Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I Miss My Sister

 This is the eulogy I wrote for my sister Lianne's memorial today...

So there was this misunderstanding about a pair of shoes.
            And please – don’t stop me if you’ve heard this one before. I know Lianne tells it better, but I’m going to give it a shot.
            Anyway. It was a pair of red high top Converse sneakers. Very, very 1985. Lianne owned these fabulous shoes, and I coveted them greatly. So apparently I may have borrowed them without really asking if it was okay first, and she got a little mad. Okay – a lot mad. And a fight ensued – we had been left unsupervised after school, always a big mistake – and I was terrified. Because make no mistake: the girl could kick my ass. She had this move she called “The Windmill,” where she’d just come at you, arms flailing like… well, like a windmill, and you better run or get torn to shreds. So I did what any self-preserving 7th grader would do in the same situation: I hid in my room, back to the door, bracing it shut by putting my feet against the wall.
            And she was pretty enraged when she couldn’t get in. So she got the bright idea to go out her window, crawl across the roof overhang to mine, and bust into my room that way and give me a beat down. And I could hear the commotion at her window, and the warning issued by Stacey, who was probably five or six at the time, and watching our PMS-fueled antics with glee. “She’s coming across the roof!” And really, I was still terrified.
            But then! Suddenly I heard a sound like fingers scrabbling across wood shake shingles, and Lianne’s voice saying “Oh shit!” And then a yell that faded away as she fell.
            Yes, ladies and gentlemen: She slid on a wet spot on the roof and fell, onto the front lawn. She apparently grasped onto a “branch” from the giant tree gracing our front yard, but sadly, that tree was some sort of willow, and didn’t really have branches so much as thin little vines. And the next thing I heard was a “THUD” as she hit the lawn. And then we were all silent for a moment, and Stacey and I ran to the window to see if we could see her, if she’d been hurt at all.
            But no. She got up, dusted off the butt of her jeans, laughing hysterically, and said, “I have to go tell Suzanne!” And headed off down the street to tell Suzanne, giggling the whole way.
            And I guess I tell you this for two reasons: One, because it’s our all time favorite Lianne story. I mean, the way she tells it is epic, and she’s probably up there telling it to my Grandma McEwen right now, shaking her head and rolling her eyes and going, “Shannon doesn’t tell it right.”  But two, because that was so Lianne: just picking herself up, dusting herself off, and laughing about it.
            She was always laughing. These last few weeks, as people sent us well wishes, the common thread was always her laugh, her smile. And that’s what we’ll always treasure the most about her too – our memories of her laughing and smiling. And she was funnier than me. The way she told a joke. The way she saw humor in every situation. The types of things that made her laugh. I can hear her voice right now quoting funny lines from “Airplane!” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “Better Off Dead.” No one can do “I want my two dollars!” better than Lianne could. Or “Sorry I blew up your mom, Ricky.” Classic.
            In a sister, you pretty much want three things: a playmate, a confidante, and a cheerleader. Lianne was all three, and then some. I was lucky because Lianne was not quite two when I was born, and I had a ready-made best friend from day one. Every memory I have of my early childhood includes Lianne, right there beside me – endless days filled with Barbies and hide and seek and silly stories; the nights we were allowed to stay up late to watch The Partridge Family; our mutual love for trips to Stanley Park in Vancouver, and plane trips, and visits to our grandparents. Lianne was always braver than me, and learned to be a good swimmer while I sat on the sidelines and watched, and struck out and made more friends than I did – it might surprise you, as reserved as she’d been in recent years, to hear that she would always be the one to make easy friends wherever she went, while I’d rather stay inside and read a book. But she was just like that – always ready with a laugh and a smile and up for nearly anything, all those things you look for in a friend.
            It was different for Stacey, who came along when Lianne was ten and I was eight. We spent the next twenty years tugging her in two different directions, competing, thinking she had to like one of us best. Eventually we realized it wasn’t a competition after all and the three of us settled into a grown-up relationship of three sisters, but Lianne had won anyway. How are you not the winner when you’re the sister who allowed your toddler-aged youngest sister to spend every night in your bed because she’s afraid of the dark or the thunder or had a bad dream and doesn’t want to sleep alone? That’s what Lianne did for Stacey.
            And you could tell her anything and not have it get back to Mom or Dad. Not that we would dare keep any secrets from Mom or Dad. HAH. She might offer up some advice or be a little judgmental about whatever it was you were telling her, but that was her right as your sister, and still, it never got repeated. We were thick as thieves, as the saying goes – she would launch these spy operations around Christmas time where one of us would hide and spy on our parents at night after we were supposed to be in bed, to see if either of them slipped up and mentioned one of our Christmas gifts. We also had an elaborate series of knocks on the wall between our rooms, codes for “Are you awake?” and “Goodnight” and “ Come over.” The most important, of course, was three knocks, for “I love you.”
            She was a practical joker and loved to tease, and loved to laugh and make us laugh. Ask Stacey about the clown mask. She taught us to love comedy – movies, tv shows, comedians. We never would have been interested in any of it were it not for Lianne. And music – she taught me, and Stacey by extension, to love rock music with wild abandon. Early on it was Andy Gibb, Shaun Cassidy, the Bee Gees, the Bay City Rollers. Eventually she moved on to Van Halen. Def Leppard. Sammy Hagar. Bon Jovi. She never met a Canadian rock band she didn’t like. She was the first person we knew who watched endless hours of MTV, and Dad would threaten to throw the tv into the pond behind our house because he thought it was rotting our brains. Which – it probably was. I mean, she would make Stacey walk up and kiss the tv any time David Lee Roth appeared. And she’s the one who introduced me to Guns N Roses, and to hip hop – she had a thing for Too Short, Run DMC, and 2 Live Crew.
            Other things you should know about Lianne: She taught us to appreciate a cute boy and later a good-looking man. But she also taught us the value of looking inside a person, and seeing what was in their heart and soul rather than just seeing the outside. She was fiercely protective of us, especially of Stacey, the baby, and she was a fierce defender of people she saw as needing a leg up. I have some good friends from high school who were – let’s face it – a bit nerdy in junior high and high school, and the popular kids used to make fun of them. Until Lianne stepped in and befriended them, and questioned the popular kids for treating them poorly. When these friends of mine heard last week that Lianne had passed away, they all wrote to me and told me how Lianne had once made their lives a little brighter, just by being their friend, and that they’ve never forgotten her.
            You’ll see in the slideshow Stacey and I put together that Lianne tended, in more recent years, to step back in the group photos, and push the rest of us forward. And that’s probably the biggest gift she’s given to the two of us over the years – she was our biggest supporter, our biggest cheerleader. She was always so proud of Stacey’s painting, and she never let me forget that I’m supposed to be a writer, not an insurance salesperson. We won’t let her down, because we know she’ll come back to haunt us if we do.  Oh, and Daniel – you know she expects you to earn that black belt someday, and become an Oscar-winning director. Ben, you’re gonna have to become a champion race car driver and really work on those guitar chops. Aspen, she expects you to cure cancer someday, but no pressure. Owen? President of the United States. She always had our backs, and I know from now on she’ll be perched on our shoulders, ready to give us all a nudge in the right direction.
            But what you also have to know is that we were proud of Lianne too. She was a success in her career by anyone’s definition, and she married Sam, the best brother in law a girl could ask for – with apologies to Nate and Rob. She was a good person, a kind person, and the type of person you just wanted to be around. She didn’t always want us around – in fact her last words to me were something along the lines of “Get out of my room,” and trust me, I’ve heard that line from her many times in my life. But we always wanted to be around her.
            My friend John and I joke all the time that we were one another’s first friend – we’ve known each other since we were one and two years old. But really my first friend was Lianne –my friend, my Hot Dog Head, my partner in crime, my sister. The world’s a little brighter because she shared with it her lovely eyes and sweet smile and that crazy machine-gun laugh. We love you, Yannee Banners, and we’ll miss you every single day.