The image of my little sister Isabel lying in her casket at Pitta’s will forever be etched in my mind. With beautiful milky white skin and dark brown hair, Isabel wore one of her favorite blue dresses in the plain wooden coffin.
You see, Isabel loved the color blue, along with many other things that her short life offered her. And on a warm evening in June of 1994, she breathed her last breath over at Lutheran Hospital in Bay Ridge. Succumbing to respitory problems that plagued her through out her entire life.
And with my mom crying un-controllably in the front row, I just stared at my little sister. Thinking she looked too alone as she slept a cold eternal sleep, in a neighborhood funeral parlor I knew too well.
Now Isabel was downs syndrome, and actually lived twenty years longer than the doctors predicted when she was first born at Methodist in Park Slope. So I guess at thirty-two years old she more than lived a full life in the eyes of many.
Oh, and what a “full life” it was, more friends than you and I could ever have, more laughs than we could ever bellow, and the greatest love for music than you could ever imagine.
“Hey Isabel, what music are you playing tonight for your party?”
“Michael Jackson, YOU SUCKER!”
Ok, so my sister loved the A-Team and Mister T, and somehow developed the habit of calling me “Sucker” when she used to answer me, but, hey, what’s an older brother for if it’s not to be abused by your little sister once and a while.
And there as usual by her desk where her “Boom Box” was planted, was her Michael Jackson “Thriller” album, her Michael Jackson mirror, and her Michael Jackson books. Oh and don’t forget Isabel’s white glove too. Yes, she used to try to “moon walk” like Michael, except she shook the whole house.
Oh yes, I forgot to tell you, Isabel wasn’t even five feet tall and weighed well over 250 pounds. So when she danced, she really literally brought the house down.
So while I stood there above her body in the casket I got an idea. She should have the things that made her happiest all around her, even if it meant putting them in her coffin.
When I got home that evening I gathered up all of Isabel’s favorite things, including her walkman which still had her Michael Jackson “Thriller” cassette tape inside. Her Michael Jackson books, and the Michael Jackson white glove she always wore during one of her late night “Kensington” concerts.
As I gently placed them in her casket the next morning I did get some perplexed looks from some of the people in the funeral parlor. But, hell, if there was one thing I learned from growing up with my sister is that you never care what other people think, especially those who never had a downs syndrome sister or relative.
And as I kissed Isabel’s ice-cold forehead and said my goodbye, I could only feel happy that she was not alone in that plain wooden casket. Surrounded by all the things she loved so much, including her Michael Jackson “Thriller” album.
And as I write this story today I could only smile, knowing that Isabel and Michael are “moon walking” somewhere in another world, and maybe without shaking the house.