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Notebook

04 december 2008

My Beautiful Sister
by Nanci Olesen

She was my sister. Amy Elisabeth Olesen Alford. She was born when I was eleven years old. In the final months of our mom’s pregnancy, I took out the tiny jammies and onesies that were stored in my pink wooden closet. I took them out and folded them over and over. My mom and dad brought her home to us on Easter Sunday, 1971. In those days, moms stayed in the hospital after the birth of a baby for a week. Can you imagine? A week! Mom was rested and calm. I stood by the bassinet and watched my tiny baby sister breathe, gently and quietly.

All the time I spent with her taught me to be the person that I am. I loved being with her. I loved taking care of her when she was little. I used to pick out her outfits for the day. I used to walk her around the neighborhood—first in a buggy, then in a stroller, then running along behind her little bike.

I loved having her come visit me when I was an adult and she was a teenager. She came to my college and we choreographed a dance piece. She came along on trips with my funky theatre groups. I took her backpacking in the Smoky Mountains and canoeing in the Boundary Waters.

Then she turned into an adult and came rushing up to Minneapolis to meet our first baby, her first little nephew.

She lived right up the street from us.

As our second child was about to be born, she was the one who came tromping over to stay with our little Henry. She and my husband tried to tell me that my labor wasn’t as far along as I thought. They were looking at pregnancy books and trying to calm me down.

I stood, clutching the door handle, and yelled to them both:

“WE’RE GOING TO THE HOSPITAL NOW!”

Oh, how they loved to tell that story and imitate my roar….!

Amy was the one with the really great presents for our kids, the presents wrapped so beautifully. She wrote sweet, rhyming notes on their cards.

She celebrated every moment of their childhood with them.
We all jumped into Oak Lake together a million times, and floated on air mattresses in the sun.

Then she introduced us to the quiet Minnesota man she loved.

We fretted over and loved her big fancy wedding.

We rode our bikes to her house on Diamond Lake Road. We hung out there with her brand new baby, Jens.

She asked me details about babies, about her pregnancy, about all the intricate emotions of her new life as a mom.

She was my best audience for MOMbo. She stood and cheered at live events and sat with her radio blaring when I was on the air. She always called or came over right afterwards, and held my hand, her eyes full of tears, laughing about something in one of the stories or interviews.

And just when things really got rolling and they moved into a beautiful new house and we had a visit from our brother’s family, and she had her second baby, that little beautiful Rose, she was diagnosed with brain cancer.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it.

For almost two years our mom and her husband and all of us took care of her kids and of her. Our brother and his family visited from far away as often as they could. We all exchanged alarmed emails. I sat up late at night on the phone with my cousins. I shared every detail about Amy’s health with my own kids. Then I feared that I had told them too much and tried to undo the damage, in confusion and pain.

I stood in hallways to talk to our mom, to strategize about what to do next.

Amy couldn’t be with us in this struggle.

Her brain tumor robbed her of her emotions. She did not comprehend what was happening.

“I’m fine,” she’d say, and close her eyes. She slipped away and sat quietly in the midst of us.

On the weekends we took care of her kids. My teenagers pushed them on the swing. Her dear friends came from miles around to be near her, to bring her food, to stand by.

Her in-laws cared for her kids all week long, every weekday.

We all stood strong together, at the hospital, at their house, at every family gathering.

We did whatever we could.

Amy died on September 13, 2008.

We had a big funeral four days later.

What do I remember of that beautiful child, that beautiful young woman, that beautiful wife, and mother that she was?

Everything.

It is all coming back to me now, in exquisite detail.

As we all move forward without her, carrying her with us everyday and trying to comprehend that we don’t have her anymore, I realized that I wanted to put this website back up, in memory of her.

I want to honor her as a mom and a sister and a wife and an aunt and a daughter.

I dedicate all this work that I’ve ever done on MOMbo to my beautiful sister, Amy Elisabeth Olesen Alford.

—Nanci Olesen
producer and host, MOMbo: 1990-2007

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