A White Dress, an Alumna Initiate, and Saying Goodbye to a Sister

My only sibling, my sister Louise, died suddenly on this date in 2011. I cannot tell you how many times I try to phone her because I have something I want to tell her. She lit up a room and was the life of the party. My offspring kiddingly say she was the fun version of me. Every visit with Aunt Weezer (pronounced Ont Wee Zer) was filled with laughter and fun. She could make me laugh like few others can.

It was a Tuesday. Dan drove me to work after the Rotary Club meeting. Our daughter, Simone, who was heading back to grad school a few days later, needed boots. Later in the day, she picked me up at work and we headed to Dillard’s.

While we were in Connecticut for that Thanksgiving, my sister came up from Long Island and we spent some time together shopping. I told her that Simone was going to be initiated as a Pi Beta Phi at convention during the summer and she needed a tasteful white dress. I asked her to be on the lookout for something for Simone to wear.

As we entered Dillard’s that Tuesday in January, I spied a clearance rack of white dresses and jackets. Simone and I were thinking the same thing, so we looked at them. She picked out a few things to try on. I ended up shuttling between the rack and the dressing room. I remember thinking to myself that I needed to tell Lou about this adventure because she would love this story. Simone decided that it would be good to get the outfit so she didn’t stress about it later. She kidded that she could also wear it if she ever decided to get married at city hall. She added that if that happened she would need a pillbox hat with a small veil, too.

We never looked at boots because we wanted to walk around the lake before the sun went down. Once we got home, my husband had to give me the sad news that he had just spoken to my brother-in-law. Louise had died suddenly earlier in the day. I remember talking to my father, who had also been called. The pain and despair in his voice brought even more tears to my eyes. A few more calls, and we ended up walking around the lake in the dark, just to talk and figure out what we were going to do next.

We ended up driving on Wednesday, leaving in the pre-dawn hours. It would be one of our longest trips to Connecticut. The day was chock full of stories to tell Lou. She would have loved to hear about the various exploits of her niece and nephews, all living in different states, but all making cameo appearances in our trip east. We finally arrived in Connecticut about 22 hours after we left home. It included a midnight detour to MacArthur Airport on Long Island and a 2 a.m. tour of two Westchester, NY, train station parking lots.

After I arrived on Long Island on Thursday, my brother-in-law and I went to make the funeral arrangements. Then I went to work dealing with my sister’s clothes and things.

The visitation ended up being on my birthday. On top of that, I lost my voice, most likely from an allergic reaction to the dander from Louise’s cats, but we didn’t figure that out until much later. I sounded like Minnie Mouse. My sister would have laughed so hard hearing me sound like that at any event, let alone her funeral.

At some point on that awful Tuesday or maybe it was on the long drive east, I told Simone that I wanted to take that dress and jacket back to Dillard’s – that seeing her in it at the Pi Phi Convention would bring back the awful feelings of January 4th. She said that she was ok with whatever I wanted to do.

Once we returned home, the dress and jacket hung on the back of my closet door. I never returned them. In thinking about the shopping trip and how odd it was to find a tasteful white dress at 50% off in January in Southern Illinois, I had a feeling that we parked by that door at Dillard’s and walked in that way and spotted the white dresses for a reason.

Louise loved to recount that once, when she asked a very young Simone what she wanted to be when she grew up, Simone responded, “A mommy who goes to Pi Phi meetings.” When it was time for Simone to pick a college, we toured a few midwestern campuses with sorority chapters, but her heart was set on one of the Seven Sisters. Her choice came down to Smith or Mount Holyoke. She chose the latter because “it felt like home.” It was a wonderful place for her. Although she did not have the opportunity to join a sorority, the Mount Holyoke experience had similar qualities.

When Simone was asked, four years after her Mount Holyoke graduation, if she would like to be an alumna initiate of Pi Beta Phi, I was speechless – very surprised, quite honored, and totally speechless. I told Simone that I did not want her to do it for me. As far as I was concerned, that ship had sailed, and I was fine with it. She, however, said yes, and so we met that June in Florida.

I pinned on her a beautiful diamond and sapphire arrow badge that the University of Michigan Pi Phi chapter gave to me when we left Ann Arbor. Simone was initiated into that chapter. It was only fitting as she attended her first Alumnae Advisory Committee meeting when she was but a few weeks old and she spent a lot of time at the chapter’s house, although she was too young to remember much of it.

Louise graduated from Hofstra University (the Harvard of Hempstead as I used to tease her) before there were national sorority chapters there, but I know that she was with us in spirit that June day at the Pi Phi convention when Simone became a Pi Phi.

white dress


 ©Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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