When my mother died, it took a couple of days for the fact to sink in. I'm not sure why. Perhaps the brain my brain, anyway can't process grief on an instantaneous basis. And it seemed to take quite a bit longer when, one year later, my older sister died, though I'm inclined to think that the pressures of being Just Married, and the realization that it wasn't anything like it was cracked up to be, further delayed matters. Now my younger sister has died, I've known about it for maybe thirty-six hours, and the expected outflow of emotion will start, I suppose, Real Soon Now, but right this minute, actual grief is being crowded out by an attempt to sort out what few memories I have of a girl who disappeared half a lifetime ago.

When people tell you about the rules of birth order, they tell you about the oldest, the youngest, and the middle child; combinations like fourth of five, which Joni was, are a bit harder to quantify, but here's the pertinent part of a list contributed by Birth Order Plus:

Characteristic Bad Feeling: Anger
Strategies for survival: Not listening to self, Trying hard
Felt Loss: Belonging
Sense of Justice: There is no justice, you can only get even
Thought Pattern: Analysis
T-shirt: "Life isn't easy, you have to try hard"
Childhood Behavior: Uninvolved, Secretive
Emotional Expression: Anger, Empathy
Source of Anger: Blame
Nature of Humor: Insults
Driving Style: Drives slowly while gazing at the surroundings
Listening Style: Listens to self or the other, but not both at same time
Common Phrase: "Try Hard"

Some of this I'll buy, some of it I won't. She definitely didn't drive slowly. I don't recall her as being especially analytical. And while she did try hard, she never made any particular noise about it; she just did it, and that was that. Most of these characteristics, I think, sound more like me than like her. And we did have some things in common. Both of us were wont to question authority, though she was far more activist about it than I; in musical terms, she was Johnny Rotten while I was Jackson Browne. Both of us had a tendency to forgo clothing when the temperature was oppressive; in fact, there was a brief period when we were as likely to see each other undressed as dressed. (It is considered polite to don something before coming to the door; she was the only family member for whom it didn't seem necessary.) And both of us embarked on our first sexual activities at about the same time, she a year earlier though she was nine years younger; by contemporary standards, she was appallingly young and I was embarrassingly old.

Finally, there's the obituary, published 18 July, obtained after jumping through a succession of hoops at The Dallas Morning News:

JEFFORDS, JONI M. "HILL". Born June 8, 1962 in South Carolina to Ged Hill and Bette Joe Balagia. Passed away July 15, 2003 in Dallas after a lengthy illness that she fought courageously. Preceded in death by her mother, Bette, Joni is survived by her son and daughter-in-law, Larry & Melanie Griffin; father, Ged Hill. Joni worked for Hagemeyer in the Halliburton Plant in Carrollton for nearly 7 years. Joni will be greatly missed by all who knew and loved her. Cremation to follow at a later time. Family to receive friends for a visitation on Sunday, July 20, 2003 from 2-4 PM at Restland Funeral Home.

© 2003 by The Dallas Morning News

Remind me never to say anything bad about Halliburton ever again.

Farewell, sweet sister. May the peace that often eluded you in life be yours in death.

The Vent

1 August 2003

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 Copyright © 2003 by Charles G. Hill