My sister Cyndi died Thursday night, almost two weeks to the moment that I learned that she had just three months to live.
It wasn’t the “Hospice is saying she doesn’t have long now” texts that ripped my heart. It was the text from my sister Trish, a photo of her holding our newest great nephew, my sister Cyndi’s first biological grandchild, and the words, “OK, I hate all my wrinkles, but I am now appreciative that I am here and earned them.”
It was what she didn’t say that broke my heart: Cyndi won’t be earning or lamenting wrinkles because she won’t be here. She will miss wrinkles and arthritis and the atrocities of old age. And she will miss her daughters getting married and the births of more grandchildren and the glories of being a grandparent and getting old with her husband.
And we will all miss her.
Cyndi wins at being a “big sister”…
She was the oldest of five children born to John and Barbara Souders. My two brothers came in such rapid succession that the three to four years between the second brother and my sister Trish seemed like such a huge gap that she and I were called “the little girls.” I think we were somewhat in awe of our big sister, nine years my senior. By the time I was in first grade, she was in high school. I was in fourth grade when she started college. I had just started high school when she got married and had her first child.
But despite the age difference, Cyndi had a marked influence on my life.
She became a Christian in youth group as a teen, and she quickly shared her newfound faith with our parents, and they became Christians, too. It transformed our family and led to my salvation, which, obviously, completely changed the course of my life. Even as a third-grader, I recognized the significance of such a decision and my definite need of a Savior. Cyndi purchased Children’s Living Bibles for both Trish and me, engraved with our names. Mine is highlighted and worn. My faith — with its highlights and its rough spots — began at the urging of my big sister.
My oldest sister had straight brown hair and brown eyes, naturally straight teeth, and a delightfully small nose. At 5’2″, she was the shortest of all of us. Trish and I had curly, blond hair and blue eyes. Even as our hair darkened as we got older, no one placed us as sisters — until we opened our mouths. Then the connection was obvious. We have the same voice.
Sometimes I hear myself say something and think of Trish or Cyndi — because I remind myself like each of them. I can still hear Cyndi’s voice in my head, along with her laugh, always her laugh.
Cyndi was the lucky one, in some respect, the oldest girl followed by two boys, in that she always got her own bedroom while Trish and I shared, mostly congenially. When Cyndi went away to college, Trish and I took over her room, playing her 45s, singing along to “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog” and “American Pie” and the like as we built houses out of blocks for our Barbies (and hers, because we had inherited them).
She was a seamstress, and we wore the matching outfits she sewed for us and herself. As we grew, Cyndi passed down her clothes to us, and we all eventually wore the treasures she and Mom had made, including hand-smocked dresses and wool sweaters.
Cyndi brings home a boyfriend…
When Cyndi went to college and returned home for her spring break, she brought home her boyfriend. My best friend Cindy Scott and I were having a sleepover in our family den, a closed in porch with sliding glass doors (and heavy drapes) that lined the wall of the living room. That first night, Cindy and I, wearing pajamas, stuffed our discarded day clothes and then pressed the stuffed “bodies” against the drapes with our tennis shoes sticking through the bottom — making it appear as if we were watching Cyndi and her boyfriend doing whatever boys and girls did when alone. (Cindy and I were in sixth grade and not entirely educated.)
Sure enough, as we had anticipated, at some point in the evening, my sister Cyndi finally noticed “us” spying on her, opened the sliding glass door, punched “us” through the drape, realized our spoof, and angrily grabbed the shoes and threw them across the room. It was great fun. It still makes me smile. (And we never did know what they did because we were hiding, not watching.)
Cyndi aspires to be a hairstylist…
When I joined a swim team and my hair started to die from all the exposure to chlorine, Cyndi offered to cut it for me. She trimmed it — quite short — and then stepped back, tilted her head, and said, “Oh, I think that side’s a little shorter than the other.” Then she burst out laughing. She resumed hacking away, then stepped back, tilted her head and acknowledged that now the other side was shorter — and then laughed some more and continued cutting. Stupidly, I found her laughter both horrifying and contagious. I laughed with her but finally ended up going to school wearing a hoodie, hood up and tied tight around my face.
Shortly thereafter, I quit swimming in favor of playing softball — all for the sake of saving Cyndi the trouble of cutting my hair, of course.
Cyndi aims to be fit…
During one of Cyndi’s years in college, she began running for exercise. I was in ninth grade, and when she came home for the holidays, she signed us both up for a 5K race. I hadn’t trained, but I was fit and young and so kept up with my sister step for step, effortlessly. While she was happy for my company, she was also a bit frustrated that something she worked to achieve was so easy for me.
After Cyndi married and had a son, her marriage failed, and she came back to live with my parents. I was still there, completing high school, then completing college. Though Trish married rather young and moved away, my older siblings or my siblings-in-law came to stay with my parents, and I never lived there as an only child. I never minded.
Cyndi celebrates Christmas…
At Christmas, inevitably, my father either would not shop for my mother or not request we wrap his gifts until Christmas Eve. Cyndi and I would knock out his packages together after my parents had gone to bed. One year we found that my dad had purchased Sweet Honesty cologne for my mother. I can see from reviews on the Avon site that older women actually do use this fragrance, but it had been all the rage when I was in junior high school. Both of us burst into laughter, and the more we tried to quiet ourselves so as not to awaken my parents, the more we laughed.
The next morning, we took the family newspaper route. In the predawn darkness, Cyndi and I, opened the car windows to throw the newspapers and ring the sleigh bells we’d brought along, yelling “ho, ho, ho!” with every paper. Then we’d close the windows, laughing, until we reached the next house.
Another year, we learned that a family we loved had no money for Christmas gifts, and so we went shopping, buying as many appropriate gifts as we could afford. It was Christmas Eve, and we again stayed up late, wrapping gifts, finally piling them inside large black trash bags before sneaking them onto the porch of the family and driving away. Cyndi was one of the most generous people I’ve ever known.
By the time I married, Cyndi had married again, a divorcee with four children. Her son had a stepfather and instant siblings — at least on the weekends. She and James added three girls to the mix — surprises all. Her life got a bit busy, and I never returned home to live once I graduated from college, so our adventures together became few and far between and far fewer than we might have liked. Now we will miss them altogether.
The missing has begun.
In the photo: The Souders family in 1966. From left, Scott, Cyndi, Trish, John, Sara, Barbara, Jack.