There’s an old New England saying, “A sea child dies on land,” and my sister, Karen, was definitely a sea child. She was born and raised on the Connecticut shore but moved to Texas as an adult and seldom got to see the ocean after that. Karen would have been fifty-five years old today. She’s been gone nearly two years now, and every day, when I look at her picture on my kitchen counter, I think of her and miss hearing her voice. I miss her laughter most of all, a gentle laugh that was mostly at herself. Or me.
I was nearly eight when Karen was born, my brother going on ten. I’m afraid my brother and I know very little of her young years because we were so much older. I don’t know who her friends were, what she liked to do and where she liked to go when she was in high school. I do know that music was in her soul. She loved singing and playing the piano and guitar. On an old computer of my father’s I found a file with my sister singing “Amazing Grace” in that sweet, soft voice of hers.
We never shared bedrooms when we were growing up, but I remember on the night before my wedding, Karen wanted to sleep with me in my room because it was the last time she would have her sister living in the house with her. I wish I could remember all that she said that night, but I do know she gave me advice on marriage that made me laugh, though I kept it to myself. We talked late into the night, a good way to end my years of living at home.
Karen became a nurse and worked in an operating room most of her career. When she was in her early thirties, she joined the Army Reserves, partly, I suspect because my brother was a military man and she greatly admired him, even though he used to call her “Chipmunk Cheeks” when she was little. Brothers.
Shortly after she enlisted, Desert Storm got under way, and her reserve unit was called up. She served as an operating room nurse for an emergency evacuation hospital in Saudi Arabia. It was there she contracted hepatitis C, and seventeen years later it took her life. So you can say she was a casualty of war, even though it took a long time.
I like to think that Karen is just standing on the far shore as I stand here on mine, both of us staring across the water as the ocean between us gets smaller and smaller over the years until one day we will be standing on the same shore together. I couldn’t let today pass without stopping a moment to remember Karen’s birthday. It matters very much that she lived, and I know she touched countless lives. I also know, as a sea child, she would have loved Alfred, Lord Tennyson‘s poem “Crossing the Bar,” so I will share it with you in her memory:”
Crossing the Bar
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.