Friday, March 30, 2012

Christina Suzanne Waddell 1970-2012

Funeral services for Christina will be held next Thursday, April 5th at Gay & Ciha Funeral Home, 2720 Muscatine Avenue, Iowa City. There will be a visitation at 6pm and funeral service at 7pm. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Iowa City Hospice. 

Walking down the hall this morning, I suddenly stopped by a picture on my wall that usually goes unnoticed. It's an aerial photograph of the farm in Iowa where we lived as little girls with my parents and maternal grandparents until I was about 2 or 3 years old. My grandparents didn't move to the city until I was about 8 years old (Christina would have been 9), so many of our best childhood memories are wrapped up in that place. It's where her life began. 

She was especially close to Grandma and Grandpa Cutkomp, so I like to think they were the ones to greet her this morning as she made her way into their world. 

Christina had a hard life. She was broken as a child, but none of us knew it until too many years of self-destructive behavior had passed. Her struggles were always our entire family's struggles, and I personally spent far too many years hating her for betraying me and ruining our happy little family (not to mention my egocentric teenage life), and then even more years trying to "fix" her. Somewhere along the way I just learned to love her. 

She had such a strong, self-inflicted sense of humor when in the worst of situations. I think it was her humor that got her through the majority of her struggles. Even my last moments with her on Monday afternoon ended with me in tears and her making a joke that got us both laughing. Like my tagline, she always chose to laugh instead of cry. (That is, when she wasn't mad. She did have her fair share of anger. And for good reason.) 

She also had a fantastic memory for the most unbelievable minutia from our childhood. When we went to Iowa last summer to see her (thinking even way back then that her time was short--turns out she was much too stubborn and battle hardened to go that easily!), I asked her to help me remember things from our childhood so I could write them down for safe keeping. I scribbled our memories down on scraps of paper to record "later". That was almost a year ago, so I think today is as good a day as any to record some of my childhood memories with Christina. 

Things like . . .

. . . sharing a bright floral 70's bedroom and getting in trouble for jumping back and forth across our beds on summer nights when we were put to bed before the sun and not a bit tired. Then we would press the heels of our hands to our eyes as hard as we could and describe the kaleidoscope-like designs we would see to each other. 

 . . . spinning in the barrel at Hodge Park, sometimes getting blood blisters when the slats slammed shut on our hands. 

 . . . the time we played in the ball diamond at Horace Mann after a huge rain storm, absolutely covering ourselves in mud just like one of our favorite stories, "The Muddiest Pig Contest."  

 . . . exploring the forest trails behind Realtor Park in the summers. (A kidnapper was always stalking us.)

 . . . riding our bikes through the cemetery near our home. 

. . . laughing at Grandma Waddell dancing to "American Bandstand" on Saturday mornings while Grandpa made his "famous" Bisquick pancakes with Mrs. Butterworth's syrup. Reading Little Black Sambo and other books on the couch with a pillow behind our backs and a bowl of carrot and celery sticks. (Don't forget the Vitamin C!)

 . . . our horrific swimming lessons at the YMCA where we tried to save each other from Mrs. Strickland who would step on our fingers to get us to stay in the deep end. 

 . . . our naughty behavior at Sacred Heart Cathedral where we took our first piano lessons from Sister Celine. (Accidentally knocking over the huge filing cabinet full of music!)

 . . . playing pioneers in the basement with our little red wagon, going around and around the braided rug. Sometimes we were pioneers, sometimes we were the sisters from Little House on the Prairie--a household staple. We also created huge villages out of Little People structures or Barbie paraphernalia down there on that braided rug.

. . . daring each other to go on The Demon roller coaster at Great America in Chicago every summer. (She was always braver, tougher, faster, funnier.) Eating pickles on a stick and going on the double decker carousel at the end of the day. 

 . . . doing Mad Libs in our sleeping bags in the back of the station wagon with the seats laying flat as we drove the 5 million miles to visit family in Florida every other Christmas for as long as I can remember. It was the only time we got McDonald's for breakfast and we LOVED it! We also loved hanging out the back window as we got closer to Florida, playing Close Encounters of the Third Kind--our own little game where we watched the headlights of other cars come over the hills behind us and tried to duck down before they hit us. Then there was the year Christina and Joanna stuffed my little body in the storage compartment in the back of the same station wagon . . . 

 . . . sitting on top of that same station (in the same sleeping bags) at the drive-in movie theater watching Shaggy D.A. and The Apple Dumpling Gang. 

 . . . Daddy/Daughter campouts (same station wagon, same sleeping bags) complete with snipe hunts, smores, talking to the truckers on the CB in the Werner's camper van, motorcycle rides from (who was that?), and swimming the next day. 

. . . sneaking around our neighbor Paul's property when he wasn't home. He was a disabled Vietnam War vet and almost always left his door open. (We'd go in, too. This was life in the 70's! We'd go outside to play in the morning, and come home hours later after exploring the neighborhood.)

 . . . Dad taking us swimming at the YMCA's indoor pool in the winter. 

. . . waking up early on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons on our old antennae TV with 3 channels. (Man, am I getting old!) First it was just snow, then the Big Blue Marble, then the good stuff like Looney Toons, the Road Runner, Smurfs, and Hong Kong Phooey. 

 . . . blind folding each other and doing taste tests with things like mustard and Worchestershire sauce. 

 . . . rocking out to Crocodile Rock, Sun, Shade & Rain, Donny & Marie, The Beach Boys, Neil Diamond, and Barry Manilow. 

. . . watching the Chucky the Squirrel movie on the slide projector our parents had. Listening to classic Disney stories and others like Thumbelina and Peter and The Wolf on multi-colored transparent record albums that we played on our scratchy record player in the basement. 

 . . . being kiwis in Mrs. Each's "Wizard of Oz" ballet recital at Scottish Rite Temple. 

 . . . eating our PB & banana sandwiches while Mom & Dad were in choir at the Rock Island chapel after church, and then exploring under and over the stage hoping not to get caught. 

. . . sleeping under the tree during the Christmas season, and the years we woke up to a Holly Hobbie cardboard playhouse and a Barbie dream home.

 . . . doing a lip sync and dance in the Horace Mann talent show to the Go-Go's "Our Lips Are Sealed".

 . . . tearing down 38th Avenue on our big wheels and filling up the back compartment with big earth worms after a heavy rain. 

 . . . getting Dilly Bars from the DQ down the street from Grandma and Grandpa Waddell. Grandma taking us to McDonalds or Bishops, not letting us eat the fries until she tore off any brown spots. 

 . . . playing in the "secret tunnel" up in Grandma Waddell's attic among the ancient clothes. We thought of it as our own Narnia wardrobe. 

 . . . watching Disney's Magic Kingdom on warm summer nights in our nightgowns with wet hair after a bath, eating sugar and cinnamon popcorn that we dipped in milk.  

 . . . climbing the corn crib, playing in the hay loft, getting eggs from the chicken coop, discovering baby kittens born under a bush over night, scratching Grandpa's back with a hairbrush, and a million other childhood adventures on the farm.

There are other memories too. Not so happy ones. But I will let those drift away today along with the pain and suffering of my sister's life. It's been a long time coming. 

My dad took this picture a week ago today:
I'm just going to let myself be sad today. Sad about the "normal" sister relationship I always wished I had with her those years she was struggling. (Pretty much from about 14 on . . .) Sad about the missed opportunities to somehow love or help her more (or better). Sad about the life she always wanted that never came to be. I have no doubt there is a whole lot of healing going on right now, and that's what makes it all bearable. I'm so glad Easter Sunday is just around the corner.

I like to think if I were to see Christina now, she would look more like this picture taken at Jumer's on her 16th birthday: 

I love you, Christina. Always will. See you on the other side.


  1. Thanks for sharing this, and so beautifully.
    Thinking of you.

  2. I could literally taste the love you have for her and your family Allyson. I saw that she was on the hospice volunteer list but I chose to stay away simply because I'd only be thinking of you and how much her simple life meant to you---I just didn't have it in me, sorry. Quite honestly, I've been jealous of you for many years for all your talents and abilities---all now seeming so stupid and shallow---but I proudly admit now that my jealousy is just now becaue that post was what life is about---our families, our memories----anyone that can so beautifually understand that, as I know you do, is worth every bit of envy. I love you. Sarah

  3. God bless you and your family, Allyson. You are all in my prayers.

  4. Love and peace to you and your family from the Arizona Gunsolleys (Chris, Roccena, Carena, Colt, and Jonathan).

  5. "Memories are the windows that hold the past in view, through them we can see the joys we never knew."

    Funny to think that nearly all of those memories you recorded are really "nothings" yet they are "everythings" all these years later.

    Sending love, prayers and thoughts your way.

  6. Missy Esparza McChesneyMarch 30, 2012 at 8:13 PM

    So sorry to hear about Christina's passing. I hope she has found peace. What a wonderful tribute to her and your whole family.

  7. You are so lucky to have those special memories. I know they will bring you a lot of peace while you are grieving. You inspire me to remember the good memories I have with a difficult family member. Thank you!

  8. Love you, Allyson! Those are some precious and sacred memories. Thank you for trusting us all with them and reminding me to never forget my own. Prayers of peace go out to you and your family.

  9. That was a beautiful tribute, Allyson. Pieces of it make me think of things I did with my sisters during those same times. And a little reminds me of one of them, who challenged us at about the same age as Christina did..she still does. Thankful for eternal families.

  10. That was so beautiful. Those are the things that matter, the time together & memories. Loved reading those, brought back memories from when I was little.
    How you find peace and comfort. Thinking of you.

  11. These are beautiful memories. I'm glad you took the time to ask her about her memories and then to record them here. This is a post that is so thought out and wonderful. I'm sorry she isn't here on Earth with you anymore, but soon as you know you will see her again. I hope your family has peace while you are mourning her loss. Sending LOVE and prayers your way.

  12. I'm so glad you were with her before she passed. I agree she is with family members who love her and will help her find peace and joy. May your family also feel peace and find strength through the Lord at this sad time. Love, Kristina

  13. Made me cry, Allyson. Love you guys.

  14. Jill Anderson LoveApril 22, 2012 at 2:20 PM

    I read some of your memories and have so many myself @ your home (my second home)! Your parents were so kind to me and let me hang out after my family broke apart. We had some amazing times there!! I loved Christina like a sister and am so saddened by her passing. The pic of her at 16 is still so fresh in my mind. Sending all of your family my love and prayers......HUGS, Jill

  15. Allyson--This is beautiful--and the photos--holy cow! You have me crying now. I hope you are doing O.K. Please give my love to Joanna. I lost my little brother in '02 and it's a long and painful process. I love how candid you are in your blog. It's amazing and very beautiful. Give my love to your parents too.

  16. I randomly came across her obit in the RIHS Facebook. Devastating. Seems not so long ago we all hung out during our innocent junior high years. I remember her smile and laugh...was so contagious. My heart shares the sadness with your family.

    Sean Kilcoin


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