On Thursday, March 30, a cousin called to say she’d heard my long-forgotten sister Mara had died. We’ve both heard such rumors over the years and have no way of verifying them. So we shrugged and turned our attention to stories about our grandchildren before saying goodbye. A few minutes later she texted me a post from Mara’s Facebook:

The next morning I sipped coffee with one hand as I clicked into voicemails, emails and texts. A voicemail from the previous day said, ”Yes, ma’am. My name is Frank. I’m a captain with Winchester Police. Uh trying to find some possible information about your sister Mara if you can give me a call back. My telephone number is 540xxxxxx. Thanks.”

Captain Frank said they’d responded to a wellness check nearly three weeks ago, on March 13 and was sorry to say Mara had died. The police couldn’t find any information except an emergency contact on Mara’s health records for one of my other sisters. That number was disconnected.

Their investigation drove them to Facebook looking for clues. Eventually they connected to Ellen, an old high school friend who tried staying in touch with Mara. Years ago I’d given Ellen my phone number during a time when people were still trying to help Mara get sober.

“How did she die?” I asked the Captain.

“The death certificate won’t be available for a few weeks. Nothing suspicious though. No reason for us to ask for an autopsy,” he said.

“Oh. Where’s her body?” I asked.

“At the funeral home. They are concerned about the disposition of the remains.”

The Captain felt he ought to talk to the one quasi-official designated family member whom Mara listed as her emergency contact. I said it might take me a few hours to contact her since I didn’t have her number.

“The landlord hasn’t called us yet,” said the Captain, “but we’ll need to give him a contact.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I guess it’s obvious we are all estranged.”

I thanked him profusely and told him to feel free to contact me again if need be.

Mara was the oldest of four sisters. I, the second born, became an unwanted character in her life from the dawn of our family story. As adults Mara and I tried here and there to be loving. She once sent me a textbook, England in Literature, from my high school English class. It has my handwritten notes in the margins. She’d salvaged the book from the rubble of our mother’s home. This cherished gift is one of the kindest gestures of my lifetime. 

But our ancestral roots of untreated alcoholism proved too tangled for Mara to weed through. I arose as an easy target for her perennial unruly emotions, especially after I joined Alcoholics Anonymous.

From her Facebook page, I see that many of Mara’s old friends loved her dearly and tried to poke through her isolation for years with little success. Ellen’s brief eulogy tells me Mara confided in her,  and Ellen loved Mara even in Mara’s brokenness.

That is the most comforting condolence of all—knowing Mara was loved.

Mara Burke, b. February 1, 1945, d. March 13, 2023

15 thoughts on “Mara Burke RIP

  1. I think of her daily, saddened by her tragic end, but grateful for the friendship we shared for most of our lives. She and I double dated, attended formals at The Peddie School, listened to music we loved.
    Her shop, where she helped us look stunning, but never as stunning as she looked, was where we all first established credit, for she generously gave us all our first credit card! Her many gifts over the years are now especially treasures I’ll forever cherish. The slim silver bracelet she gave me many years ago is still my very favorite and timeless accessory, the many articles she sent knowing I loved cooking and gardening, the tiny blue and white dish which sits on my nightstand, are fond remembrances of her love and friendship. Yes, she was dearly loved. Ellen

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am very sorry for your family’s loss. Mara was on my mind and i Googled her name; saddened by the news i now read. I am happy to say even though Mara and I were not close we got to share plenty of sobriety and plenty of very good healing laughter and lost of very good coffee and pastry over the oast 33 years.
    Fly High Mara
    Be at Peace, Friend

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Regan,
    Mara strove to appear in control and successful – and she succeeded for as long as I knew her. It is sad to know that, for her, it was not enough. My sympathy is with you, dear Regan. However ‘estranged’ your family was and is, you have broken free of the neglect you all suffered. Love, HABIV

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My dear Regan, Please accept our deepest condolences upon the death of your sister Mara. Estranged or not, it is still sad to lose a member of your family. We’re sorry her life was such a struggle, but happy for her and for you that she had friends who loved her. Please be good to yourself to help assuage any negative feelings that may have arisen with this news. We love you, D. for Bill and me

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So sorry for your loss, Regan. Failure, such as that which your sister experienced throughout her life, can
    dramatically complicate grief.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dear Regan,
    I’m struggling to know what to say that might be of comfort. Your piece is so moving and honest. Keep writing and healing. We’re listening and learning from you. We care.

    Liked by 1 person

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