Cheryl, the Big Sister
(delivered by her brother)
When beginning to think about Cheryl, I first had to think about what it means to be a sister. An older sister is kind of like having a parent, a friend, a confidant and a competitor, all wrapped up in a single package. They share a place in your life that is a unique space that no one else can occupy. The history a sister shares with her brother cannot be replaced nor substituted. With all that history comes a level of understanding between a brother and sister that cannot be duplicated. Cheryl being gone leaves an empty spot in my heart that can never be filled. I have had the rare honor of knowing her for her entire life. Even though that life was cut terribly short, what she did leave behind, for all of us, is great memories of a great person. I'm exceedingly grateful to have shared the time that we did but I look forward to being with her again in heaven someday.
As a child, many of my memories of being with Cheryl are surrounded by the time we spent with our grandparents in Colorado. I remember sitting at the top of the stairs and giggling with her while listening to them loudly snoring in concert together. I remember waiting for the snow to show up so the two kids from California could play in it. Staring at the mound of Christmas gifts with her, waiting for Christmas Eve to arrive so we could tear into them. Looking at the faces of our family gazing into their candles at the Christmas Eve service and listening to Papa singing "Joy To the World". We would shuffle our stocking feet on our grandparent’s wool carpets trying to touch and shock each other. I also remember her always winning those painful "shock" battles and I never did figure out how she could always get a bigger shock.
Our grandfather owned a dry cleaners where we spent quite a bit of time. We actually got to push the switch to make all those clothes slide around on the giant conveyor belt. Most kids only dreamed of being able to play with that big toy, we actually got to. Sometimes we even got to ride with him in the delivery van. Being thrown around inside and bounced around on every turn, all over town. Can you believe we survived without seatbelts, or seats for that matter? To this day, the smell of walking into a dry cleaners always make those memories come rushing back. It's amazing how a smell can trigger such strong memories. Another one of those memory etching scents is the scent of White Shoulders perfume which was the essence of our grandmother and all the love she showed us.
Being two years younger than Cheryl, we were close enough to play together yet far enough apart for me to follow in her shadow. While we were younger and she had the distinct size advantage over me, she was not afraid to take that advantage. Although my sister seemed quite perfect, there were those bigger sister moments that still haunt me. To this day, I still dislike being tickled because my loving sister would love to pin me down and tickle me until I screamed. I also recall the time while traveling in the back of our station wagon, on one of our many family vacations, when, while I slept, she tied my socks together so tightly I couldn't get them undone. So while the rest of the family went merrily into the restaurant to get a bite to eat, I suffered through the frustration of the entrapment my sister had left me in. I was so busy getting mad that I missed that all I had to do was just simply slip my socks off and join them inside.
While playing in front of our house, her longer legs would let her jump across the sidewalk without touching, where it was a struggle for me. She somehow she convinced me that alligators would grab us if we touch the sidewalk while jumping across. Although she was never at risk, I somehow avoided being caught by those concrete alligators even though my heels frequently touched.
One of the evil chores we had to do together was picking up dog poop in the backyard. Using sandwich baggies for gloves for picking up the smelly remnants, we crisscrossed the yard, her going north-south and me going east-west. How she always timed it so I got stuck picking up the mushy, fresh ones I never have figured out.
Cheryl loved to play games throughout her life and we would also spend a lot of days while growing up playing board games. And somehow, she always seemed to win, all of the time. I always knew that she was smart but I think there might have been some other shenanigans going on.Growing up, we were blessed to be in a loving home with two loving parents. We were the all-American family. A Mom and Dad, a girl, a boy, a dog that barked at the mailman and an ornery cat that scared all the kids in the neighborhood. Although we weren't wealthy, we never went without and always had the love and direction of fine parents. A lot of who we both became is due to that early foundation and growing up in our house on Gledhill. It was while there that Cheryl first attended school. I think from her first day of class she knew that she wanted to be a teacher. Now that I think of it, I probably had the distinct honor, as her little brother, of being her first student.
Knowing that she wanted to be a teacher also drove her to always wanting to be the best student, which she was. Many teachers would describe her, all the way through her high school years, as being their best student ever. And I can assure you that following in those large footsteps, when you're not quite as driven as your sister, could be daunting. As a matter of fact, there was more than one conflict with teachers caused by my unwillingness to be the great student that she was.
As we both got older and she discovered Davy Jones of the Monkeys’, John Denver and other boys; our relationship matured. While spending a lot of time watching Cheryl twirl her flags in parades while deftly avoiding stepping in horse droppings, our relationship turned more towards friendship than that of a little brother. Conversations were more about advice and life than games and tickling.
We both attended college at UC Santa Barbara. I almost chose not to go there because I didn't want to follow my “perfect student sister” one more time. Thankfully though, I didn't let that influence my decision. Having a built-in friend who was familiar with the school and the process was a great blessing. Once I got there, we actually would have to go out of our ways in order to spend time together but gratefully we were able to do that. Even though we were there together for three years, we only took one class together. I'm proud to say that we both got the same grade, of course that grade was an “A”.
It was during that time that I grew to see Cheryl in the way that most of you do. Always there with a pleasant smile, open heart and helping hand. Willing to share a kind word or a lesson learned with more patience than anyone I have ever known. It was also at this time that she met her husband to be Joe, and my dad and I were no longer the most important men in her life.
She moved back to the Valley, married the love of her life, became the teacher she always dreamed to be, raised two beautiful girls and became a sister to many of you who are here today. What an honor it is to be able to share the great sister I have with so many others. As an adult you come to learn that, at it's core, a sister is a dear and beloved friend. And as I can see with all of you here today, she is truly a sister not only to me but to all of you here.
It was my honor and privilege to spend, along with her family and friends, many of her final hours with her. The night before she passed, Joe and I had the opportunity to share with her many happy memories and stories. The smiles and acknowledgments she gave, while we shared with her those special times in her life, will stay with me and be cherished forever. The most touching moment of all was being able to witness her and Joe gazing into each other's eyes and sharing I love you's. That beautiful moment is etched in my memory along with watching her take her peaceful last breath.
I want to thank and acknowledge my parents and all the wonderful friends that stood by our sister through her valiant fight. I want to thank Joe for being a pillar of strength to not only Cheryl but to all those around him through this trying process. I also want to give a special thanks to my wife, Sherri, and my children, Lauren and Eric, for being there for me.
As a final thought, I want to share a moment I had the day after Cheryl passed. As I thought about her that day the first thought that came to my mind was “I wonder what Cheryl is doing in heaven today”. Knowing, without a doubt, that that is where she is, and that I will get to see her there someday. This thought brought great comfort to me and it's my hope that the same thought can bring you all some comfort too.
Thank you and may God bless you all as I have been blessed being Cheryl's brother.