I lost someone today. She was my family, my sister-in-law, my sister, Marlene. She was 58 and way too young to leave us. While she recently underwent surgery for colon cancer, the doctors said that they got it all. Her diagnosis was good, her body restored. She died today of heart failure we think due to a blood clot, a complication of the surgery. It was her 39th wedding anniversary.
She and my brother met in Baltimore City where he worked as a mechanic at my Dad’s small foreign car repair shop. She lived in an apartment over a business down the street. I remember the first time I met her, I thought she was an angel. Her hair ran down the length of her small frame to her butt and it was the color of spun honey. She was pretty and my brother was in love.
I remember the day they got married, today 39 years ago. I was 12. They eloped and showed up at night on my parents’ doorstep with a smile and rings on their fingers. My parents were shocked and instead of inviting them in with warm congratulations, they sent them on their way. My Mom said that if they were old enough to get married they were old enough to figure out where and how they were going to live. Tough love? They moved in with Marlene’s parents and then into their own apartment. My Mom gave them an ironing board and iron as a wedding present.
It wasn’t long before my brother enlisted in the Army. Within in a year she was pregnant with my nephew. They got a small apartment on the military base and then she had my niece. They were a family.
It took time for my Mom and Dad and Marlene to warm up to each other. I think it had something to do with the day they showed up at our doorstep. But she grew to be a third daughter as she should be. She also grew into one of the strongest women I know.
Ironically, they ended up into my parents’ house when they retired in Florida. It became their home and she ran the household with a firm hand. She was extremely honest and was not shy about giving her opinion. She laughed at life and would shrug her shoulders when life didn’t go as expected. She was accepting.
Her kids were her universe and so were all the other kids they knew. While I spent most of my life in other states, we’d visit now and then on special days and the house would be filled with her children’s friends, each of them calling her Mom. She was Mother Goose and this was her flock.
She saw her son marry twice and bring two boys into the world, eventually, moving back home to open arms and the opportunity to begin anew. She saw her daughter fall in love, move to NJ and bring a daughter into the world, eventually moving back home to open arms and the opportunity to begin anew. Marlene was there for her children and was fulfilled by that role. With a full house, again, she took care of my brother, her children and their children. She provided the meals, got the grandkids off to school and provided day care while their parents worked. She was a full-time wife, mother and grandmother and she loved it.
More recently, her son was diagnosed with colon and liver cancer. It was hard on Marlene. She did all that she could to heal him from praying for a miracle to keeping up with his Chemo treatments and myriad of tests. She was his strength. And as he progressed and his liver improved, she found that she too had cancer. Her cancer was local and could be removed by surgery which she had a few weeks ago.
Born from humble beginnings, she worked hard to give her family stability and everything they needed. Together my brother and she conquered hard times, a flood, illnesses, and more. And while life wasn’t easy, I believe she was happy. She had many friends, many adopted kids, and her family snuggled around her.
The end came quickly with a massive heart attack and then hours of the doctors trying to bring her back to no avail. But it gave her family time to accept and say their goodbyes. While it’s not for us to ask why, we can’t help but wonder. My brother and his family will return to their home without her. And while I have fond personal family memories of growing up in that house, I will always remember Marlene laughing, loving and sharing what was on her mind. She will be missed, our sister, our friend, our angel.