To Shirley, My Sister-in-Law

Oh, Shirley,

Is this good-bye forever?

Will I see you again?

Fifty-three years ago I married your brother.

You welcomed me into your family.

You, with two sisters and other sisters-in-law already,

were a model of friendship and

gentle advice.

You told me, when we first moved to Milwaukee,

that it was up to me to pursue friendships,

that if I liked someone and wanted to be “intimates”

(as my grandmother would have called them)

that it was up to me to call, and call, and call again.

They had their friends and didn’t know they needed me

to join that august group.

I had to show them by being their friend,

even when over and over I called,

not waiting for them to invite me back.

It worked in Milwaukee and Cleveland and Rochester.

Now I reap the reward of those years spent

building a tower of friends.

You, Shirley, my beloved sister

(your mother always called me daughter,

never daughter-in-law,

and I offer you the same)

you deserve the credit for all who today support me as friends.

Now, when I so need them.

Oh, Shirley,

Before you left for the airport,

we didn’t kiss and hug because

you feared giving me your unknown stomach bug.

I don’t want or need your bug,

but I have wanted and needed and cherished your sisterly hug

for a half century and more.

Oh, Shirley,

Will I see you again?

Will my cancer take me out

before we can part with the hug

we awkwardly avoided this morning?

Oh, Shirley,

My sister-in-law, forever my sister.


7 Responses to To Shirley, My Sister-in-Law

  1. Seldom do we hear about sisters-in-law, not often do we get insights on the process, the raw material (to borrow from Marx) that goes into building enduring relations and rarely to we witness the privilege granted when these come together in heart-wrenching beautiful poems. Your poem deserves a blessing: “Blessed is the One who endows women with the gift of writing.”ברוך החולק לנשים כשרון סופרות
    Shabbat Shalom,

  2. Dearest B.J.,
    Your poem is beautiful, thank you.
    I am grateful that my advice has evolved into a brigade of friends who all love and admire you, and are organized for action.
    I have lots of hugs waiting to be delivered -this time not on a 6:00 A.M.flight but soon.
    Love from your other sister, Shirley

  3. The sister-in-law and mother-in-law relationships are difficult at best, and I failed at both. This lovely tribute to your sister-in-law is also a testament to your own maturity and faith. Love as always

  4. You wrote so beautifully, dear BJ. I’m in tears, May you see each other soon, deliver those hugs. You are very blessed to have a sister (forget the inlaw part) like Shirley. May spring bring you kindness. Gd bless you. you are often in my thoughts

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