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.


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