What I should have said

Bonnie Janine Kirkpatrick
Born: September 23, 1964
Died: November 15, 2009


School photo, age uncertain

After three months of struggle, my beautiful sister Janine passed away late one dark November night. Her hospital room was packed with people who cherished her – her father, her sisters, her daughters – and as she took her last breaths different ones would bend over and kiss her forehead, murmuring soft words of love to her.

Thinking of an amazing road trip we took with our kids once, along with years of birthday parties, BBQs and family gatherings, I quietly thanked her for sharing her life with me. “We sure did have us a time,” I whispered. I like to think she heard me.

The funeral was simple but moving. Janine was laid to rest with our grandparents, George and Inez Kirkpatrick, in the family plot. Different ones got up to speak and we all stopped to watch as a small flock of Canada geese flew low, directly overhead, honking a farewell. Family legend has it that an eagle always soars overhead when one of our own is buried, but Janine got a special salute, flying in formation, on that bitter, windy day.

As a young teen

I had fully intended to say a few words at the service. We had invited anyone who wished to say something to do so. Amanda had us all laughing and crying with her loving tribute to her mother. Karen, who is probably the most introverted of all of us, spoke bravely, voice trembling, about her love for her sister.

I meant to put some words together to share. I had the best of intentions and had started a few scraps of notes – things I remembered here and there. But it had been a very long three months and there was too much to do to prepare for the funeral. Excuses, I guess, but my heart just wasn’t in it.

So now, six months later, as spring flowers bloom in the sunshine and sweet breezes blow, here is what I should have said…

Lovely lady (at a sister’s wedding)

Being six years older than Janine, I remember a wee girl with big brown eyes sucking her thumb, a chubby little foot crossed over her thigh, her blanket with the silky edge (her “soft”) held up against her cheek. I recall that she tried so hard to be involved with the big kids’ play but was often too young or too little for our games. She would cry bitter tears about that sometimes, but with four girls there was usually someone willing to play. She tried so hard to keep up…

Janine was such a sharp little girl! School was a breeze for her in her first years (she got bored in high school). She had a sunny personality and a cheerful laugh, which developed in adulthood into an irreverent, quirky, ribald sense of humor. There was always much hilarity when Janine was around. We rarely argued, the two of us, and we enjoyed hanging out together whenever we could.

If I had given my talk, I would have told everyone about Janine’s inventiveness and creativity. She often had to struggle to get by, so would come up with ingenious ways of making do. For years I’d tease her about her campfire coffee. She hated instant coffee, so when we were on our road trip she invented a way to make “real” coffee by wrapping the grounds up in a coffee filter, tying it up with thread, and dangling it into boiling water. It wasn’t half bad, truth be told, but I had to tease her anyway.

My 45th birthday

She’d often mock people irreverently as a pastime, but inside Janine was loyal and loving. She sometimes had difficulty expressing her love in so many words but I never doubted it. I was tickled and moved when she threw me a surprise birthday party on my 45th birthday. The cake said, “You old bat!!” in blazing red letters. Ironically, Janine was in ICU for her 45th birthday. I brought her a bright bouquet of balloons but it just wasn’t the same.

Janine was the one who went back and forth to Montana with me, time after time, working tirelessly and loyally by my side as we helped clean out years of clutter for mom. We worked like dogs but (and this should be no surprise) we laughed a lot and shared a lot of family history together, finding treasures amongst the junk. Finding treasure in each other’s company.

Janine’s red curtains

For someone who was as photogenic as she was, Janine hated getting her picture taken. My shots of her are few and far between. She seemed to have a sixth sense about where camera lenses were pointing and made a point of looking the other way. My favorite is a grainy one of a young teen in a lacy dress, beautifully made up, smiling naturally into the camera (above).

We became very close over the last couple of years of working together. I had edited some video of us as wee children, growing up throughout the movie, and she so treasured that little production. She watched it again and again, taking still shots of several of the scenes and cleaning them up and printing them out. We talked a lot about how things were then and what she could see in those images. She’d say over and over that she was so happy to have been given that video; that now she understood a lot more of what things were like all those years ago. This gratified me to no end.

There’s a lot I should have said that day but better late than never. We sure did have us a time, didn’t we sis. I love you.

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12 Responses to What I should have said

  1. Carol Roper says:

    You were there for Janine almost every day through her awful ordeal, and that said more than anything else could say, Dawn. It was evident to me then, and is now, that you loved her deeply, and shared a lot with her… and that you both have such a wonderful,loving and caring family. I’m so glad you wrote this… it’s beautiful, just like you.

  2. Dawn-Ann says:

    And you were there for me, my dear friend. Thank you.

  3. Colleen says:

    Well said, Dawn. Thanks for sharing. ♥♥

  4. Ken Kirkpatrick says:

    Very moving and loving. Thank you for sharing.

  5. dedy/grpa says:

    Good work Dawn, We all have our personal memories and it is good thatyou share yours, with us all love dedy.

  6. Raelene says:

    Very well put sis, and like Dedy said we all have some great
    memories to treasure…. thank you for sharing yours <3<3

  7. Krista says:

    I started to read this while I was waiting for the bus back home. I had a terrible start to the morning, and as I started to read this, my nose started to bleed… Good grief.

    But I’m home now and cleaned up… This is a beautiful piece. I think I’d like to relink it in my blog, if you don’t mind?

    I love you, Aunty. :)

  8. Amy Coffin says:

    I am very sorry for your loss. You have written a beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing it and your sister’s memory with us.

  9. Greta says:

    Your thoughts are felt and appreciated, Dawn-Ann. Thanks for sharing! We all have thoughts and memories that are sometimes expressed after the fact and truly, it’s never too late to do or say what you feel. In fact, saying it openly and as completely as you have will be remembered forever.

  10. Dawn-Ann says:

    I would be proud for you to relink it, Hon. I love you too. <3

  11. Dawn, what a beautiful tribute to your sister. I’m so very sorry for your loss.


  12. Dawn-Ann says:

    Thank you, Joan. It’s been quite a year. *hugs*

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