Your NPR news source

A sister's love in a time of loss

SHARE A sister's love in a time of loss
A sister's love in a time of loss

Writer Arlene Frost recounts supporting her sister after a tragic loss.

Photo courtesy of Arlene Frost

Death and loss may unite people with their loved ones as they rely on their support to get through rough moments. When death struck close to home, writer Alene Frost went into protective mode:

I don’t recall having a vote in the events that took place that resulted in my becoming a big sister. And so three weeks prior to my fourth birthday, when Allison arrived fresh from Edgewater Hospital, I took notice, swung my pigtails and returned to my grape jelly sandwich and Channel 9’s Lunchtime Little Theater. My parents told me that I was their helper in keeping Allison safe, but it seemed they did just fine without me.

We lived in a yellow-sided ranch home, just past the corner mailbox at the top of the hill on Krenn Avenue in Highland Park. Allison grew to be precocious and witty; and eventually, I took notice of her. She and I walked to Wayne Thomas School, wore pleated skirts, bobby socks and polished saddle shoes. And we kept score at Wrigley Field while we ate Ron Santo pizzas and frosty malts.

I only remembered one instance of needing to protect Allison during those growing up years. We were at Sunny Acres day camp and she was on a swing.  A six-year-old North Shore ruffian wanted the swing and suggested that he might punch Allison in the stomach.

“Go get her big sister,” someone yelled; and I arrived, PF Flyers and all. I blocked him from Allison, bellowing, “Don’t touch my sister!” And I stared him down with my smudged, powder-blue eyeglasses—lenses as thick as the bottom of a milk bottle. He muttered something about needing to eat his lunch and walked away.

Allison and I are in our 50s now. My kid sister moved from our yellow ranch house on the top of the hill to Bucktown with a family and a vice presidency at a brokerage firm. I never again felt the need to protect her until a Sunday evening early this spring when I was eating a pizza dinner and waiting for the washing machine cycle to finish. The phone rang—Allison called to tell me that her husband David was dead after collapsing at the health club. 

David was 48 years old, healthy, athletic, affable and magnetic. He cheered louder than any dad on the Welles Park little league bleachers, played the guitar and wrote music and worked hard. David fell in love with my sister the moment he saw her; and they were finalizing plans for a trip to California to celebrate their 20th anniversary. 

I was no match for this horrific passage that pummeled my sister’s life into the pavement. Nevertheless, I imagined a scene of my grown sister on the old camp swing: The ruffian stands motionless and I block him from Allison. 

“Stay away from my sister!” I command. He marches forward; I stare him down and he retreats. I move on and everything is the way it’s supposed to be.

But after I walk away, the ruffian sneaks in, and no matter how many times I redo the rescue scene, it ends the same way and Allison is on the pavement. And as the big sister, I am helpless to do anything other than to get down on the pavement with her. 

In the days and weeks and months since David’s death I sat with Allison on the pavement; and I have rose with her and watched as she put one foot in front of the other. 

She has strength, courage and wisdom that came too soon. And she has tolerated her big sister’s hovering, although she is the taller of the two of us.

Music Button: Fall On Your Sword, "Rhoda's Theme," from the soundtrack to Another Earth (Milan Records)

More From This Show