Two of our grandchildren, ages four and two, stayed over last night in happy anticipation of Thanksgiving’s festivities. The mayhem they always bring to our household has been kicked up to eleven since puppy Sunny’s arrival a little over three weeks ago. Our now 21-pound bundle of energy can’t restrain her eagerness to jump on, lick and chew the small humans, so I have to restrain her with a leash when the kids are around. Our grandchildren react to her with a kinetic mixture of interest, excitement and fear. A happy scene, with much joy and some wariness on the part of all.

This morning I awakened at 3:15, thinking about something that happened nearly fifty years ago and about what happened yesterday.

The older memory was of a mildly embarrassing moment. I was home on a break from boarding school, with various members of my family at some sort of a picnic/concert just outside the Hatch Shell in Boston. It was probably summertime.

There was a word that I had read, but presumably never heard, that I had boldly mispronounced in one-on-one conversation with my next younger sister, then about twelve, with whom I was close. She, in turn proudly used the new word in conversation at the picnic, only to be gently corrected on its pronunciation by our mother.

Once corrected, my sister gave me a wry smile to acknowledge that she had learned the wrong way to say the word from me and let me know that my mistake would remain our little secret. As it did. It was one of a million tiny bonds between us.

That sister has been increasingly, terribly ill with early onset dementia for three years. In recent months, our two older sisters have been caring for her nearly around the clock; when things go wrong love comes out in the open.

Yesterday, on the recommendation of her doctors, with the assent of our siblings and me and the order of a court (which met yesterday morning with our oldest sister and me in virtual attendance), our younger sister was moved very unhappily but as a matter of sad necessity to a memory care facility. It was a hard day.

I gather from our oldest sister that the facility is as nice as such places get. She was the one who had found it and arranged for our younger sister’s admission and all of the other nearly innumerable medical, legal and personal details of the transition.  

Before our younger sister’s illness, her life was exactly what she wanted. She truly loved her work (words: she was an editor), her friends and family, her city and her dogs. A gentle soul.

We hope that once she becomes accustomed to her new surroundings, she will find comfort in her safety and in the ease with which her daily needs will be met. She will make friends – she has always been good at that – and be visited by the most loyal of her old friends and all of us siblings.


I had better take Sunny out to stretch her legs. The kids will be up soon.

M.H. Johnston

One comment to Family

  • Anonymous  says:

    Thanks for sharing; I know this is painful, but it makes us all think of life challenges which most of us share.

    The joy of being with your grandchildren and the exuberance of your puppy stand in stark contrast to the seriousness and sadness of your sister’s condition. All part of life as it comes at us, accelerating as it goes forward.

    I hope she flourishes in her new surroundings.

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