My Sister Katharine is Home

Katharine

My sister

Like the sun and the moon, Katharine was a part of my life since I was born. Nineteen years older than me, she became babysitter, teacher, lecturer, friend, counselor, and comrade as I grew up. She was always a part of home, except for the times she was away. Her coming home was never soon enough or long enough for us, her younger sisters.

Katharine and I shared the same father, and had different mothers.  The loss of a sister when she was five and the loss of her mother when she was six did not leave her bitter. Instead, she developed a heart of care for others as she navigated a new step-mother and younger sisters in her home. Our father’s children were fondly referred to as his “first batch” and his “second batch”.

KatharineMy sister was the impetus behind Mrs. Miller’s Homemade Bread bakery.  As our father’s heart condition worsened, she encouraged my parents to consider the offer of this venture. Not only did she see the possibility of a livelihood for our mother in the event of his death, she helped mix those first batches of bread by hand and worked willingly with us underfoot to help make this business a success. Katharine could fill any role in the bakery and did so willingly when she was needed, even years later.

Our sister was our cake decorator. She let us choose what we wanted for our birthday cakes and decorated accordingly. She created quite a few birthday cakes over the years! I especially remember the rabbit cake she made for me, floppy ears and all, when I was six.

Katharine encouraged the Second Batch to sing together. She purchased the blue book that has many songs we sang. I especially think of her when I sing “Do You Know How Many Stars There are Shining in the Sky?

When she had rheumatic fever, Katharine was in a hospital bed in our home. We so enjoyed the many visitors she had, the tidbits of information we were privy to, as well as the sunshine boxes1 she received. She always allowed one of her sisters to choose which box she opened each day. Katharine read to us, crocheted, handled the hotline at church, enjoyed her parakeet Pete, and never complained about being bedridden. She also ensured that one sibling could move on to the next grade by practicing reading and spelling with her almost nightly.

When Katharine was ordered to come home for complete bedrest the second time she developed rheumatic fever, we were ecstatic that she was coming home! Never mind that she had to stay in bed: all we thought about was the fun of having her home again, all to ourselves.

I am a nurse today because Katharine was a nurse. She fixed any ailment, and her calming presence soothed many an aching heart. After Katharine became a nurse, I could not think of anything else I wanted to be.

When one of our lambs was very sick and she told us he might die, I was so upset with her.

“But Katharine, you’re a nurse! You have to fix him!” I sobbed.

She tried, but she could not fix Freckles.

Katharine
Katharine with 3 of her nurse sisters the day we donated blood and volunteered at a blood drive – late 1970s.

Of  her six second-batch siblings, four of us became nurses. Katharine was our nurse, as well as our doctor. She doctored our dolls by mending them, cared for our animals when they were sick, repaired our clothing by mending and fixing our sewing attempts, taking out seam after seam when we stitched things wrong, and never lost patience with our lackadaisical ways. She doctored our hearts when we were hurting and was a stabilizing force in our lives, especially after Papa died.

The first Christmas after Papa died, she plugged the record player into the time-bake of the kitchen stove. She did not know if her plan would work, but it did. The next morning while all of us were still in bed, the sounds of Joy to the World by The Mennonite Hour2 filled the house. Mama said for a minute she thought there were angels singing. That became a Christmas tradition, and no one was allowed to come downstairs until we heard the music on Christmas morning.

Katharine
Katharine with younger siblings, Allen and Miriam

My ally

One summer afternoon after Dave and I announced our engagement, Katharine was sitting on the porch glider with Dave. Their conversation was casual, and then she changed it to a more serious nature. She asked Dave, “Are you really sure you want to marry into this family?!”  He assured her that he did. She pushed the glider back and forth as she replied with a touch of seriousness and a twinkle, “You just need to know what you are getting yourself into.”

My sister was a woman of wisdom and grace. I called her many times for cooking advice, child-rearing advice, and general counsel. She was our family‘s unofficial historian and was a great storyteller.  I wonder how many times I answered my children’s questions with, “We will ask Aunt Katharine about that. She will know.”  And she did.

Our sister told stories of our growing up years; she remembered explicit details. When we needed to know anything about our genealogy or events in the community, Katharine knew. She not only knew details, she understood people. No one puzzled  her; she always had a way of seeing into the heart and understanding how a person thought and acted.

Katharine understood the faithfulness of God in her life. She recognized that life was unfair and hard, but she did not let that make her bitter.  This is one reason we loved her so. At every family reunion, she asked to sing Great is Thy Faithfulness. When she planned her funeral, she chose this same song to be sung. My sister continually recounted the faithfulness of God. We knew her story and we knew she could have griped and complained, but she did not. She never forgot His faithfulness.

When I needed advice on what to fix for a vegetarian guest from Germany, I called Katharine. The day we drove our oldest to college, I called Katharine. She talked to me for two hours to keep me awake as I drove alone. When I wanted to fix tapioca again and had failed to write down the recipe she gave me, I called her.  Many years ago when our four-year-old daughter “ran away” from home and moved in with an aunt and her family, I called Katharine.

She was just as involved in the lives of our children as she had been in ours. Katharine never tired of the escapades of her nieces and nephews or of their successes and failures.

As Katharine aged, health concerns were more paramount. The time came when it was not safe for her to drive.

Katharine made that decision easy when she told me, “I always said when you girls think it’s time for me to quit driving, I will.” And she did.

KatharineMy friend

Her second batch sisters accompanied her to the hospital for her open heart surgery. Once she hung out our cloth diapers in the cold of winter; now it was our turn to hold her hand.

We loved Katharine. She was always a part of our world, our family, and our home.

As age crept upon her, she needed more care. The signs were there initially, but hard to detect. Gradually, the signs became more evident and we realized it was time to help Katharine receive better care.

The decision to have her go to a retirement home was not easy. She made it easier by telling us, “I always said when you girls think it’s time for me to go, I am willing to go.” And she was. She was visiting me in my home in Virginia when the call came that a bed was available. She was ready to go.

I struggled with tears as we packed her clothes to take her back home. It was the end of an era, and the beginning of new, unchartered territory. COVID thwarted our plans to visit her regularly, but we visited nevertheless, many times outside her room through the telephone, then later inside the facility. When her ability to follow long-distance conversations decreased, my phone calls to her stopped. No longer could I call and ask her advice on a dish I was preparing or question her on a homemade remedy. She could not answer questions about genealogy as she used to do, and I quit saying, “I’ll have to ask Katharine about that.”

Over the past two-plus years, we said goodbye to the Katharine we knew and loved so much as her cognition  decreased. She always knew us, always loved us, and always sang along on familiar hymns (she knew them all).  Even though communication on her part was difficult, she communicated with the smile in her eyes. We loved her. She loved us.

On one of her last days as family and friends sat by her bed singing, she mouthed the words of their song. It was a song she learned as a child and carried with her through her eighty-six years of life: Jesus loves me, this I know.

A few days later, Katharine’s  journey was over. Happy for her and sad for us, we rejoice in the faithfulness of the God she served and the love of Jesus, her Savior.

I will miss her. We will all miss her.  And Katharine? She is, finally, Home.

Katharine

 

Sunshine boxes were given by a church or a youth group. Each person wrapped a small gift for the sick person. The gifts were put into a large box and delivered to the home. Katharine received several sunshine boxes, usually with 30+ gifts per box.

A well-known Mennonite acapella group. For more information, click here.

Photo credit: the feature photo was taken by Connie Mason, a dear friend of Katharine.

This post is about my memories of my sister. There are so many things she did and people she affected. You can read more on her obituary found on Newman Funeral Homes, Grantsville MD. Click on this link.

 

 

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “My Sister Katharine is Home”

  1. So touching…I couldnt stop reading…what a beautiful family and beautiful sister…You are soo blessed!!!

  2. Thank you, Angie. God is so good – and faithful. Life was no easy or fun for my older siblings growing up, but those who chose a good response made the difference for all of us. Someone has said that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond. Katharine modeled that for us, and we are so grateful.

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