Monday, September 26, 2011


I called my sister Teena. Her name was Christine but when I was a tot the word Christine fell out of my mouth as Nee-nee. And from there it evolved into Tee-nee and then into Teena. And the skewed spelling was appropriate because as my sister emerged into early adulthood in the hippie days, she asserted her autonomy by experimenting with brash spelling permutations of the name Chris. She wanted to spell Chris like no one ever had before. She first went with Kryss then Crys. She finally settled for Cris.

Here’s a childhood story that explains our relationship well: The catholic church down the street had several stairs on the front entrance. So when mom went to church, which she did sporadically, she sometimes required Teena and I to watch Mass for Shut-ins. Mass for Shut-ins was a mass broadcast live from a local television studio. Just the name Mass for Shut-ins gave Teena and me the willies. Who were these shut-ins, anyway? That sounds like people who never leave sickrooms that smell of Vicks VapoRub. They never even pull up the shades and let in sunlight. That certainly wasn’t’ Teena and me.

And the only thing more boring than going to mass was watching mass on a black and white TV. So eventually one of us said to the other, “I won’t tell if you won’t.” So while mom was at church we watched cartoons instead. And if mom quizzed us about what the priest said in his sermon, we’d say something like, “Oh you know, he said to be nice to people.” Mom was not easily fooled but what could she say? That’s the message every child our age took away from every sermon.

Fast forward 40 years or so and Teena and I are very opposite people. She’s a born-again Christian and tea party conservative. I’ll be prima ballerina for the Bolshoi before I’ll be either of those things. So what was left for us to have in common? History. We were each other’s only sibling, so there were experiences only we shared, like watching Mass for Shut-Ins. We survived the state-operated cripple boarding school together. And as our mother died in a hospital bed in 2004, I held mom’s left hand and Teena held her right hand.

That kind of history means a lot. It means a helluva lot more than political and religious views. You can’t undo history. Religious and political views are made to be undone.

And Teena and I always had each other’s backs, like when we agreed to keep our secret about Mass for Shut-ins. When my first wife Anna fell dead in the middle of a routine Saturday morning, when Teena was in the ICU numerous times with pneumonia, we always tried to hold the other one up. That means more than anything.

Who the hell cares about ideology? No ideology can cancel all that out. And so my sister and I stuck together until the end of her life last week. I find comfort and satisfaction in that I’ll never find in ideology.


  1. I have a similar history with my cousin, Cindy. Minus the hand-holding bit.

    And my cousin's not dead yet.

    But yeah, family is thicker than ideology and politics.

    My condolences on your loss.

  2. Beautiful, Mike.


  3. I'm sorry for your loss. .

    I hope you find comfort in Teena's memory, especially in the trouble you caused, together!

  4. I'm sorry you have lost your sister, Mike. May your memories and your humor make getting through this easier for you.

  5. Oh ouch. I lost my beloved younger brother 8 years ago this month. We survived everything together, and all I can say, is that I managed to survive the one thing I thought I couldn't without him. Which doesn't mean I'm not pissed at him for getting off the bus early. But we truly loved one another. We hang out in my dreams more nights than not, which is a comfort. Tears in my eyes for you, and know that it can be survived, which is it's own sort of sorrow ...

  6. may she rest, beautiful and whole

  7. Loss is the most difficult thing I think, a void, an ache, an emptiness, yet wonderful memories come flowing back in time. I have lost one parent but no siblings out of the seven of us yet. Even pets take a long time to "get over", hah, what a silly phrase that seems at times. My father would be proud of all the skills I've learned since he has been gone these last two years.

  8. My condolences for your loss. Thanks for this heartfelt piece. It moved me deeply.

  9. Well shit.

    I'm so sorry.

  10. Mike, I'm so very sorry to hear about Christine. I love your reflection on how the shared history cuts through all the crap of ideology. Thinking of you, her husband and other family members.

  11. I just spent a couple of days with my sister...we're very different people, but I don't know what I'd do without her. My condolences on your loss.

    Thank you for sharing a bit about Teena.


  12. I'm sorry for the loss and i wish you the best

  13. So sorry to hear of your loss. I'm going to give my sister a great big hug tonight.

  14. Sorry to hear about the loss of your sister, my mother just passed a way a few weeks ago. I feel the same way about her, that shared history that only she and I had....the memories that only we had. She was my last family member, so I'm the only one with the memories now :(
    Once again, hugs and sorry to hear about the loss of your sister.

  15. I'm an occasional reader of your blog explaining this belated expression of sympathy. All the best, you have lost many in your life already.