Monday was already off to rough start. It was 10:08am when I looked down at my phone and saw a text from my wife. This fact (her texting me) gave me cause for alarm, backed up by the fact that in 33 years of marriage Donna rarely texts or calls from her place of work. “Judy’s sister Beth died last night.” My intuition was unfortunately correct for a change. Beth Rivers, my sister-in-law’s sister passed away on March 6, 2023. She was 67 years old; my sister-in-law is 65. The siblings were the closest version of Irish twins I would know until my second daughter was born. So much has been written in literature on the tight link that exists among siblings. “I could never love anyone as I love my sister,” stated the lead character in the film adaption of “Little Women”. From my experience, “Irish Twins” are on a whole different level of typical sibling love, falling just shy of identical, or paternal twins.
Through the recent decades Beth and I often found ourselves sitting next to each other at family functions. I doubt she was aware, but that fact was a matter of my pre-meditation. Her approach to her moody, aloof, and cynical bother-in-law’s brother was simple: “I love reading your stories…..you keep getting better and better.” My cautious reaction to her at first was passively suspicious. My imagination could hear the two sisters talking and Judy giving Beth the inside track on how best to handle this guy with an over-sized opinion of his own voice: “Rich has a huge ego, just stroke it and the two of you will get along swimmingly.” As shallow as that makes me seem it would have been purposeful advice 25 years ago. Beth was one of those people who saw the best in everyone and wasn’t in search of some angle. Not one time did I ever see Beth without her glass more than half full. One could not help but to feel comfortable around Beth and her husband Kevin.
As the years passed Donna and I were blessed with a pair of daughters, born 14 months apart. Somewhere around the times my daughters were four and five, when presented with an opportunity, I began to scrutinize a pair of sisters, who at the time were in their 40’s. There were moments when I looked over at Judy and Beth while coyly making mental note ‘is it possible that my daughters could capture that type of magic?’ I noticed the glances they exchanged from across the room while one of their charges was running astray. Or the way their fingertips touched the others forearm as they commiserated in some subtly nuanced code. Maybe it was simple stuff: “I think it’s time to take out the turkey,” I never had an idea, nor really cared about what they said, for myself it was all about the way the sisters presented to one another.
In those years when I zoomed my focus on Laura and Mary Kate’s bond I can remember thinking ‘My two are tight, but they may kill each other before they reach adulthood’ It would be many years before I understood this sibling oneness that had eluded me and my brother. Judy and Beth were each other’s “best friend” in the truest sense of the term. They were not only each other’s first friend, but also their longest lasting friend by far. Since the day that Beth went off to college hardly a day passed when the two didn’t speak. Judy is now left alone to live without the person who probably shared more of her inner secrets with her than her husband of 42 years.
My brother and Judy were traveling in Italy when they received the news of Beth’s passing. Following a sad call of condolence, I put the phone down and stared motionless through the window. All I could see were flashes of myself and my brother throughout the years, and of course my two daughters. Born 24 hours before St. Patrick’s Day 1997, we came home from the hospital with Mary Kate and introduced her to her 13-month-old sister Laura. Her older sister waddled her tiny legs to the car seat sitting on the floor of our bedroom to have a peek. There was an awe in the eyes of my oldest daughter. She kneeled downed and took a long peer into the car seat without uttering a sound. The vision of my two daughters bonding in that initial moment remains with me. Over the years I have often imagined what the two of them would have said to each other if they could have articulated words at the time. “So, mom and dad wanted me to have a partner in crime in this life (we did). Mary Kate Is the best present I could ever have received in my life. Nothing will ever come between the two of us,” were my imaginative words I had put in Laura’s mouth. Mary Kate whispered back, “I’m with you Laura.” They willingly dressed identically and were seldom seen separated from the other. They were undocumented twins. People in local retail establishments took to calling them Mary Kate and Ashley, two popular child TV stars at the time.
The years stretched out and it became obvious that Laura would never waver from the pledge I had imagined her committing to. When Laura was four, we made our first trip to the dentist. I was on my own with the two of them. Mary Kate and I sat in the waiting room while Laura bravely headed for the big chair. A minute later a touch of a cry could be heard through the open door. Before I could stop her Mary Kate was going as fast her three year old wheels could take her enroute to save her sister. I quickly ran for MK, who had already dug her sharp little teeth into the dentist’s calf. After apologies, and even a private chuckle with my dentist friend it was clear to me this sister commitment went both ways.
“Sisters is probably the most competitive relationship within the family, but once the sisters are grown, it becomes the strongest relationship,” said the noted anthropologist, Margaret Mead. There were many power struggles between my two daughters in their adolescence, mostly ones too personal to all of us for me to share. From the outside looking into their relationship, I noticed that despite their shouting matches or Mary Kate’s propensity to physically overpower her sister, blood was only drawn a couple times and the mend of the wounds were immediate. I am guessing that at some point they agreed not to compete in the same sports in high school. At the same time all their girlfriends that strolled through our family home were always mutual friends of my daughters. They attended the same social parties, listened to the same music, and vigilantly had each other’s back when it came to the others romantic interests. All suitors knew to get to one they had to win the respect of the other.
The following Monday after Beth had left the common grounds of earth Judy returned from Italy to a world she had never known. Her confidante, her best friend, her soulmate, her guardian angel in life had been called to heaven much earlier than any of us could have expected. Beth leaves behind her husband of 43 years, four children, ten grandchildren, a brother and, according to Beth, ‘the best present her parents ever gave her’. Shakespeare wrote, ” A ministering angel shall be my sister.” Par for the course, “The Bard of Avon” had summed it up in a short phrase. The bond that Beth and her sister shared, and the one my daughters seem have in common, is one I am sure is exclusive to the pairs themselves. Beth and Judy were each other’s angels; a steady voice, a presence that provided comfort amid tribulation. I will not assume to understand the gravity of loss that Judy is experiencing. The concept of the absence of the one single constant your whole life, the unwavering connection that made you partners in the joy and heartache. Judy and Gary’s son Eric, and daughter-in-law have two amazing young daughters. The last time I saw Beth was at a summer picnic at my brother’s house. Her sisters’ granddaughters were darting about in their summer dresses. “How lucky these two little cherubs are to have to each other,” said Beth to me in the last conversation we were to have. Simultaneously as I nodded in agreement Beth’s eyes looked away to catch the glimpse of her sister’s gaze, naturally.