My kid-sister (in the Bronx they were never called “baby-sister”) died this week. I was there when she took her first breaths of life and I was there when she took her last. I will miss her. But more than missing her, I will remember her. It is said, that the first step toward immortality is to live a life worth remembering. And that she did.
As tears filled my eyes during those last moments that I was with her, knowing that this would be my last, she reached up an held my face in her hands, and through her plastic oxygen mask she belted “Don’ cry for me Argentina!” and she smiled that wonderful smile that could light up a ballroom. Carol was known for that infectious smile. I figured out what made it so radiant. It was because it wasn’t just a smile from her face, but from her heart. Her smile resonated through her entire being.
She smiled at everyone she met. And she met a lot of people. She was like Will Rogers who said, “a stranger is just a friend I haven’t yet met.” She could and would talk with anyone. She wanted to know everyone, really know them. She peppered them with questions, wanting to know who they were, what they did, and why they did it. No matter where she went, whether in a line at the supermarket or on a plane or in a bus. It didn’t matter to Carol. She wanted to know their story. She knew all of her nurses, the names of their children, and whether they liked their job. How much money they earned or what they owned, didn’t matter to her. She wanted to know whether they were happy, whether they felt fulfilled.
Carol met people with an open heart. She understood the meaning of forgiveness; she refused to hold a grudge. Resentment, she believed, was like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. She loved to connect with others and to connect them with each other.
And she did not know the meaning of boredom. She wanted to see everything. On a vacation she was not interested in the hotel room for she spent little time in it; she wanted to explore. And so she did; from sunrise to sunset she was on the go. At home she was involved in multiple projects all at the same time, making people half her age sit back in awe. She packed a lot of living in the years she was around.
My sister was a spiritual person. She was not a particularly religious person. But she believed that people were all connected to one another and to the world around them in some cosmic way. In the last months of her life she became what I called “a born-again Jew.” Though she did not practice the rituals of her faith for most of her life, she lived the essence of it every day. Tikun Olam, Jews are commanded: heal the world, make a difference, leave this earth a little better than you found it. And that she did.
She was passionate about life. She was passionate about dancing, whether square dancing or ballroom dancing, she did it all. And she did it with gusto. She was passionate about making a difference in this world. She wanted to do something to help with homelessness. She was passionate about early childhood education and ran a day care center out of her home. She was passionate about her family. She wanted them all to know the pitter-patter of their heart when in love. She believed that people should follow their passions and figure out how to earn a living through their passions.
For her, everyday, every transition, was like going on an adventure and she embraced it. She was not afraid of dying. She accepted it with grace and dignity.
So, what did my kid-sister teach me?
- Meet the world with an open heart. Assume the best of others and be your best with others.
- Make a difference. In the end, we will be remembered for who we touched and how often.
- Love deeply and unabashedly, without fear. The joy of love lasts forever, while the pain of loss dissipates with time.
- Smile from the heart; it is infectious.
- Tell the people who matter to you that you love them and do it often.
- Stay active, stay busy, live life con gusto.