Saturday, May 03, 2008

Raining On The Parade Of Cinco De Mayo

My family in Ireland.
Clockwise from top left.
My Dad, My Mom, Deirdre, Scanboy, Brian

28 years ago today my sister Deirdre died. she was only 11 years old. It was Monday morning, May 5th 1980. She had woke up early that day and went into the kitchen. She had been fighting a case of what turned out to be Meningitis. My mother heard her making noise and went down out of concern to see what was going on. My mom was a nurse and felt that my sister should be in bed resting.

I was just coming home from delivering the newspapers. I was making my usual breakfast of Rice Krispies and milk and sat down in front of the TV when my mother was walking Deirdre up the stairs.

A drawing I did for a painting I never got to painting back when I was at the School Of Visual Arts.

When they got near to the top of the stairs my Deirdre collapsed. My mom called out to my father to help carry Deirdre up to her bedroom. My father ran down the stairs to use the phone. As he was dialing I heard the most horrifying cry coming out my mother's throat. "Pat, Deirdre's dead!" My father thundered past me up the stairs to my mother's side and he cried out too.

This was too much for me. I was at the bottom of the stairs feeling the house close in on me. I couldn't breath. My dad ran past me to the phone again. I heard my brother come out of his room at this point. The chaos drove me out of the house screaming at the top of my lungs. I ran in zig-zag fashion out on the street and finally collapsed in a ball of grief in a neighbor's driveway. The neighbor, Sylvia Liparini took me into her house. My brother joined me as my parents went to Dover General with my sister.

While my brother and I were at the Liparini's, we were talking to each other as though Deirdre was going to be okay and that we were going to someday laugh at the drama of the day with her. It calmed Brain and I down enough to have hope. I made a bargain with God in hopes that this will make Deirdre okay.

An hour passed when Mrs. Liparini received a phone call from my parents they were coming back from the hospital. Mrs. Liparini didn't tell us what was said. I don' think they told her anything. Brain and I were still in denial.

Another half hour goes by when my parents walked in the front door of the Liparini's house. I thought good we'll hear what's up with Deirdre. My father sternly ordered the two of us to sit down on the couch. I asked what's up as my dad grabbed the both of us by the shoulders and slammed us down on the couch.

He told us that Deirdre died.

Mrs Liparini cried "Oh No!" Brian cried, my mother was spookily quiet, I was numb. I had wore myself out earlier with my melodramatic cries of anguish earlier. I got up from the couch, shoved past my father and went to the front foyer, crouched down and weeped.

Thanks for listening, God.

The rest of the day was a blur. I spent the night at a friend of my father's house. Their son Keith had a great collection of comics that I had spent the night reading, they didn't do the trick but I couldn't sleep in my house that night.

Tuesday was the wake and I saw my sister lying in state for the first time. It was too much to bear. She looked so unnatural with her lips sewn shut hiding her natural overbite. I cried when I saw her and I couldn't kneel in front of her body.

So many people that I cared about in my life showed up to pay last respects. My Uncle Jerry grabbed a flight form Ireland and had arrived early the previous day. I was so happy to see these people, people I haven't seen in years. I wanted so much to enjoy their company and I even thought that Deidre would be enjoying herself if only...

Our family spent a lot of time at the newly built funeral home. I would wander around and explore the place. I went down to the near empty basement to have long conversations with God and my sister. Although this made me feel a little better, it was the beginning of my doubt in the existence of God.

Deirdre was buried in a cemetery next to a church that wasn't part of my family's parish located near Schooley's Mountain. It was a small cemetery with not tombstones, only headstones that was flush with the grass. It made for easy lawn mowing I guess but I did not like it. The funeral was a bit surreal, knowing my sister was in the box...

Anyway, we went home to food and company and slowly but surely, we were left on our own once again. We went back to school a week later. I could not me until the summer before I entered the room where my sister died. It took the fact my Aunt Mary and Uncle Vincie staying in the room that made me feel the room was no longer a room of the dead.

It took me many years, about ten before I felt comfortable to approach Deirdre's headstone without prompting. I would usually shuffle around away from the grave. I could not get the image of what her body was doing under 6 feet of dirt out of my head. Time heals all wounds but I am, still to this day picking the scabs of that wound.

I have come to terms with visiting her grave. I don't go to the grave more because of its inconvenient location rather than my lack of comfort. Heck, I can even laugh at the farce that happened one Christmas of digging snow away form several headstones before finding my sister's.

So the fact Deirdre died on May 5th makes Cinco De Mayo a day I cannot celebrate the way I sometimes enjoy St. Patrick's Day. It's the reverse of what people whose birthday falls on September 11th have to go through. They have to always be conscious of the fact that in celebrating their birthday, they have to be careful to not offend sensitive people who lost loved ones that day.

Then there's the number 5. It's my favorite number. I always thought it was cruel fate that had my sister Deirdre die on the 5th day of the 5th month. I spent too much time trying to figure out its meaning.

I also think the fact that I have greater fondness for the 70's than the 80's is because my sister was alive in the 70's. Maybe that's why I don't like Reagan.

She had died of Meningitis. I always thought she had died of a brain hemorrhage due to a car accident she was in a month before. I learned this year when I over heard my father talking to a friend of my Aunt Eileen's. The topic of whether my dad had any girls. My dad matter-of-factly mentioned Deirdre and how she died. I looked up Meningitis and found out the tricky nature of the disease.

Anyway, I miss Deirdre. She'd be 39 years old. She most likely would have been married with a few kids and I regret not being able to intimidate any future brother in law who thought my sister was worthy of her. I wonder if my life's path would have been much better if I had her around to give advice and motivation.

You see, she was the good child. a straight A student her whole life. Who knows what she'd be, what school she might have gone to, maybe on a scholarship.

Here's to her.

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