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