgeries that followed when recuperating didn’t go as planned. You kept trying, day after day, month after month, even as your burdens—both the ones outside and inside you, grew heavier. And yet you pushed all that aside in order to invite your sisters to Seattle to help celebrate your 50th birthday on a week-long Alaskan cruise. Laura and I still had kids and busy households, so we could only join the rest of you for a few days, pre-cruise, but that sister weekend turned out to be precious beyond measure. That was the peak for you, we all see now. A bucket-list item, a special treat you shared with your sisters.
And after that trip, you retreated. Deeper and deeper, to a place where we could no longer reach out and help you.
Thank you for giving me a reason to fly up to Seattle a few times a year, pre-COVID, abandoning my own family in order to cheerfully insinuate myself into yours for a few nights. You weren’t in a party mood, ever, and you probably didn’t want me there, but you always had a hug for me, an “I love you, sis”. I’d buy and bring over clothes that matched, just like when we were little and Mom put us in outfits that made us look like twins. It felt a little like a celebration every time I came, bearing those and other gifts, your Olalla home full of good smells from the dinner that Thomas, your husband and cook extraordinaire, had made. Christopher would join us, we’d all have wine and overeat, and, if only for a short time, all felt right with the world.
Thank you for taking my phone calls, once COVID hit and I couldn’t come visit you so I called you every Sunday at 4:30. You had less and less to say each time and I learned it wasn’t productive to ask “how are you?” because your descent into depression and anxiety continued on its downward free-fall, but no matter how few words you said, it was good to hear your voice. And I told you so, and I told you how much I loved you, and it was music to hear you reply, “I love you too, sis.” At those words, the warmth and intention you gave them, I knew my sister was still there.
You picked a great spouse. Thomas encouraged and then, well, sort of pressured you into taking my calls—much like he’d encouraged you to walk, to shower, to be active when you wanted only to hide away and sleep. When you stopped taking my phone calls, he took them, picking up the ringing phone with a “go away, we don’t want any,” which made us both cackle with laughter, and we’d shoot the breeze and talk for forty-five minutes anyway. Great guy. In the last year, he became my sole conduit to you, and what arose was a friendship that is powerful, grounded in a very difficult reality, one he always managed to address with honesty, pragmatic humor, candor and realness. His challenge was huge, and his commitment to you unwavering.
Thank you for allowing me to understand sister love in a way I’d never anticipated, and for not dying while I was en route to see you in the hospital one last time. I was particularly anxious because Dad had done that in 2020, as Peter, Jon and I drove from California to Kansas City, thinking we had time. You had mere days, I was told, and my goal became single-minded. I just wanted to hold my sister’s hand one more time and tell her I loved her.
And you stayed alive for me. Not conscious, but alive. Thank you for the presence of your in-and-out breath, ragged and labored as it was. For the warmth of your skin, the velvety softness of your forehead as I kissed it and told you I loved you.
And those final moments with you that day, my mind struggling to process that “goodbye” this time meant a whole lot more than the other times I’d said it. This was it. I kept saying, “Okay I’m done,” to Peter, there with me. We’d take a few steps toward the door and I’d stop, do an about-face, telling him, “Wait, one last time.”
Holding your hand. Saying, “I love you, sis. You can go now. Fly free. I love you so much.” And this time, you opened your eye. Not just a flutter like before. You opened an eye and it stayed open. Enough for me to marvel at the sight—our eyes are the same color. Exactly the same. I’d forgotten that.
You were there. You knew I was there.
That was the big gift I took away when I finally left your room, left the hospital, and later that day, left Seattle. Our sister-ness. The connection that felt as big as the ocean, something literally larger than life. Like a celestial umbilical cord, one that remained strong, even when I found out, two days later, that you’d passed away. One that I can still feel, right now.
Miraculously, here you are today, among us. I feel that.
And for that, I thank you.