Friday, April 27, 2012

Maryl wishes: Happy Birthday to Eileen

We have another birthday this week. My older sister Eileen would have been 65 today…..more on that momentous age in a moment. Eileen died from encephalitis at age10 before there was a successful treatment for the disease. I’ve lived my whole life wondering what it would have been like to have an older sister, how my life would have been different, and more so what Eileen would have done with hers. I imagine she would have been in a creative field. She was a very sensitive little girl, she liked to draw daffodils and our father was a graphic artist.

Me and Eileen

So would Eileen be retiring from an advertising agency, a design studio, a fashion house or an art school this year? Probably not if you look at a recent AP/CBS poll that finds 73% of baby boomers plan to work past retirement and that number continues to increase. Some are doing it for economic reasons, others because they enjoy the stimulation they get from working or pursuing a vocation of their own design. It’s interesting to note that almost half of the 7.4 million self-employed workers in the USA are baby boomers according to the US Department of Labor. And a third of them began working for themselves at or after age 50.

I know one boomer who left finance to start a vineyard in Maine. I met another who left the sports marketing field to start a natural cosmetics company that donates some of its profits to women’s human rights causes. And, a horticulturist from the Hudson Valley up and left to go study Spanish in South America. I have several friends who are writing books, making films and starting blogs. By the way, all  these examples happen to be women.

There’s thousands more scenarios like those above because there’s no prescribed way to live past the age 65. The only limits are your imagination and your personal finances. You may still be taking home a paycheck or waiting for a new business to return some revenue or deciding when is the best time to collect your Social Security, pension and/or 401K. The only thing you do have to do is enroll in Medicare whether you defer Plan B or not. 

So happy birthday to everyone turning 65 today and all year. It’s not the same 65 as our parents and grandparents but one with more opportunities for beginning a new life phase filled with vitality, versatility and visibility. I wonder how Eileen and I would have celebrated her second life a foreign country, at a spa, shouting from a mountaintop? I’ll light a candle for her, and then call my middle brother in Tennessee.  He was also born on April 27, one month after Eileen died. He never got to know his other older sister but today is his birthday too. And then I’ll go find Caryl and help her finish celebrating her birthday from earlier this week. I have a gift for her. She has so helped me over our many years as more-than-friends to fill the void left by my sister Eileen.

Only remaining piece of Eileen's art work

Postscript from middle brother, Tom:

Happy Birthday to me!

I did not know Eileen. Except for her pictures that were prominent about the house as I grew up. I sometimes wonder how much of me was shaped by her. As Eileen was dying I was beginning life. I was growing in Mom as she helplessly watched her first-born child pass away. I was the silent witness as Mom embraced and kissed her little angel. Told her how much she loved her and that they would always be together.

While I did not know Eileen, I know she left us something. She gave us another reason to try harder, to not give into complacency.

So at 54, I’ve celebrated 25 yrs at Eastman and 25 yrs in Tennessee. Jenny and I are ready for a change. Matthew graduates from UT this year. That’s four out of college, but not settled. Sarah is studying to take the MCAT this year. Erin is finishing up her 2 yr grant at UC-Davis, but no set plans after August. Samuel will be finishing up his internship at The Barter Theater in August. He wants to try the NYC theater scene later this year. Matthew did not get accepted into medical school. He is staying in Knoxville, will find employment in health care and apply again for next year. John starts high school this fall while David will be finishing up. We’re trying to find a small liberal-arts college for him.

So may be we have 4 years left in Tennessee, but may be we have fewer. I agree with Lou’s blog there is much more for us to do. Retiring at 65 is not an option, but that doesn’t mean you have to do what others want.

Happy Birthday Eileen!

Love, Tom


  1. Happy Birthday, Eileen & Middle Brother ... and big hugs to you, Maryl!
    Itty Bitty Boomer

  2. Thank you Itty Bitty. This post took a bit out of me. I needed that hug.

  3. Priceless photo, lovely blog entry; another virtual hug going out to you.

    1. Thank you Joan. Can't get enough hugs. I thought of you last weekend as I roamed from museums to theater in Atlanta last weekend by myself....thoroughly enjoyable.

  4. See Postscript from middle brother, Tom, just added...

  5. As I read your thoughts on where you imagine Eileen would be today had she lived, I have to smile. Not just because, for a moment, she is with us again, but because, over the years, I too have imagined her grown up. I smile because the Eileen in my mind took a much different road. What did I know of life or people at age 9? But for my money (or baseball cards) Eileen was the nicest, kindest, most caring kid I knew. There seemed to be a purity about her that fuels my imagination to this day as I picture her growing up to be a real life Sister Mary Benedict, gently sculpting the souls of the children of St. Mary’s.

    It’s so hard for a parent to lose a child at any age. Your father’s parents saw their three boys all go off to war and survive to come home and start families of their own. Yet they too outlived their youngest son. I can’t imagine the sadness your parents lived with following Eileen’s passing. I only know that they somehow found the strength to continue to celebrate life and to enrich the lives of those with whom they shared their home.

    That being said, I’ve always felt that it was you and your path in life that were most affected by Eileen’s passing. You would have grown up, like me, being the second child, free from the burdens of expectations that weigh on a first born and escaping mistakes parents make once and know better than to repeat. At the age of 9, you were thrust into the role of “oldest” sibling. And while I will never forget Eileen, it is hard for me now to imagine you as anyone other than the amazing leader and older sister for your family. Perhaps this would have been your destiny in any event. But I like to image that if Eileen had lived to celebrate her 65th, the two of us would be performing Vaudeville routines somewhere in the Catskills. Perhaps in our second lives.
    Happy Belated Birthday to Eileen (and to Tom).

    1. Dear Bob, You are eloquent as usual and your words touching. And it's warming to know that you too think about Eileen. We agree that she was kind, caring and sensitive and perhaps she would have been a teacher. However, I see her more giving craft lessons in the Catskills than instructing the Baltimore Catechism!

      I too wonder how my parents ever plodded on after her death. I think we all can agree that losing a child is worse than cancer or name your disease. How did our grandparents carry on after your dear father's death? Granted he was much older than Eileen but does that really matter? And how would you have been different had he had more time to influence you? As far as me being an "amazing leader," well, thank you for the compliment. I don't really think about how my life would have been different had I not been the oldest. Rather I think about how richer and satisfied I would feel with my Eileen to guide me because she was the older sister and to just be there for me as I would have been for her. Thanks Bob. Love ya.