I loved being an older sister to my younger sister Jane. For the first fourteen years of my life we shared a room. I loved the closeness, the talks, the sisterly fights, the unspoken words and knowing we shared a history. When we moved to a bigger home, each with our own bedroom, I missed Jane.
On November 7, 1981 that changed, I changed. After forty one years a hole remains in my heart, but not my love for my cherished sister.
Jane and I were polar opposites. When she was younger she tagged along with me, I babysat for her, protected her and in her own way she looked up to me. One of the biggest thrills was the summer she came with me to overnight camp. For the first time I got to ride the sisters bus. I had a little sister at camp. She drove me nuts coming to my bunk every day and crying about not wanting to take horseback riding. We resolved the issue but secretly I missed her visits and felt important watching out for my little sister.
Banished to the kitchen for her sweet 16, not cool enough for her friends, I took it in stride and knew Jane would outgrow the behavior. Sadly we never had a chance to watch Jane grow up. What I do know is the unconditional love based on the cards and letters I still have and cherish and read and reread. Jane told me she was proud of me when I landed my job at Bloomingdale’s out of college.
In looking at the pictures, I was astounded to see the resemblance between Jane and I. She is standing in the living room in a long navy dress, hand on the piano. It could be a dead ringer for a picture of me in college where I stand in a long navy dress. Jane had a dimple on her right cheek, but side by side no mistaken we are sisters. It warms my heart to look at this picture.
I will never know who Jane would be today and dream of her often. I had the gift of her for twenty two years. A special sister I love then, today, and forever.
October is my birthday. A day for the past forty one years filled with many mixed emotions.
I recall birthday parties with Margie and Jane held in our basement. All dressed up in our party dresses, white ruffled socks, Mary Janes, sitting at long rectangular tables with paper party hats secured to our heads with a thin elastic, eating Hoodsies with a small wooden spoon and birthday cake. Different themes of party – Come dress like your father, Come dress like an animal, or basic birthday parties with pin the tail on donkey. Margie wearing my father’s suit jacked draped over her shoulders dragging on the floor. Jane dressed up as a bunny, eyes squinting never liked having her picture taken, surrounded by adorable friends in assorted animal costumes all smiling.
I hold onto the birthday cards received from Margie and Jane – precious words of love amongst sisters read over and held close to my heart.
Birthdays in our family traditionally celebrated with a cake, candles, and happiness marking the day.
The last time I saw Jane I came home from New York to celebrate my twenty fifth birthday. For decades my birthday held a cloud of sadness. Unable to disassociate a celebration with the harsh reality of the loss of my cherished younger sister. I put up a front for my daughters and parents marking milestone birthdays with large birthday parties, trying to mask the sadness and hollowness inside. When I met with one of Jane’s friends who told me Jane would want me to celebrate, I tried to switch the directive of my birthday. I attempted to find some happiness for several years. Sometimes a new plan distracted the heartache but always in the subconscious.
Now I am conflicted. I know in my head I need to celebrate the day. I have much to be grateful for, but my heart remains with a hole and missing my sisters. There is much I want to share with my beloved sisters as our beautiful family grows.
Birthdays are a day to be celebrated. When my grandson calls and sings Happy Birthday to me I melt and how can I not smile? The joy on his little face, the innocence, and love.
I do not know how I will feel this year but I have grown in allowing myself permission and compassion to feel whatever the day or week leading up to my birthday may bring. I will skate on the actual day, something that brings me joy and peace When I step on the ice and think about how Margie and Jane would be laughing how their sister Judy is now on a synchronized skating team and still as timid as she was at eight when we all started skating. I know Margie and Jane are with me as I glide across the ice, wind blowing in my hair, each one on my shoulder, forever in my heart.
The weather turns a bit cooler, the morning sunlight sleeps a little longer, daylight a bit shorter, we celebrate the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. Translated, Head of the Year, a time of prayer and self-reflection. We review our actions during the past year, and we look for ways to improve ourselves, our communities, and our world in the year to come. The holiday marks the beginning of a ten day period High Holidays or Days of Awe starting with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
A day I remember my sisters, Margie and Jane, traditions past, with the attempt to orchestrate new traditions cementing a balance of the two as we welcome new members of the family. Finding the right mix is not an easy fix and requires years of tweaking, challenges, and a constant work in progress. The staple are the apples and honey in the hope of a sweet new year.
Reflecting on the past year my heart beams. I am grateful for the gift of family, friends, time, dreams, and hope. A milestone birthday of sixty-five and joining the ranks of many enrolled in Medicare, a decade of the Celebration of Sisters ice skating fundraiser, the publication of Celebration of Sisters: It Is Never Too Late To Grieve, a move out of the city after eleven years, and the opportunity to meet new and wonderful people after a global pandemic. There is work to be done and more to learn and grow each day.
This past year not without challenges and mistakes, hopefully lesson learned and progress made, and where opportunities lie to do better.
To you and yours, I wish you a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful New Year!
I recently attended The Compassionate Friends annual conference. It felt like my premiere attendance. Why? Number one, as a presenter the nerves off the charts; number two traveling today precarious at best, number three as an introvert how would I survive the crowd of 800 attendees and share our grief all weekend, something I had suppressed for so long?
A fellow bereaved sibling from The Sibling Grief Book Club graciously picked me up from the airport. Good travel karma and all went well. Checked into the hotel, across the street from where the Houston Astros play, picked up the collateral – two bags including a TCF sibling T-shirt and peanut butter crackers (yeah!) and got through the first day okay. The program had a different feel and the sibling presence and programs grown since I attended the conference many years ago. Good to put a face to people I chatted to online and seen on Zoom. Still shaky and jittery over presenting – would the subject be received and elicit conversation? Would anyone show up?
Day two I attended the sibling orientation and honored to stand with fellow presenters. A tribe of siblings who understood and spoke my language. A gift I never experienced in the early years of grieving. I sat down in the grand ballroom to hear the opening speaker and when he told the story of his daughter, the floodgates opened. I left the room. The old Judy would have retreated and faced the sadness alone. I messaged the sibling group and said, “I’m having a meltdown, I’m in the sibling hospitality room.” Within minutes, the messages blew up. “I’m on my way, do you want coffee?” Surrounded by sibs who talked me off the ledge, provided warmth, comfort, talked, laughed. For years of being alone with my grief, I cannot articulate into words the sentiment of not being alone.
I attended several sibling workshops, and the day flew by. I met wonderful people of all ages, all varying years of loss, all with the warmest of hearts. The nerves did not escape me. I attended Friday evening’s karaoke night for a short time astounded by the talent amongst the group! I know the limits of being an introvert and found the group overwhelming. I stayed for a short time and exhausted went to the quiet of my room.
Saturday morning unable to attend the first session with my presentation scheduled for the second session. Elated the presentation went well, not using any notes and spoke off the cuff. Conversation ensued and siblings shared. Relieved the task over, comforted to be able to share Margie and Jane with others after prolonged time of silence, I could now breathe. Grateful for the kindness and cheerleading from fellow sibs. As my late father said, “With one rear end you can’t dance at two weddings.” I missed out on many sessions from fellow siblings due to the overlapping of scheduling. To protect privacy and confidentiality none of the sessions are recorded. This is our sacred shared space.
As a newcomer, I forgot to pick up the button everyone wore of their lost one(s). When I got home, I received an email from the company offering to send the button to us. Again, the generosity and kindness spread throughout the group warmed my soul. I will miss my fellow sibs. My heart is full. Until next year when we get together again!
I also learned to say instead of I lost my sister Margie and Jane, I am Margie and Jane’s sister.
The grand finale of the conference is the candle lighting ceremony. My previous experience did not bode well left heart wrenched and sobbing, a difference journey this time around. This powerful ceremony enlightened and moved me. The vision of eight hundred candles illuminated a room for all lives lost. Five large candles lit for everyone representing Grief, Courage, Memory, Love and Hope. I shook and my face wet with tears, a warm arm around my shoulder, Margie, Jane, and all siblings we will always love you.
August first is fast approaching and each year the anticipation up to the day causes heartache, sadness, and sweet memories of my beautiful older sister Margie. The girl with the wide smile, big brown sparkling eyes, long silky straight brown hair, and bubbling, sweet and generous personality.
I look through the photographs from out childhood and the love amongst sisters shines through. Our father had a Polaroid camera. The birthday party favors consistent of your black and white photo dressed up from the theme of the party. Margie stands wearing my father’s suit hanging off her shoulders down to the floor, a hat to the side, her hands gestured in a pose, perpetually the actress.
I spent years being jealous of Margie – her numerous talents as a skater, and cheerleader; her slim figure and numerous friends and boyfriends. I idolized Margie and our times together filled with laughter. She knew me better than I knew myself.
One of my favorite memories I would like to share, an excerpt from Celebration of Sisters: It Is Never Too Late To Grieve, epitomizes our relationship.
Margie was ten and I was eight. We went snooping for Chanukah presents in the basement in my father’s office. Typical of our relationship, Margie was the boss. When we opened the door to the basement, I wanted to chicken out.
“Margie, we can’t do this. We’re going to get into trouble.”
Margie smirked. “Come on, Judy, no one will know. It will be our secret—promise you won’t tell?”
“I promise,” I said.
As we crept down the steep linoleum stairs to our father’s study—Margie first, then me—we pinky swore never to tell. We stood in the front of the door for a moment, then Margie twisted the knob and pushed it open. Sure enough, the presents were stacked on the desk. We quickly rushed over and squealed with excitement over the large boxes and stifled our laughter so we wouldn’t get caught.
Margie grabbed a medium-sized box and carefully started peeling the tape off the corner.
“Margie! What are you doing? They’ll know we opened them,” I gasped. I thought we were just on the hunt for the presents, not knowing that she had intentions to open them.
“Don’t worry, you scaredy-cat,” she giggled. Then she continued to peel the paper back.
“How are we going to rewrap them?”
“Look, the tape peeled right off,” said Margie. “We’ll put them back just as we found them.”
My heart pounded as I watched her pull back the paper to reveal the name underneath. It was an Easy-Bake Oven. I was so excited, and together we peeled back the tape on all of the presents: Creepy Crawlers and button-making toys, which were the cat’s meow.
For Chanukah, the presents were placed at our assigned seats at the dining room table. As we each opened one present, Margie and I acted surprised. “Wow, just what I wanted. Thank you so much!” We ran to give our parents a kiss. Our performances were worthy of an Oscar award. Margie eyed me with a twinkle in her big brown eyes. My non-poker face did not give us away. We held this secret between us until decades later when it was finally revealed to our parents.
My dear sister Margie, I will always love you. You will forever be beside me and in my heart.
Dreams do come true! I never imagined at 65 to be attending skating camp. I spent five glorious days at the Music City Adult International Adult Skating Camp, The Scott Hamilton Skating Academy in Nashville, TN. My nerves off the chart. This was my first trip in three years since COVID and will I have the stamina to keep up? I skate three times a week for an hour, at camp I will skating at least three hours a day. I am excited to with fellow adult skaters. The energy and excitement from the skaters and coaches is electric.
We begin our day with a fantastic off ice warm up led by Snow Urbin, a ballroom dancer with grace. At the completion of the warmup we hold hands, form a large circle, and are asked what one word describes how we feel. For me the word is gratitude. Next we proceed to patch tracing figure eights on the ices practicing edges. A few sessions graced by the talented Scott Hamilton giving us valuable insight on skating and the sport of figure skating – the basics. Next, an ice warm up from Ice Flow, Dance and a drills exercise proceeding single file up and down the ice four lines varying elements – all skills in my toolbox.
The remainder of the morning wonderful workshops to chose from including spins, jumps, moves in the field dance, and choreography. Your choice and the opportunity to try some other discipline of skating. Often times I took a break and/or sat and watch in awe of my fellow skaters. Lunch served every day and a good time to relax, rest your feet and chat with fellow skates. Each day meeting and getting to know more of the skaters, sharing skating stories, all ages, all levels from all over the country.
Freestyles sessions filled the afternoons and the opportunity to take private lessons from an esteemed coaching staff which I took full advantage of. I participated in the group choreographed Spice Girls number and performed in the exhibition along with twenty of my fellow skaters, and practiced during my private lessons. I revisited ice dance and like riding a bike, I was pleasantly surprised it came back to me!
Best of all – thank you Christine – the very first time ever I have sparkle on my skates -purple of course, my favorite color!
Thank you to all my fellow adult skaters – you inspire me, you encourage me, you share our passion for figure skating, and you are wonderful human beings each with your own unique story.
Thank you to Music City for welcoming us, hosting us and to everyone who made the week so spectacular. Thank you to the coaching team for giving us you unwavering generosity, kindness, knowledge and fun – Kaitlyn Weaver, Elin Schran, Russ Witherby, Snow Urbin, Paula Trujllo, Peter Sasmore, Shawnee Smith, Becki Hendren, and Scott Hamilton. A special shout out to Paula Trujillo for all your hard works and efforts – the swag was great!
I am so grateful to be able to perform something I never envisioned doing. To my other exhibitors, you were all spectacular and your love of the sport shone through!
My heart is full of beautiful memories, new friendships, new skating knowledge that I will treasure forever.
Life works in mysterious ways. When choosing a narrator to record my memoir, I knew the instant I heard Carol’s voice she was the perfect fit. Carol’s warm, sensitive demeanor shined through. I laughed at some of the mispronunciations of the Jewish words like Chai, and Yom Kippur. Carol graciously suggested we speak so that she would hear the correct pronunciation. The moment we spoke, an instant connection formed. Little did I know, our bond cemented beyond working together on Celebration of Sisters.
Judy: Please share with us your background and how you came to be a narrator.
Carol: I’ve been a creative as long as I can remember. As a child, I would write, direct plays using my Barbie dolls as the actors, putting on the plays for my family and friends. I loved to sing and roleplay (once as Mother Nature sitting in a field of flowers and charging five cents for a visit with me and sharing what I knew about the world around me… all improv of course) Always had a flair for voices, making up cartoons and loving all the different characters I could create. As an adult, I made a career of working in the television industry as an actor, rehearsal actor and stand-in for other actors on Sitcoms and children’s shows. During the Pandemic, everything had shut down, and wanted to find something to do to continue my love of acting and found the world of voice over so interesting and fun. I was able to work from my own home sound treated booth. I have enjoyed this new career to be lots of fun and rewarding. Reading memoirs and non-fiction narration is my favorite. I also enjoy the cartoon characters, but I think sharing someone’s story is the most rewarding.
Judy: Why were you drawn to Celebration of Sisters?
Carol: As the fourth sister in a family of five, I was drawn to the title, Celebration of Sisters. It sounded familiar, so much my own relationship with my own three older sisters.
The love we share and the memories we have.
Judy: What was it about Judy’s story that resonated with your own life?
Carol: As I continued to look further, It is Never too Late to Grieve, grabbed my heartstrings, as I had recently lost my own sister to AML. I wanted to read Judy’s story, hoping to find some peace for myself, and help others along the way who needed to hear it. I realized reading her story, and the timeline between her loss and the book’s publishing was inspiring. I loved the stories of their lives together, their childhoods, the places they visited and the family’s devotion to each other; living in Boston, the vacations, and the memories they shared. It felt much like my own life as a young girl. There were lots of similarities Judy and I shared, and even through her struggles with the loss of her sisters, I felt the closeness that she carried with her through the years. I know that loss, I felt her sadness and yet I could celebrate with her the accomplishments through the Celebration Events. The Ice Skate was a special reminder of my own childhood memories. I was able to begin to celebrate my own beautiful sister and her gifts she gave me.
Judy: What advice would you give to someone who may be interested in recording an audiobook, or an author recording their own book?
Carol: I’m speaking in the world of non-fiction. If you are an author, I think that narrating your own book is a wonderful idea. Your words can come to life because you have lived it. You don’t need to have the “perfect voice” as most people might believe. All you need is to do is “talk” to the person who is listening, tell your story. Create an intimate relationship though the story, and your heart will follow.
As a narrator, make sure to invest some time to explore the book, to get to know your author by reading the book first. Create a relationship between you and the author even if you have never met. By taking those steps, the narration will come to life though your heart as well.
Judy: In addition to being a talented narrator and voice over individual, rumor has it you are a stellar baker, what is the most memorable cake you made?
Carol: Yes, that is another creative avenue I pursued for many years to stay home and raise my children. When I started working in the television industry, it basically brought the two together, and I was hired to also bake cakes, cupcakes and cookies for props and the cast and crew of various shows I worked on and others. My most memorable cakes were created for our beloved Betty White. The most favorite… has been the Luau Cake for her 93rd Birthday. It’s been shared many times by magazines and such. Most of all, everyone enjoyed the cakes I created, and gives me great memories of working with some wonderful people in the last 20+ years.
In the chapter entitled “We Get Up", I write,
“I was about to practice a spin on the ice. My skates newly sharpened, I skated to the end of the rink near the mirrors away from the fast skaters. One foot crossed over the other. I stepped into the spin, one arm overhead, the other arm extended, and then – nothing. Complete darkness.”
Little did I know I suffered a concussion, bruised the left side of my face, and required eight stitches on the corner of my eye. At age sixty-two, would I skate again? With stern looks from the doctors who advised me to stop skating. What? This did not register. Skating was my joy, passion, and the connection to my beloved sisters Margie and Jane.
The accident occurred two weeks prior to The Skating of Boston Ice Chips where I was to perform in two numbers; The Bostonians, a synchronized piece and an Adult Number celebrating U.S.A. Figure Skating outfitted in hats, scarves, and mittens reflecting the logo. I was crushed not to skate with my fellow adult skaters, enjoy the thrill of an ice show with costumes, makeup, and lights. The crowning glory taking a bow with an ensemble cast, meeting skaters of all ages, crammed into our dressing rooms talking and laughing, sharing stories while waiting to perform, and being nervous backstage.
Concussion protocol forced rest. Unable to do much of anything except for a light daily walk, I received a phone call from The Skating Club, asking me to the hold the flag during the singing of the National Anthem signifying the opening of Ice Chips. I would have a part in the show after all! In full regalia of costume, bruised face without a stitch of makeup, finding solid shoes to stand in, I proudly held the flag and enjoyed a brief time in the dressing room with the fellow skaters. Honored and proud when the emcee boldly announced over the Harvard’s Bright Landry Hockey Center, “the flag is held by Judy Lipson, our Adult member.”
Three months after the fall I returned to the ice. Not a patient person, forced to be during the recovery. Knowing the severity of concussions and cautiousness from medical professionals. I had no expectations and knew baby steps no grand gestures. Tentatively, one foot on the ice, the other, one foot glide, how wonderful to be on the ice, the breeze flowing through my hair, the smell of the rink, crossing one foot over the other. Surprised, better than anticipated, I lasted fifteen minutes. Little by little I built up endurance, but I was skating!
The greatest obstacle became the fear of falling. When a skater zoomed by, I held onto the boards nervous of being knocked over. I realize I am not the skater pre concussion, but I am skating. I find joy and the precious gift every time I step onto the ice.
In 2011 I took the journey after thirty years to grieve for my cherished sisters Margie and Jane. I refer to the process as my journey of comfort, bringing my sisters back to me. Suppressing my grief for three decades and not talking about Margie and Jane never felt right. I always felt like a part of me was missing not comprehending or understanding the grieving process. Unable to know what I needed or where to turn, the years ticked away. Thankfully when the time was right, I discovered my journey of comfort.
Surrounding me are numerous photos of Margie and Jane, Margie’s mahogany desk chair with the pink leather seat, Jane’s nightstand, the faded white trimmed in gold, jewelry inscribed with my sister’s names, Margie’s cheerleader necklace, cards and letters scrawled with Margie and Jane’s handwriting, and best of all more memories recalled without the intense pain and the willingness to share with a smile.
The emotions run the gambit like the speed of a roller coaster – gradually riding to the top, accelerating at high-speed coming down and repeating – the highs, the lows, the pain, the joy, the sadness, the happiness, and learning to go with the ebb and flow of all the waves.
Now that I have dug deep and truly paved my journey of comfort, I miss my sisters more deeply than ever. Being with others who have sisters or if friends talk about sisters, it is more difficult and painful. Learning to navigate the new feelings, and taking a “time out,” crying, or choosing to attend or not attend a function on my terms, still requires work.
For thirty years of not sharing or talking about my sisters the sorrow there but masked by shelving so many emotions deep into my subconscious. Today I am more open, transparent, and peeled that onion piece by piece, the tears more fluid, the hurt deeper on another level, the years of loss more pronounced, the missing the what ifs prominent, and the void at the holidays more defined.
The other piece of comfort I did not realize was skating, a chord that held me to my cherished sisters. Little did I know that of the three of us, the one with the least talent, I would keep skating and the connection to my sisters as a crucial piece of our past, and our love. Skating and bringing my sisters back provided me the confidence to perform on the ice before a large audience knowing my sisters, my anchors, my cheerleader, and champions were there on my shoulders with me with every glide.
My journey of comfort reconnected Judy to Judy. By tossing my grief through the deepest barrels of my brain the true Judy went there too. Hello Judy. Welcome back. Reconnected. Rediscovered. Restored.
Undeniable, unquestionable Margie and Jane are my life, my legacy, my past, my present, and my future.
In my wildest dreams I never dreamed of becoming a published author, of sharing my story that had been held to the vest and secret for decades, or receive the overwhelming support, kindness, and generosity from readers. The goal of helping others with their grief surpassed all expectations.
For me, the month birthed my own grief journey to a new level I could never imagined. To be transparent about losing Margie and Jane and able to express not only on paper, but express verbally when interviewed on podcasts a task I never could envision myself doing. I suppose when you are passionate about something, you deliver from the heart with an authenticity people appreciate.
I participated in The Compassionate Friends Sibling Grief Book Club. Years ago hearing about other siblings losses triggered me and I ran away. Now, I listen with compassion and the stories resonate with a bond I never felt before. Although I am forty years into my grief, and others are a few months, eight years, or a few years, the duration does not matter. We all lost siblings. That is our forever bond.
Much like a baby learning to walk and can now see things from a different view, that is how I see grief. A whole new world has opened up now that I let my guard down and talk about Margie and Jane, grief, no matter the time frame.
Hearing stories from childhood friends that remember Margie and Jane warms my heart. They are not forgotten. I squashed the grieving process for years and so a bit developmentally delayed, I am catching up.
Through Celebration of Sisters wonderful connections are being forged and my grief journey is blossoming. I see missed opportunities and am grateful for the gifts affording me now and I hope the wisdom I can give to others.
Life is not a dress rehearsal. We all do the best we can at the time. There are do overs.
Judy Lipson, is the Founder of Celebration of Sisters, an ice skating fundraiser established in 2011 to commemorate the memories of her beloved sisters to benefit Massachusetts General Hospital. Judy has published articles for The Open to Hope Foundation and The Centering Organization. Massachusetts General Hospital and SKATING Magazine featured numerous pieces on Judy’s philanthropic work. Judy appeared as a guest on The Open To Hope and The Morning Glory Podcasts. Her passion for figure skating secured the recipient of U.S. Figure Skating Association 2020 Get Up Award. Judy’s memoir, Celebration of Sisters: It Is Never Too Late To Grieve, released December 2021 by WriteLife Publishing.