A Catholic Monthly Magazine

My Sister Mary

Anne Kerrigan

“A sister is a gift to the heart, a friend to the spirit, a golden thread to the meaning of life”.

“The best thing about a sister was that I always had a friend”.

“A sister is a type of angel on earth who helps you to be your best self”.

I wrote this letter to my sister, Mary, about two weeks before she died. She was so happy to receive it which meant I was so happy that I had written it!

Dear Mary,

How do I even begin to write this letter when I know how ill you are? I am devastated to know that you are suffering with a terminal illness. Please forgive any misspoken words as I try to express my thoughts and feelings.

I have been blessed to have you as a sister. I have always been so proud to introduce you as my sister! Your beauty, both inside and outside, has always been a source of joy for me.

We have had some wonderful times together! Those marvellous holidays at Aunt Kitty’s are treasured memories. We have watched our children grow up, attended weddings together and even a funeral. That is profound sharing.

We have also explored many parts of this wonderful world together. I even pulled rank as your sister when Larry became the official headmaster at the main table on our cruises so that I could be at that table with all the extra shrimp and pasta! And who can forget the many hours of Phase Ten on the last cruise? The Egypt trip remains a personal favourite of mine, especially since we shared it with you and Larry as well as Kathleen and Curtis, not to mention a cruise on the Nile and a trek across part of the desert on a dirty camel! So many laughs!

Lately, in this futuristic world, through the magic of email, we have been able to share thoughts on the meaning of life, kids, grandkids, the Church, politics, the world and God knows what else! Who can believe that we have reached this age in our lives? Seems like only yesterday when we were teenagers on Heath Avenue! We have truly been blessed with the gift of years; a gift denied many, including some of our own family members.

So, even in the presence of sadness and the sense of pending loss, it is with gratitude that I write this letter. I am so grateful that you have had a good life, a long marriage, and the blessing of wonderful children and grandchildren.

Dear Mary, remember you don’t journey alone through this difficult time of letting go. God has promised he would always journey with us; he will never abandon us. So many family members and friends are present to love and support you. The prayers of so many will bolster your spirits!

So, as you prepare to meet the Lord, be not afraid. He is with you. The faith you have loved all your life will now sustain you. Please hug my precious daughter for me, as well as mom and dad and all the family and tell Larry I was so happy he was my brother-in-law! (I think I already told him that, but tell him again!)

We will all be together again soon. I love you to the moon and back!

With much love and with all my prayers,


“Eyes have not seen, ears have not heard, no mind has ever imagined what God has prepared for those who love him”. St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 2:9

My earliest complete, clear memory is the day Mary was born. When I woke up that morning of 2 June 1944, I looked around and couldn’t find my parents. I was only six years old, and it scared me when I couldn’t find them. We lived in a very small three-room apartment, so you were unable to go very far. My dad worked a lot but my mom was always there. Where could she possibly be? I remember thinking that I was now alone in the world. I woke up my younger sister who was three years old. I told her not to worry because I would take care of her. I wasn’t quite sure how I would take care of both Lorraine and myself, but I thought we would be able to figure it out.

I decided that my first step would be to try to find my parents. My hope was that we would find them and then Lorraine and I would not be alone. We didn’t have a phone so I held Lorraine’s hand and went to our neighbours across the hall. I knocked on the door, and as they responded, they looked surprised to see the two of us standing there, looking like two lost souls. I told them that we couldn’t find my parents, and I asked them to help us. That image of two little kids asking for help is as clear in my mind as if it happened yesterday. At that moment, another neighbour appeared and told us that my mom and dad were at the hospital and that we had a new baby sister whose name was Mary. Lorraine and I were both so excited that we had a new sister, and I was excited to know that I wouldn’t have to take care of Lorraine forever because I wasn’t sure how I could have done that! That neighbour took care of us until mom and our new sister came home. It was an exciting time to have a new baby in the house. I do recall that Lorraine and I just loved this “new toy!”

Mary evolved from that adorable, beautiful baby into a wonderful adult. She was kind and loving, always present if you needed help. She smiled so easily! Mary and Larry travelled with my friends and my husband and me on multiple cruises, and we had so much fun together. Cruising together was a special treat because Mary lived two hours away and we didn’t see each other as often as I would have liked. My friends loved both Mary and her husband and that made me feel so happy and proud. One friend told me that any time he saw Mary during our trips, she was smiling. That’s just how she was, always smiling. She was as beautiful inside as she was outside.

Mary received a diagnosis of stage four pancreatic cancer in the spring of 2019. The prognosis was not good, even with treatment. Mary was in a state of shock about her diagnosis, but she was even more concerned about her husband, especially since his chronic heart condition had recently exacerbated. During one of our long and very earnest conversations, she told me that she would prefer to forgo treatment for the pancreatic cancer but was going to give it a try so that she would be able to be present to Larry for as long as possible. She never once complained about her diagnosis or about the difficult circumstances she was now facing. No self-pity, no moaning or groaning. Just bravery. She said she knew God was with her and she also knew that our own mother was watching out for her from heaven. Mary’s strong personal faith was going to be her strength during the painful days ahead.

She was a beautiful person and the world is diminished because she is no longer here. I wish I had more time with her, but it was not to be. I saw her a few weeks before she died, and it was a treasured time. She kept saying to me, “Anne, don’t be so sad. Don’t be so sad”. As I was leaving, I felt immense sadness because I knew it would be the last time I would see her in this life. I hugged her and told her that I would see her in heaven. Her response reflected her beauty as a person.

“Isn’t it wonderful that we believe?” Then she turned to my husband and said, “Marty, always take care of Anne”. Those were the last words she ever spoke to me. Treasured words.

I will miss her so much, and I will try to focus on gratitude for having had such a sister instead of on the sadness of losing her.

I remember when Mary came into the world and I watched as she slowly left this world for heaven.

Larry died on 12 July and Mary joined him on 7 October 2019. May they rest in peace.

Thanksgiving, 2019

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