Shared Stories: My Sister Phyllis

Sharon Benson Smith finds comfort in writing a tribute to her sister Phyllis, who remained strong, cheerful, and hard-working despite some unimaginable tragedies in her life.  Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns.


By Sharon Benson Smith

The life story of my late sister Phyllis, nicknamed Foddy, I believe, is the ultimate in forbearance and fortitude, and any other adjective in Webster’s Dictionary that describes picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and finding the courage to carry on.

I won’t even go into the disastrous first marriage to the father of her three sons.  She was separated from her second husband of several years, and was adamant about not continuing in the dysfunctional marriage.  

He was so very depressed about her decision not to reconcile that when she came home from work one day, she found him dead on their kitchen floor. As if that weren’t enough, her tests in life would be compounded by the most devastating of life’s losses – that of a child – but in her case it was two.

She lost her Scott at the age of 23 to a motorcycle accident (he was not yet married). And, almost one month to the day later, she lost her Randy at the age of 21 to a car accident. Randy was married and had two small children. Phyllis lived across the street from Randy and his family, and was very attached to her grandchildren.  

Phyllis’s remaining son Larry, who was the oldest, never got over the loss of his brothers, often feeling as though it should have been him instead of them due to his life style. And now, 25 years after his brothers’ passing and six years after his mother’s passing, it appears he is getting his life on track. How I pray to God that Phyllis can see his progress from Heavenly places. 

Grief stricken, as you can well imagine, Phyllis looked to support groups to deal with her loss, but she found no solace. Others were there for the support of the loss of one child – the loss of two was unfathomable. They had no words for dealing with the depth of her loss.  She eventually gave up on support groups.

Phyllis even freaked out a psychiatrist or two along the path of dealing with her grief. And, I must admit, even family members were puzzled at how best to handle the situation. We were there for her, physically, but what do you say to a sister who has lost two children while yours are thriving, getting along in life, and you’re thanking God for your blessings?

Then, as if life hadn’t already dealt her the worst possible hand ever, for reasons she would know one day, her daughter-in-law would not allow Phyllis to see the grandchildren! Well, fighter that Phyllis was, when she had enough of trying to see them and being refused, she hired a lawyer, and went to court for grandparents’ rights – and WON!  She was considered to be a pioneer of this movement. 

The daughter-in-law then decided to pull up stakes and move to Florida with the children.  It would be several years before Phyllis would see them again, but the bond between Grandma and her grandchildren was so strongly forged that they would eventually reunite. 

As the kids grew up, they wanted and missed that special relationship they had with their grandma. Phyllis’s grandson phoned and visited her often from the state of Arizona. The granddaughter had two children of her own whom Phyllis visited in the state of Missouri during vacation time from her job. 

And, guess what – even the daughter-in-law apologized and asked forgiveness for her past treatment of this lady who just wanted to love and be a part of her grandchildren’s lives. 

Despite all of the tragedy in her life, Phyllis continued to meet all of her responsibilities. If you saw my sister in the office at work, I know she was there on time, and would get the coffee started. And, I know that after she got her work done, she’d offer to help others with their workload.

My mind’s eye sees her very fashionably dressed, wearing makeup and jewelry (two of her weaknesses). She would have liked to have been able to wear heels, stilettos of course, but couldn’t do so after her auto accident (and that’s another story I won’t go into just now).
Without a doubt, Phyllis would be joking and making you laugh with her cute ways and comical antics, like saying at the end of the workday: “let’s get the hell out of Dodge.”  

My sister got on with the business of life as best she could, and like a circus clown, wore a smile on her face for others around her even though there lay profound sadness in her heart.