Last One Standing

(After reading this, the retired man I live with reminded me that October 31-November 2 is the Day of the Dead [more information] celebration in Mexican culture. Today is November 2, 2019.)

I drove past my sister’s cemetery in Raleigh earlier today. She died when she was almost 19. Her parachute didn’t open. Neither did the reserve chute.

It was June 10, 1972. She had just finished her freshman year at UNC. I was 20 and had just finished my sophomore year. Our brother was 16 and had just finished his sophomore year in high school. We lived in North Hills in Raleigh.

I never know what to say when people ask if my sister and I were close. We were 16 months apart in age, We moved a lot growing up. 4 elementary schools, 1 junior high, and 2 high schools for me; 3 elementary schools, a junior high, a middle school and 1 high school for her. Each time we moved, we only knew each other so we had to stick together, at least until we made new friends. We loved each other and stuck up for each other, but, boy, could we bicker and argue.

We were very different. The older we got, the more different we got.

She had (natural) fiery red hair. Mine was somewhere between dirty blond and brown. In high school, I was in the Honor Society and a senior class officer. She acted in a play at NC State University about the Marquis de Sade, known as the father of written eroticism.(click here for more information) I went to her play, was uncomfortable and slightly embarrassed and couldn’t understand what it was about. I don’t think she understood most of my my choices, either. Like having a thing for football players at Carolina.

She was a risk-taker. I was a play-it-safe rule-follower. She tried LSD in high school and told me I shouldn’t. I never did and didn’t drink until I was legal.

When she was 17, she asked our parents to sign a permission form  so she could legally try parachuting with her college-age boyfriend.  They told me later they signed because they knew she’d do it either way (she would have) and they wanted to know what she was planning.

She LOVED it.

She invited me to go with them. I thought she was nuts and said so. My stomach would flip every time I thought about it. Still does.

The day she died, I remember the retired man I live with now picking me up early from my shift in the fabric department at Sears. He had met my parents for the first time that afternoon (we’d been together a couple of months). He was at our house when my parents found out she’d died and he came to get me. He wouldn’t tell me why, just that I had to come home.

I remember Mom and Dad meeting me at the front door. I remember screaming “Nooooo!” I remember my dad crying. I remember waiting a couple of hours for my brother to get home from an away baseball game. I don’t think we ever ate dinner.

I remember my brother and I went with Mom and Dad the next day to pick a grave site. I remember laughing at some things my dad said. Better to make silly (probably inappropriate) jokes rather than cry, I guess. I remember wondering what the cemetery guy thought of us.

We picked a quiet spot on a hillside overlooking a pond. Over the years, the pond disappeared and became a road. I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

My parents and my brother have all died now.  My sister is in Raleigh, my parents are buried together in a cemetery in Greensboro, where I live. Part of my brother’s ashes went in a creek in the NC mountains and my daughters and I took the rest of his ashes to the ocean on the NC coast.

I don’t visit the cemeteries. I never really have. I didn’t stop when I drove past my sister’s today. She’s not there. And Mom and Dad aren’t in the one in my town, either. I do think about all of them. I have conversations sometimes.

I wonder what my sister would have been like at 66–impossible to imagine!–and I wonder what she’d think of my life at 67.

I often hear my brother say, in his deep southern drawl, “It is what it is, Rob.”

I am the last one standing.

I miss them all.





Published in: on November 2, 2019 at 5:26 pm  Comments (12)  
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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for taking us on this trip with you, Robin.
    I get it.
    I’m the last one standing, too.
    For me – in a lot of ways, it sucks. In other ways, I’m grateFULL that my stories Of Us are my truth – now.
    I bet you get that.
    Love you.

    • I certainly do get that. They are all in me, for better or worse!
      Love you.

  2. Beautiful and poignant, Robin. Thank you for sharing.

  3. I get it. I suddenly became the “matriarch” on July 19, 1989, a position I never wanted. My brother still stands with me, but we are all that’s left of our nuclear family.

    • It’s so weird to be the “grownups!”

  4. Robin, thank you for sharing this story. I had heard from mutual friends that you had lost your sister this way but never knew any details. I can only imagine your pain at that young age. It’s very special that you & Mike were together for this sad event and are together still. Milt and I remember our days in RR and especially the pool and swim team stories. Seems like yesterday.

    • I remember RR well, too. It doesn’t seem that lng ago.
      A long marriage includes a lot of history, doesn’t it?
      Thanks for reading and commenting, Molly.

  5. Thanks Robin – what happened to your sister no one on earth has been able to explain, and i have asked every single one of them. the only other thing I have realized is that the parachute systems of the day were not build for passengers that weighed 100 pounds. Her gear weighed at least 50 pounds. She was a first place winner in her class in everything. I am so sorry.

    • That explanation makes as much sense as any, doesn’t it? She was a bitsy thing! A lot of presence and energy for her size!

  6. Robin, I am lying in bed just moving through some junk mail that got past the filters and finally got to your Amma Ponders post from yesterday. I usually save them to read when I can indulge myself in a slow, savoring walk through as each is always a gift. But this was a tough one that sure gave me a jolt right out of the chute. Sadly, I realized how little I knew of the profound and dramatic losses of family you have survived. Your telling their stories gives me more insight into the empathy and compassion that you have so readily and tenderly extended to so many. I am saddened by and so deeply sorry for each of these heartaches that have touched you and your family. I am the oldest of 4 children born in 5 1/2 years to careless Catholic parents. Although my parents have been gone for over a decade, my sister and 2 brothers are all still around and are more precious to me than ever as we are all now in our 70’s, even though we live in different cities and only see each other a couple of times a year. This recent Amma Ponders gave me a strong reason to ponder the gifts that I am still blessed to have in their physical presence in my life. I also deeply appreciate both the strength and vulnerability you have  shared in relating your experience of such profound losses. I am sending you a hug from my heart to yours with gratitude that I have been deeply blessed to know you, to learn from you, and be strengthened by your courage and friendship. Thank you.💘

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

    • Suzanne, your comments have stayed with me for a couple of days. You, too, are a writer! You were one of the gifts Hospice gave me. I learned so much listening to you. I’m glad were still connected in this weird, new-fangeled way.

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