Fairly early in my life, I grew comfortable with the idea that one day I would lose my parents. I knew they would grow old, that I would need to worry about how they were cared for, that one day I would have to help plan their funeral.
I didn't like to think about it, but I knew in the back of my mind that it would happen. I saw it happen to them, after all, in the deaths of my grandparents.
Many of us, me included, don't have that same experience when it comes to our siblings. It's too much like thinking about the end of our own lives to realize that the kids we loved fiercely, fought with relentlessly, competed with endlessly or cared for in infancy when we were kids ourselves will also come to the end of their lives.
Over the last month, I have confronted the vulnerability not just of a sibling, but my youngest sister — my junior by a full 10 years.
IN MEMORY: My sister Margie will always be remembered for her sunny disposition and willingness to help anyone in need.
She was the fifth of six siblings — all girls at that point. My sisters and I had active imaginary lives in which all of us had the middle name "Ann" so we begged our parents to name our baby sister "something Ann." They did. Margie Ann joined us on Oct. 21, 1959.
She had the sunniest disposition of any baby, ever. She hardly ever cried — how could she with four big sisters, aged 11, 10, 8 and 3, to make sure her every need was met?
She also had serious birth defects, all of which went unnoticed at first. Her tiny feet were determined to roll upside down. She had a slight heart murmur that might mean a valve defect. She was ambidextrous and genetically predisposed to both diabetes and rheumatoid disease.
I didn't know most of that when I left home for college when she was 6.
Over the years, I stayed in contact much the way most siblings do — with phone calls, sporadic visits and letters. The internet didn't exist. Neither did cellphones. Long distance was expensive and only used for birthdays, Christmas and dire emergencies.
I knew that she went to Shriners Hospitals for surgery on her feet to try to correct the birth defect, but that it should have been done years before. Her tiny feet were forever crippled, her knee joints and hip joints were damaged. But her sunny disposition was unchanged.
As we aged, she was the one who stayed in touch with everybody. When the inevitable family disagreements over this or that broke out, Margie remained everybody's friend. She remembered birthdays and holidays and sent out packages of her exceptionally good Christmas candy every year.
As Mom's health failed, Margie became a full-time caregiver, learning the things she needed to know to take care of an invalid. She kept house and made meals and took care of nieces and nephews so parents could work.
After Mom's death, she moved into town, closer to another sister, and became the latch-key caregiver for two nieces.
She loved her Lord and her church. She faithfully attended Bible study and helped with vacation Bible school. She made her famous yeast rolls for funeral dinners and special occasions, and handed out her homemade candy generously.
Her pastor called her "the minister of transportation," a tribute her willingness to give rides to the doctor, dentist and grocery store as well as pick up children from school. Anybody who needed a hug or a caring word could find it at her door.
When computers brought the ability for instant and frequent communication, her nephew — a computer whiz — made sure she had one and taught her how to use it. He made himself administrator so he could take over remotely and help her solve any problems.
She grew to love Facebook, which let her be a virtual guest at birthday parties, Christmas mornings, piano recitals, horse shows and more.
When the troublesome heart valve finally became a critical problem, she faced the need for open heart surgery with the same courage she gave the other health problems she faced.
Without the surgery, her time with us would be short. She was not afraid to die, but she wanted the years of better health and mobility that the operation might give her.
It almost did. The surgery went well, and she was recovering. The day before she died, she told me that she had been able to walk independently with her walker, and her physical therapist was pleased. She was looking forward to being home with her kitties again. I let myself believe she was going to get those extra years of life.
Then came a blood clot. And just like that, she was gone from this earth. She will never be gone from my heart or from the hearts of the scores of people who knew her and loved her. Rest in peace, baby sister.