A goodbye, 36 years late…..

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog about this topic for quite some time, but wasn’t sure what I wanted to say…  but I realized it doesn’t really matter what I say – just that I share one of the most impactful moments of my life – one that helped to shape me to the person I’ve become.  This is not real estate related, and not Monroe NY related.  This is Kat related.

Coleen, Maureen and Kat 1964

When I was a young girl and had just turned 15, my best friends were my two sisters.  We had other friends of course, people who we hung out with and enjoyed.  But the people we lived with, the people we complained with and laughed with, were our siblings.  My sisters were my buds.

I’m going to focus this specific blog on my sister Maureen, who was 13 months younger than I was.  The event I am describing took place in October of 1975.  I turned 15 the month before.  Maureen’s birthday was in November, when she was going to turn 14.

Maureen and Kat 1964

During the few years leading up to this time, Maureen and I had formed a very special bond.  We giggled at the same jokes, and shared stories about boys.  Maureen was a very popular girl, and she was friends with all the “in” kids.  I was an introverted, shy and studious teen.  I had some very close friends, and could get along with anyone, but I definitely was not outgoing.  Maureen was.  So by including me in her activities, I was slowly becoming a little more extroverted, and making a few more friends.  Maureen and I laughed a lot.  We’d have foot fights, and then laugh.  We’d watch TV together, and laugh.  We’d share stories with each other and then laugh.  I don’t remember seeing her without a smile plastered to her face.

One day in the middle of October 1975, Maureen and I both got sick.  We had contracted measles, and Maureen zipped though her illness and started to feel better, and I on the other hand, became very ill.  I had a fever so high that I had hallucinations about little men with pointy teeth and sharp knives who were surrounding my bed and cackling evilly.  I screamed for my mom, who came into my room and had a hard time convincing me that there were no evil men in my room.

After many days, I finally started to improve, and Maureen was very happy to see me get better.  One day during my convalescence, I was wandering around my home and thinking about getting back to school, when my mom burst into the house with my sister Maureen.  Maureen ran down the hall and packed a bag and came back into the foyer where my mom was trying to explain something to me.  It seemed my sister had been falling asleep while talking, with her eyes open.  And falling asleep with your eyes open is not normal, and is a sign of potentially horrible things.  My mom continued, explaining that my sister needed to go to the hospital so some tests could be run.  As Maureen left the house, I hugged her and smiled, and I said, “I hope you get better.”  And she grinned back, and said, “Me too.”  And I watched her walk to the car, get in, and drive away.


My words would later haunt me.  For a long time I wondered why I didn’t say “I hope you get better soon.”  Instead, I just said, “I hope you get better.”

It was Thursday, October 16, 1975.  I never saw Maureen alive again.

Maureen was admitted into the hospital, where she was diagnosed with measles encephalitis.  Doctors still don’t know exactly what causes encephalitis but it can be severe, and can be caused by measles, the flu, or other common infections.  It is a rare event when the body overacts to the infection, and the body attacks its own brain and nerve cells. 

Over the weekend, Maureen’s body shut down.  She couldn’t breathe on her own, so a respirator was put into use.  She couldn’t keep her body temperature up, so a special blanket was placed on her.  Because we were teens and she was in intensive care, we were not allowed to see her, so we got bits and pieces of information from our parents.

On Monday and Tuesday my sister Coleen and I went to school as my parents were trying to keep everything as close to normal as possible for us.  Sometime in the morning on that second day, I started to hear horrible news about my sister, and shortly thereafter, I was called to the principal’s office, where I was told that on Tuesday, October 21, 1975, my sister had passed away.

I didn’t really accept the news and spent the next few months in a haze of denial.  Sure, I went to the funeral; I can remember it to this day.  A crowded church with standing room only, of Maureen’s friends and acquaintances.  I remember holding my father’s hand.  I remember my mom crying.  I was there.  I remember.

But I did not accept it immediately.  For months afterwards, I kept waiting for Maureen to come bounding through the door, with a grin huge on her face, saying something energetic and exciting.  I knew in my mind this wasn’t going to happen, but somehow in my teenage heart, I thought perhaps it was somewhere on the edge of possibility.

Until one day when the truth just sank in.  She wasn’t coming home.  I wasn’t going to see her again.  We weren’t going to ever laugh or giggle together.  I cried, I screamed, I dealt with the horror of it all.  I missed her.  There was a huge hole where she had been.

I have visited her gravestone on occasion, and still to this day, feel a sadness and sorrow for a life that was cut off so young.  Her death taught me that life is not guaranteed.  If an innocent child can be taken at such a young age, certainly we can too.  At any time.  At any day.  At any moment.  This taught me to embrace the life I do have; to make decisions that are in the best interest of me and my family and are not necessarily the popular thing to do.  We all only have one life to live, and it’s this one we’re living right now.  We owe it to ourselves to live it to our best ability; to learn and to grow and to most of all, do it with a smile and a grin and to ENJOY.

The other thing I realized is I never had a chance to say goodbye to Maureen.  My sister was taken to the hospital, and I never saw her again.  So here, on a computer screen, 36 years later, I can officially say Goodbye “for now” to my sister Maureen.  I can say that I loved the time we spent together; that while she was alive, she helped me in ways she never knew, and her death shaped the direction of many of my life decisions.  I can also say that I will continue to live my life to the fullest and to laugh a lot, so I have lots of stories to share when I see her again.  And while I miss her, I do understand why she had to leave; it’s as her gravestone states clearly, “God needed a smile.”

 Goodbye Maureen, until we meet again.


30 thoughts on “A goodbye, 36 years late…..

  1. That was beautiful way to cherish Maureen’s memory and to say goodbye. It made me cry! I remember that day! I am sure Maureen is so proud of you.

  2. So powerful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts anf feelings. This gives us all a needed reminder to cherish each moment of life, as you said.

  3. A very nice tribute to your sister, yes life is short I learned that a long time ago. Sharing your feelings is part of the healing process, God will do the rest!
    Sorry you and your family had to lose such a precious child.

  4. What a beautiful tribute to your sister and to all sisters as well. I remember the day as well and sometimes it takes a long time to finally say good bye….You and Coleen both share a piece of Maureen’s heart, and her laughter is forever shared in both of your smiles. Maureen knew long before the rest of us to LIVE LOVE and Laugh….

  5. Very enlightening story about my cousin who I never knew. I think I look a lot like her. Very nice tribute – thanks for sharing ♥

  6. KAT: I really don’t know you very well, not even sure if it was Cathleen or Cecile you went to school with, but I do know that every time you came to the house you always had that great smile. Now I know where you got it, a gift from Maureen. God bless!

  7. I remember that time…the sadness, how surreal it all was. My mom telling me about Maureen’s death….
    this was beautifully written and so touching.
    Hugs to you…

  8. Kathy, Wow! That was such a heart felt story… I remember your sister, I remember when I found out about her death… and I remember going to her wake. I still think of that day from time to time… Thank you for sharing… just beautiful.

  9. Maureen laughed all the time. She was so funny. 7th and 8th grade wouldn’t have been the same without her. We had our fun. I still have that picture from camp, so she is thought of a lot over the years. And so are you.

  10. Just visited your blog from your real estate web site–such a beautiful post–and tribute to your sister and the special bonds only sisters share. I too have two sisters–same exact ages as yours–and your post reminded me how lucky I am to have them in my life. Thank you.

  11. I can’t imagine what Coleen and you went through. Thank you for sharing, and for turning it into a positive. I always try to laugh or smile each day, I will smile along with you. Love ya. Doris.

  12. That was beautifully written, I am in tears. I remember that day as she sat next to me in math class that year. I have thought of her often through the years and I was honored to receive the scholarship in her name the first year it was given.

  13. Yes it was a savings bond I think for $75 and I remember the scholarship ceremony was at George Fischer Middle School auditorium. I do not think anyone new about the scholarship because the whole auditorium gasped when it was announced and was quiet for a moment, then started clapping. I think they were all moved as I was and I didn’t really know what I should say. I can’t remember if I said anything, I just remember feeling so honored to receive it. Hugs to you:)

  14. Me, too, Kat. (I cried, too.) I was there that day, with your parents, and remember well what a beautiful day it was save for the fact that they were saying, “Good-bye” to their beautiful little girl, who made everyone else smile with her presence. She was my friend, and this shook me to the core. She and I had, pretty much, just became friends that previous year, and her loss was devasting to me. I was honored to have been a poll-bearer at her funeral, and grateful to have been of service to your family on that most dismal day, in spite of the weather. Love to you and your family. Ricky

    • Ricky – It’s very life-changing when a friend dies as a teenager. As a teenager, we all feel as though we’re going to live forever – it’s the old people that go, not us. So when someone we’re laughing with, going to classes with, learning about life with, is all of a sudden not there, it’s a shock. I’m glad you were part of the day, sad though it was. Maureen knew you were there. Hugs.

  15. Kat,
    I always felt bad about Maureen’s passing, but I had no idea about the surrealness of it all. I was having a hard time with the measles, like you, having high fevers that induced hallucinations. I remember my mom making me take an ice cold bath to break and lower my fever! I remember coming down with the measles on a day that we were giving speeches running for student government (I was running for Treasurer, I think, against Kenny Hawes maybe? and won, I do remember that).

    It was such a scary time. I have no memory of going to Maureen’s wake, but I think I was still in the throes of the Measle’s grip. I remember the girl down the street also went into the hospital. I just assumed that Maureen had become ill and her fever persisted and she just never got better. That’s such an odd thing to sail through the illness and then have a relapse of another thing entirely. I can understand how you would not believe it for a while.

    Thank you for sharing the details because it was always such a fuzzy time in my memory, complete with little men (at least mine didn’t have sharp gnashing teeth, LOL!!). Hugs to you and Col. What a hole in your heart! I can’t imagine, even after reading this, all the little ways this has affected your lives.



    • Cat-
      I remember there was a mini-epidemic of measles at the time, and of course with Maureen’s death, there was a huge scare and lots of people running to the doctors for shots. I still have the newspaper clipping somewhere which talked about the rash of measles cases and the need to get vaccinated.

      Thank you for your comments, and hugs back!

  16. That was a beautiful piece you wrote. I too, remember that day as though it was yesterday. There are many times those memories come back to me. I was friends with Maureen earlier on and thru Girl Scouts. I do believe she is looking down on this blog and smiling…<3

  17. Like everyone else – I too can remember that day so clearly when Maureen went home and met her Savior. It not only changed my life but our class (CHS 78) forever. Each one of us was touched in so many ways by her death – we turned to each other for comfort. Through that grieving process – the jocks, the nerds, the “druggies” and all the other subgroups in our class became united. She truly had such a positive impact on so many lives. Kat – thank you for opening your heart to all of us and sharing. You wrote a beautiful piece.

    • Actually, I saw that also – that people who normally didn’t socialize, all of a sudden were one. The subgroups did become united, and that’s such an awesome message. Thank you for your comments. xxxx

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