Sometimes You Have to Move Mountains

Every family has it’s drama, it’s quirks or “that uncle” that only gets mentioned in whispers. For me, that person was my younger sister who found solace in a bottle, no longer functioning at normal. The vibrant and beautiful image I had of her was a distant memory.

In general, my family is not close, we scattered to various parts of the US with only an occasional phone call to connect us. That changed ten years ago when I took a trip to visit my aunt and my dad, meeting with my older sister at their house. It had been at least twenty years since we last saw each other – it was a joyous occasions. So much so that we thought about our younger sister and decided to have an impromptu family reunion.

So plans were made, tickets were bought and Lori and her husband Dennis were on their way with only one mishap – they missed the plane. New tickets were purchased and my aunt and I went to the airport to pick them up. As the plane emptied and we saw no sign of them we were concerned that they had missed the plane again.

Then a horrifying thought had occurred to me, the last passenger off was an old bag lady who had just entered the ladies room. Was that her? Could it be? I searched the airport and the only person left was a scruffy homeless looking man…I walked over to him…Dennis?

Yes, it was Dennis and within seconds the gears in my head shifted from happy reunion mode to what in the world happened to my sister who was now completely unrecognizable. By the next morning I would discover the depths of her alcoholism.  She was beyond recovery. Addicts can be problematic and they were no exception. It was not the family reunion I had hoped for and I was glad when it was over.

But, life as it is…you can’t completely cut ties with family. Legal issues come up when family members pass, requiring interaction and I was the conduit for such things. I did write to her several times just to check in but she never responded and for the most part had taken herself off the grid. From time to time I sent the sheriff out to check on her which annoyed her to no end and eventually she gave me a contact number, a neighbor – in case of emergency.

A couple of weeks ago I called the neighbor to check on her once more only to discover that both she and her husband died three months earlier in a house fire. The poor neighbor was distraught over the realization that we had not been contacted. She had told both the Sheriff and the Fire Marshall that Lori had a sister in Florida but she didn’t know the address.

She had also been told that Dennis’ next of kin had been found and his son picked  up the remains. But, when I called the Sheriff’s office to identify myself as next of kin, I was told that they had not been able to find any next of kin for him. I have to admit that I was pretty disappointed at what seemed to be little or no effort to contact family. It seemed they were being treated as indigents though no official would admit anything.

My heart ached at the idea of these two souls sitting in some morgue, apparently forgotten, having a tragic and violent end from a house explosion. It became my mission to put them to rest and give them some peace, together again. This became challenging because officials would only release my sister’s remains, not her husbands.

I knew nothing of Dennis’ family or even where they were from, but by using my genealogy skills and my detective skills (paid background searches) and working every waking moment, I was able to find his siblings within a week. It seemed the whole family was wrapped up in some form of addiction and they moved around a lot. The contact information was old but I was able to locate their offspring on Facebook…yeah for Millennials and social media!

Using Facebook I sent out private messages hoping to find someone who cared enough to respond. Another week passed and we hadn’t heard from anyone so we planned the alternative of making arrangements for Lori, without her husband.

After looking at several options we found a “green” cemetery in a natural environment which we thought she would like. We purchased two adjoining cremation plots with the intention of eventually having Dennis join her.

Three days before our trip to Texas I received an instant message from one of Dennis’ nieces. She told me he had two children and would try to contact them through Facebook. By the end of the day his daughter called and she agreed to release his ashes. She shared the better times when she was a little girl and her love for her dad. She and her brother had distanced themselves from the rest of the addicted family members, including her dad. But she agreed, they should be together to rest in peace.

The Investigator we were working with did not work on the weekends. And would not be back until the day I arrived in town. I was excited and frustrated about not being able to confirm that I would be able to pick up both remains. Leaving both phone and email messages I would have to wait.

As soon as I arrived I called and was referred to the Judge whose secretary informed me the daughter was picking up the remains. Confused, I called her and she had decided to join us, needing closure. Even better!

One small bright spot happened when we went to pick up her ashes. The lady at the crematorium had kept both Lori and Dennis’ ashes next to her desk, hoping someone would claim them. They had actually been together the whole time.

A week ago we had a lovely private memorial. We joined their ashes with pictures of themselves in better days. Surrounding them with family and friends, then lay flowers inside a heart made if stones.

It seemed appropriate that it was supposed to rain on this day, as if God wept with us. And it did rain – cats and dogs the whole time, we were soaked to the bone. But when we were completely finished the rain stopped and the sun started shining – even the birds started to sing. They could now be in peace…together.

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There was one last piece of irony. On the last leg of my flight home I happened to be seated next to a woman who was on her way to rehab. When I asked her what her addiction of choice was, she replied alcohol, laughing a little too freely. It appeared that she was having one last binge before she met her councilor on the ground.

I don’t usually do this but I thought, why not? I told her I wanted to show her some pictures. I showed her pictures of my sister when she was young, and then twelve years ago (during her earlier stages of drinking when she still passed as normal) and ten years ago – the last time I saw her at our family reunion. I told her that I just buried her and that I had found out about her death three months after she passed.

This opened up a dialogue, lots of tears, fear of losing her children and an admission that she’d been to rehab once before and failed. I told her to let her children give her the strength to beat this addiction. I hope she does. Maybe Lori’s death might somehow save another from following this path.