Take Care of Your Sister by
(309 Stories)

Prompted By Birth Order

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Take Care of Your Sister

I was my parents’ first child and had only one sibling,  my sister Laurie.

My folks had always wanted a second child but after I was born my mother had trouble conceiving again.   Of course at the time I was too young to be told or to understand such things,   but years later I heard the story.

My dad was a physician and had gone to NYU medical school at the time Dr Sophia Kleegman,  an early pioneer in the field of infertility,  was on the faculty.   My mother became Dr Kleegman‘s patient,  her treatment was successful,  and when I was 10 Laurie was born.

I was delighted to have gotten a little sister and remember playing with her and reading to her for hours.   After a character in one of her favorite children’s books I nicknamed her “my Zuzu” .   (See  Call Me by Their Names)

We loved each other,   but we didn’t have the close relationship that siblings in other families often have.   A 10 year age difference is a big one and although we spent our formative years in the same home,  the times we grew up in were so different.

I went to high school in the post-war,  booming 50s,   and then to college in the still relatively tame early 60s.    And I lived at home and commuted to NYU,  and although I acted in college theatre,   a career in the arts was never my goal.   Rather,  I was on a more conventional track,  majoring in English and planning to teach.  (See Theatre Dreams)

My hippy kid sister on the other hand,  was in high school in the tumultuous late 60s,  and was at Cornell in the druggy 70s.  There she majored in Arabic languages,  spent a perilous semester in Egypt,   and later switched her concentration to biology.   And – despite lots of personal  sturm und drang in those years –  she eventually went on to earn a Harvard doctorate and to become an NIH researcher.

But as gifted and accomplished as my sister was,  her personal life was not a happy one.   She had a troubled marriage and sadly bore an autistic son,  and she herself suffered with celiac disease since childhood.

Understandably my parents worried about Laurie,   and when we talked about her,  their mantra was always  “take care of your sister”.   I promised them of course I would,   but I’m thankful they didn’t live to see how tragically her life spiraled down.

At age 45 Laurie was diagnosed with MS and suffered for years,  becoming progressively more and more disabled.    My brother-in-law was incapable of caring for her,  and after a court battle I became my sister’s legal guardian. (See Guardian)

I moved Laurie to a wonderful nursing home where a compassionate hospice team cared for her until the end.  (See Look for the Helpers )  

And so I kept the promise I made to my folks long ago,  but oh how I miss her now,  my Zuzu.

– Dana Susan Lehrman

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: Sisters, Multiple Sclerosis


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Ten years is a huge age difference, Dana. But as you say, you read to her and enjoyed her company when she was little, and cared for her as she grew infirm, just as you promised you would. You must tell this story with a heavy heart, as she looks so beautiful in the photo (which we’ve seen before). May her memory be a blessing.

  2. Marian says:

    You were a wonderful older sister, Dana, and even though you didn’t have the traditional relationship with your sister because of the age difference, your caring and compassion for her comes through, even more strongly because you stepped up to become her guardian. I applaud you!

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    Oh, Dana, you have shared this sad tale of your younger sister before, but I never realized how much younger she was. You must have felt like her mother in many ways. She was so lucky to have had you looking out for her.

  4. This must have been a difficult story to write. I share your anguish at what your Zuzu endured as I too lost a sibling — my big brother — to a downward spiral, Dee, and I send you a big hug.

  5. Suzy says:

    Oh Dana, this story brought tears to my eyes. You were such a good older sister! You were responsible and conscientious, just like a firstborn is supposed to be, and you did everything you could for her. I’m so sorry you lost her at such a young age.

  6. Risa Nye says:

    Oh, Dana…this one really touched me. Beautifully written, sweet and sad. Thank you for sharing these memories of Laurie.

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