Sunday, January 22, 2012


Mary Ellen was an exceptionally strong woman who was well known and loved by her many friends and neighbors in her long-time home of Newtown, Ct. She will be remembered as one who loved her God, her family and her country with passion and vigor and will live long in the hearts and minds of those who knew her.

Many of you are here to support those of us left behind. She adored her beloved and devoted, husband , Ennis with a special kind of once-in-a lifetime love. She worshipped her children and grandchildren and was forever in awe of the many blessings and happiness they brought to her . But make no mistake …. She was a tough old Irish broad, strong and forceful on the outside but a great big mushy marshmallow on the inside. I’m certain she’s screaming at me right now for even suggesting such a thing but “ she’s the one who went and died on us so now I can say what I want”. I can say what she said so often to me over these many years “Knock it off Punky …. You don’t know what you’re talking about… now you just listen to me.”

And God in heaven, how she loved you kids - Matthew and Patty Gillen, (Mallory and Keilly), John (Spike) Ennis, Jr. (Karen, Katie), Meghan Vaughan (Cola, Eliza, Molly), Joanna Lambert (David, Haley), Christopher (Erin, Grenville, Maia),Mary Atkinson (Abby, Emma, Maggie, Ellen) and yes, there was always room for one more, a little great grandchild, Lucas. I remember asking her many years ago how she managed to stay sane after the deaths of three of her children. Her answer to me was simple and honest and true. She said ” Punky, I was in so much pain I just had no room for anything else. I couldn’t’ be comforted by you or anyone . It was my pain to bear and I just had to get through it. “

So many to love but so much love to give. I lost count a long time ago of the actual number of nieces and nephews begotten by this large clan but she loved and cared about each one. She reminded me often how lucky we were to be so blessed with such a large and boisterous family. It was one of the treasures she held so dear.

Mary Ellen was certainly not one to hold a grudge. She rolled with the punches and dealt with the blows as they came. She and and I had many, many arguments and fights over the years – too many to remember; most long forgotten. She was no easy opponent and as stubborn as a mule when fighting for something she believed in. We long ago had to agree never to discuss politics. She was a died-in-the-wool republican and considered me a flaming liberal democrat and there was no place for both of us in one conversation.

One might think Mary Ellen and I would have clung to each other and supported each other throughout our whole lives. That, however was not always the case. As we became submerged in our own adult lives that dependency waxed and waned and we became buried in our very different lives.

While we harbored a deep and abiding love, we didn't depend on one another. We had learned to survive around others instead of with them. We became expert at going it alone and called upon our own strength to cope with trials. We cared and always knew where the other was but found our way with our respective families . That was enough most of the times. She snuggled down into the bosom of her new family and I did the same with mine.

She and I became true friends again in later years. Clearly Mary Ellen and I handled our complicated adolescence and young adult hood differently. She, I believe, was most profoundly shattered by our history. Her defense was to decide at a very early age, she would never suffer the torture of losing someone she loved so much ever again. She determined the only safe way to protect herself from that awful wrenching pain was to make certain she never really loved so hard again. She was not going to allow anyone to get close enough to hurt her so deeply. For self protection she needed to shield herself from caring too much. When relationships became the least bit threatening she had this uncanny ability to simply remove herself from involvement. We remained in touch in a most guarded manner, joined in heart but removed from each other physically.

I, on the other hand, tried to make everyone my friend. I needed to prove to one and all that I was an okay person, capable of loving and being loved. I was in a constant search for whatever love and friendship I could grab. Years went by and Mary Ellen and I kept busy loving and being loved by our respective families. We became secure as the years progressed in our own little niches but I think both missed the closeness we’d had as children. Thankfully we found the way to talk about it and we worked to discover why our lives had become so isolated from one another. We agreed we wanted our children to know each other and perhaps form some lasting family ties.

The crack in our relationship as sisters was not something either of us planned or welcomed. We had both been so severely scarred by abandonment that we needed to prove to ourselves and others that we were deserving of their love and that we were worthwhile. Each of us had to do it in our own way. Mary Ellen, the ever thoughtful and consummate intellectual, marched ahead with deliberation. We lost touch right after school for many years. Never really “lost touch” but we definitely lost “connectivity.” She met and married a wonderful man, a lawyer who was by all standards part of the “privileged” life. His family was extremely wealthy and as is so often the case, much of that family wealth followed them throughout their years. They lived happily in Connecticut and we saw each other only occasionally. They often included us in holiday parties with their friends and I think we even spent one or two Thanksgivings with them at their enormous house in Connecticut. Our kids were friends only because we were “family” and saw each other only occasionally even though they were close in age.

Mary Ellen faced enough tragedy and heartache in her life to last a lifetime. She lost her first born in a freak accident when he tripped and strangled on the side of his crib. A second child died of SIDS and a third died after only 11 days of life, an extremely premature birth. She and Ennis sank further into their private space of grief. Everyone who knew and loved them had to feel on the outside looking in – even one so close as her sister.

We never stopped loving each other but we never were really able to recreate the closeness we felt as kids. She was afraid to love again lest she feel that awful pain ever again. We continued to search for understanding. More than 10 years ago, I stumbled upon a sweet card that spoke clearly to me. It was a picture of 2 little girls, taken from the back, sitting on a bench,overlooking the ocean . They had their little arms around each other. I shared it with Mary Ellen . It spoke volumes about our search for where we’d been .

August 12, 1994

Dear Mary Ellen/Doots/Ellen,

This card made me smile but it also made me sad. How come we don’t really talk? We talk about kids, grandkids, in-laws and on and on ad nauseam. I know (or at least I imagine we did!) we used to lie in bed as kids and talk/dream/remember/hope about all kinds of thoughts and emotions. I miss that! I think we’re missing out on a lot. Must be because I’m 60 years old today and thinking about how quickly life has gone by and wondering how I could actually be this old.

I have a very dear friend dying of cancer at age 52. As I spend time with him during these last terminal weeks, it’s clear to me that we don’t have an awful lot of time to make sure we do all we can with our lives and ourselves. I just know you and I had this special love and sharing years ago, but somewhere, somehow, we’ve lost something really precious. There is so much of you I don’t know and so much of me you don’t know. But I do know I love you and hope we can find a way to remember and resurrect our childhood closeness.

• I vaguely remember as a kid drawing a crayon line down the middle of the double bed we shared to delineate “your side” and “my side.;
• I know I wet the bed until I was almost a teenager but don’t know why; I certainly can understand your drawing the line!
• I don’t remember much about mom and I bet you do;
• And Dad – I have no feelings other than sorrow for times lost;
• I don’t remember the war years, or Jerry, or gas and food rationing;
• I don’t remember how I felt when Jerry died;
• I don’t know why Bob left for California and never returned;
• Why did Mickey go to Texas and marry 5 times;
• I don’t know why we used to get the drunken phone call on New Year’s Eve from Bob saying he missed us;
• I don’t know why Gren, Ben and Peter were so removed; I adored them but never felt their love;
• I don’t remember elementary school;
• I don’t really remember those first few weeks at Kenwood; I know we were scared but were we crying or just resigned;
• I don’t remember having to stay with Aunt Janet for what seemed like a very long time or why we had to go;
• I don’t remember staying with Conde and Frances and for the life of me I don’t know why he left me money when he died;
• I don’t remember how I survived my last year at Kenwood without knowing you were there;
• I hardly remember the awful time with Ann and Roger right after Kenwood;
• I barely remember your wedding and as a matter of fact what I did and where I lived up until my own.
• The next 15 years are a blur of babies, diapers, colds, fevers and confusion;
• Who was I; who were you; where were we both during those years? What were we feeling and thinking?
• Why didn’t we spend Thanksgiving and Christmas together as families?
• Why wasn’t I more of a presence for you when your babies died? I was there physically but not really a comfort to you;
• Why am I a Democrat and you a Republican?
• How come you’re the only one of us that’s not a drunk? How come Gren, Ben, Bob, Peter, Mickey and I all had to stop drinking?
• Why were you so present and comforting when little Marta died?
• Why didn’t we both wind up in straight jackets? Were we too wily or was it that marvelous Sanctifying Grace that kept us in lead;
• What the hell happened to all the time and what can we do with time we have left
• What caused us to reach the point where we only talk about surface and unimportant things?
• Will we ever be able to bring back some of that precious closeness we had as kids?

And so my sister, my friend – this is not a criticism of either of us. It’s simply an observation. I know you must hang up after our telephone conversations sometimes and think to yourself: ”I love her because she’s my sister, but God is she boring.” And I’m not – and you’re not! We both are pretty terrific people who have a wealth of knowledge and experiences buried in our backgrounds. We should leave much more of a legacy for our kids than you and I have known.

All my love dear sister,

POST SCRIPT: The letter was written when I hoped we both would live another 20 years or so. It was not to be and we buried Mary Ellen in Newtown Ct. last week..


Blogger dors4 said...

Thank you for sharing your deepest feelings. The more you share the more I know you. Perhaps by opening your heart to your big sister you open your heart to your own children. Spoken past hurts help heal present pain. You're an amazing woman Mom and I love you for your bravery, your way with words, and your grace.

January 31, 2012 at 6:33 AM  

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