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I remember:

You blaming me for your hips being uneven, ha ha, because you had to carry me around when we lived in New Jersey when Dad was a Chaplain in the Army from 1943-1946.

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You telling me that, after the war, we shared a bed in West Sayville and, thanks to me, another ha ha, you would often wake up to find the sheets cold and wet.

You standing by your bedroom mirror in Lafayette getting ready for a date. You wore a red cashmere sweater with a red and gray wool tweed skirt that Mother sewed for you. You were brushing your almost shoulder-length blonde hair and, as a grade-schooler, I thought you were beautiful.

You sitting on the couch in our Cutlerville living room, when I was in junior high, wearing your nursing student uniform—a blue pin-striped dress, covered with a starched white apron, and your white cap with its black velvet stripe and your white hose and shoes. I didn’t know then that I’d wear the same a few years later.

Never living in the same state, but you, as my oldest sister of three, always being my nurse mentor and friend.

Our families camping together at Goshorn Lake in Saugatuck and you and me lying on floats laughing about life and dreams over the gentle waves.

Getting a fat packet in the mail when I was going back to school for my bachelor’s degree, packed with your lecture materials on the Nursing Process and Orem’s Self Care Deficit Theory, foreign to me at the time, and topics I would later teach in my own lectures.

Our annual Thanksgiving visits at our brother’s home in Michigan where we would camp out in a corner and catch up in person.

Your advice to get a PhD in nursing rather than another field because that would be the trend since they were now available and were not when you got your PhD in educational psychology.

Driving with you for five days from Chicago to Seattle where you’d taken a dean’s position in nursing and our conversations about the administrative role, our afternoon stops for ice cream, and you quizzing me with vocabulary cards to take the GRE (graduate record exam) in preparation for my doctoral program. The word “ubiquitous” entered my vocabulary forever.

Our hour-long phone chats on Saturday mornings at eight about all things nursing and teaching—curriculum, lecturing, the faculty role in the classroom and in the clinical, and our mutual love for students.

You eager to collaborate with me on analyzing some of my doctoral research findings and presenting them with me at conferences. Your sage counsel as we met your colleagues and mine over lunches and in hotel corridors in Detroit and along the River Walk in San Antonio.

Graduating from the Blodgett Memorial Hospital School of Nursing - Kay in 1955, me in 1962

Graduating from the Blodgett Memorial Hospital School of Nursing – Kay in 1955, me in 1962

Opening your email on my phone while sitting at the counter at Lou Mitchell’s in Chicago, having ordered my scrambled eggs, and reading your news about being diagnosed with cancer. The waitress walking by, suddenly stopping, asking, “Is something wrong? Your face is white.” Me, gesturing at my phone, answering, “My sister has cancer.” Her bringing me a dish of ice cream, saying, “Everyone needs ice cream when they’re sad.”

Sitting with you in your family room just weeks before your death, you wearing sweats and a knitted cap on your head, snowed from radiation, mumbling, “I’m going to beat this, Lois.”

Lastly, you being my receptive, affirming listener, someone who could talk my nurse talk and be the bright, intelligent trailblazer and role model for my career.

***

My thank you goes to Amy Nagelkirk, a former nursing student of mine, for encouraging me to write this tribute to my nurse sister Kay during this Nurses Week of 2014. Nurses Week concluded on May 12, the birth date of Florence Nightingale (1820-1910).

 

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