Take pleasure in the family ties that bond

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We trade a lot of messages, my sister and I, but sooner or later we always manage to connect.

That hasn't always been the case. She's five years older than I am, just enough so when we were growing up she wanted nothing to do with me.

For years, I thought she didn't know my name. Or maybe she forgot it. But she clearly recalled it in her 20s, when she was a young mother desperate for a baby sitter, and I was a teenager desperate to make a buck.

Not that she ever paid me. I didn't care. It was enough to get to hang out with my niece and nephews and practice for when my turn would come to be not just an aunt, but a real mother.

It came soon enough. After college, for reasons I've yet to explain, I "abandoned" my family in the South to move to California and marry a high school basketball coach.

My sister flew out for the wedding. Then she flew home, and for years we seldom connected at all. She was busy being a nurse. I was busy having babies and going to basketball games. Phone calls were few. Visits were rare. Our lives went in different directions.

We reconnected, however -- as if we had never been apart -- the day our father took his life.

Death often draws the living closer. If a burden is too great to bear alone, we tend to reach out and prop each other up. It's an unwanted, but healing, gift. Or so it was for my sister and me.

But we didn't really start talking until our mother got lung cancer. My sister would take Mama to see the doctor. Then Mama would call me with a full report. Then I would call my sister to get the real story.

That phone circle lasted two years through surgery, chemo and trips to the hospital. Then my husband, the coach, was diagnosed with colon cancer. And our phone bills doubled.

I'd call my sister to ask about Mama. My sister would call me to ask about the coach. And Mama would call anyone who'd pick up the phone to try to find out anything she could.

For a while it seemed my sister and I talked about nothing but cancer. It made me miss the days we seldom talked at all.

After our mother died, I flew home to help my sister with the funeral. Two years later, when my husband died, my sister flew out to make me go to bed.

Then that summer, she made me go to Mexico and pose for a picture with a live chimpanzee.

You know how some say laughter is the best medicine? My sister swears by it.

That was more than a decade ago and we are still laughing.

We talk at least once or twice every week, sometimes more, and we hardly ever talk about dying or cancer or politics or other unpleasantries.

Sometimes we talk about movies or TV, our brothers and cousins, the latest family news. And we tend to commiserate a bit about what hurts where.

Mostly we talk about our children and their children. We share stories and memories, passing them back and forth like a box of See's Nuts & Chews.

Her oldest grandchild just started driving. My youngest just started walking. Oldest to youngest, we know every detail.

These are easy things to talk about. They roll off our tongues with a sweet, lingering taste that leaves us smiling, wanting more.

Given a choice, I'd pick easy talk every time. But there will be harder things to talk about sooner or later, no doubt. We will take them as they come.

Life rolls by in fits and starts, in moments good and bad. You can't help noticing hard times. They scream for your attention. But good times are easy to miss. Slow down. Pay attention. If you see one coming, reach out and grab it. Clutch it to your heart. Lift it up and let it shine.

Then call somebody you love and tell them about it. It doesn't matter, really, what you talk about. Just be sure to connect.

lifestyle - intelligencer

Sharon Randall is a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service (www.sharonrandall.com).


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