Today my sister is 50.
But she doesn’t want anyone to know that. Or make a fuss.
It’s kind of how she’s gone through life.
She goes by Laura. Some call her Lori. To me, she’s always been Laurie. Or, when we were younger, Ya-Ya (my little brother couldn’t say his “L’s”.)
Laurie’s a nurse. She was born to be a nurse. She’s one of the few people who has known what she wanted to do since she was old enough to know. When we were growing up, she worked in a nursing home, sometimes double shifts. Not my idea of a dream job when you’re just starting out, but she was doing what she loved to do – taking care of people.
For the past more than 20 years, she’s been an oncology nurse at Illinois CancerCare. The things she has seen, the comfort she has provided and the heartache she has experienced is beyond my comprehension. But it’s what she does, and she is damn good at it.
When I was little, she was mini-Mom. Always looking out for me. Always including me. Always taking care of me. She didn’t have to, she just did.
We were sisters, and we were friends. We raked countless leaves together at the old farmhouse where we grew up. She’d walk me down to the Dairy Queen and buy me a sundae while she sipped a diet Coke. We’d go out to our boat dock on a sunny summer Saturday and swim off the edge and swing from the boat hoist. She’d let me sit in her room and listen to records – Kansas, Peter Frampton, The Knack… she made me feel cool to be her little sister. I idolized her.
I still do. When she left for college, I was devastated. When she got married, I felt like I lost my best friend. But when I went off to college in Missouri, she was there – living there – and took me in when I was feeling homesick, cooking me breakfast and helping me to adjust to life on my own.
Tables turned, and hardships ensued. Divorce. Raising a small child by herself. It was my turn to be there for her – and I owed her – and I was happy to do it. I was in Milwaukee at the time, and told her to come. She did. I helped her find a job and an apartment, and babysat her son while she worked night shifts. Tough times, but we were solid.
I lost my job in Milwaukee and moved back to Peoria. She followed. I don’t know how she did it, but she worked full-time and raised her son – no easy task – on her own for years. Zach was a tough kid. Life had not always been kind to him, either. But somehow, in Laurie’s nurturing way, she raised him to be the most amazing young man I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. She remarried, and Zach recently told me that Greg is really the only father he’s ever known. It was never easy blending families, but somehow, Laurie and Greg made it work.
In recent years, Laurie was plagued with serious health problems. Scary times. Very scary. At one point I was truly afraid I would lose my sister forever. But just like she always does, she persevered, came through it, and is here today continuing to bless this world.
She’s the caretaker of the family. The one I called in the middle of the night when my son had a 105 degree fever. The first one I called when my youngest son was born. The one who went to the doctor with me when I had a mass in my breast. The go-to person for every health problem – big or small – that this family has ever had. Because it’s what she does. She helps people.
I don’t know if my sister knows how much she means to me and how important she was to me growing up, and continues to be now. I look up to her as a parent, as someone who has endured heartache and come out stronger, and as a true friend. I know in any crisis, she would be first in line to be there for me.
Happy 50th birthday, Laurie! My son is so lucky to share this birthday with you. The world is truly a better place because you’re in it. I love you!