The Ballerina Sister

Eighteen tiny ballerinas occupy center stage, all on their knees, heads lowered to the floor, ruffled tutus up in the air behind them. Their next movement will depict flowers blooming in spring. The recorded music tapers down and the lights dim. Amused moms, dads, brothers, sisters and grandparents hold their breath to preserve complete silence in the elementary school auditorium. One second. Two seconds. Three seconds… One tiny head, cheeks so red they appear rouged, pops up, searches quickly through the audience, then pops down again. The audience roars with laughter.

The ballerina who didn’t keep her head down is Debbie. She has brown hair, brown eyes, an impish little face – and diabetes. She will live to be 49.

She is the youngest child in her family, the one who can get away with doing things her parents would never have tolerated in her older siblings; the one who can get away with being sassy because she’s so cute.

The Ballerina Sister with our mom.

She will become a good student and play an instrument in her high school marching band. She will go away to a good university but will return to live with her parents and finish up at a local college. She will never break the parental ties, will always live nearby and will be her mom’s best friend.

She will get a job with a large utility company because she needs the healthcare benefits. She will refuse promotions because the stress of management is too much for her, but she will run every office she is ever in without receiving the pay. Her bosses will love her. She will always pay her own way, in every relationship.

She will love all holidays, especially Halloween and Valentines Day. She will love life and everything living. Animals, even cats, will do her bidding. Squirrels will dance for her. A wild goose will return to her each year. She will name the goose Gossard and it will leave the other geese and come to her when she calls its name. Older people who witness this will say the term for someone with this ability is “God’s child.”

She will marry and her only child will die shortly after birth. Her husband will get into tax trouble and money will be taken from her paychecks for backpayments. She will divorce him to keep this from happening and vow never to marry again.

Men will be attracted to her. There will always be a man. She will make no demands on them, so they will keep coming back to her. There will be a guy who once was a multi-millionaire, but when she meets him he will be a delivery courier. They will live together. He will be a loving caregiver when she gets a kidney transplant. He will die of pancreatic cancer. There will be one more man after him, the most loving, gentle and caring man imaginable. He will be there for her in her last years.

In her forties she will frequently be in and out of hospitals. Her eyesight will deteriorate. She will walk with pain. Shortly after her 49th birthday she will enter a “rehabilitation facility” and hate it. She will endure great pain and her foot will be amputated just above the toes. There will be discussion of amputating more, but she will go to a contract hospice bed in a real hospital instead.

There she will die and the nurses will spread her beautiful brown hair across her pillow.

R.I.P., Little Sis.

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21 responses to “The Ballerina Sister

  1. Such a beautiful story. Sad, and uplifting at the same time as your sister was so well loved. Thank you for sharing it. Thank you for being a wonderful brother. Thank you for loving her. It makes the world go better.

  2. Heartbreaking. Poignant. Powerful.

    So sorry for your loss, Gordon; so moved by your words. Poetry.

  3. This is one of the most beautiful tributes I have ever read. Thank you for sharing your sister’s story.

  4. I think this is so beautiful! What a wonderful way to remember. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Wow! Powerful. A true tribute. She would be proud. I have been your friend for 38 years and this shows how little one really knows about another person. I had no idea.

  6. You brought tears to my eyes. Life goes on but the pain doesnt go away.

  7. God isnt fair to the nice people. Your sis lived a life I could envy. It takes a heart like hers. Well written, Gordon. And you just made your sister proud to have you as her brother! 🙂

  8. Beautiful tribute, Gordon. You have made your sister very proud and shared a bit of her specialness with your readers. Thanks very much for that –

  9. Lovely tribute to a truly fabulous person.
    I knew Debbie since she was eight and can honestly say, that I have never met a more loving, kind and forever cheerful person in my life. I don’t know from where she took her strength. Even when confronted with immense problems, Debbie was always positive and so much fun to be around.
    I’ve always adored her. When I think about all the wonderful people that have crossed passes with me, she is one that immediately comes to mind.

  10. Wow Gordon, what a beautiful tribute to your sister.

  11. Oh, my. Thank you for sharing your words honoring your sister, Gordon. She sounds like a very special person. We are so sorry for your loss, and we are deeply moved by your touching and personal rememberance of her.

  12. Perfectly written! You brought me into her life. What a wonderful tribute!

  13. What a beautiful and tearbringing way of remembering a good human

    I wish you strength and many years in good health

    Jörgen

  14. This moved me like no blog writing ever has. Thank you for sharing her story and for treating her life with forgiveness and nuanced beauty.

  15. Thanks for such a beautiful story – she feels like she’s my little sister too, and I am so touched by your obvious love for an amazing woman.

    Thanks for sharing!

  16. This is incredibly beautiful. What a lovely brother you are, for remembering your sister so vividly and in such heart-felt words.

  17. Your writing makes me wish that I had known Debbie. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  18. Very moving and poignant write. Eulogies and tributes have never sounded so heartfelt.

    PS: Thanks to your post on The Times of India Blogs, I came across this gem of a writing.

  19. To the woman who taught me to drink beer with sailors before it was even close to legal. Love you Aunt Myrtle.

  20. I have reread this countless times. I keep coming back because of the effect it has on me. In a world that is filled with so much cynicism, this is pure love and light. There isn’t any “woe is me.” There is endurance, tolerance, tenderness, strength, love, love , love and more love.
    Thank you so much.

  21. Terry Fulton

    Dear Gordon,
    My heart cracked open when I read about Debbie.

    I believe Bill and your mom were neighbors of my family when we all lived in Jefferson Manor. Later when we lived in Arlington, my sister and I would race to the top of our hill to watch for the approach of the long (green?) car with The Pretty Lady and Debbie. Bill was driving that long car, but he couldn’t compete with the main attractions.

    I was seven when Debbie was born. Getting older makes a seven year difference seem insignificant. That gap when I was little, though, made me feel like a very big girl. And little Debbie was the cutest, most welcome and amusing playmate imaginable.

    Of course, there was no more beautiful woman than your mother. She was simply the most elegant, smartly dressed person I’d ever seen. Her eyes danced when she laughted, and she laughed a lot telling stories about impish Debbie. Debbie I’m sure added to the story trove when they visited. When Debbie’s diabetes was diagnosed, your mom’s sadness and fear were easy to sense.

    Debbie, Norine and Bill. I wished so much to see them all again. Your tender story captures the delightful Debbie who I knew only as a child. I wish I’d known her through all her years of happiness, accomplishment, loves, pain and loss. I wish I’d been able to see her dancing brown eyes again.

    I sincerely hope that a wealth of memories sustains you.

    Warm regards,
    Terry (Howard) Fulton

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