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Sisters’ advice plays key role in trying year

A difficult year puts a hard spin on the holidays. It’s not easy finding tidings of comfort and joy when difficulties come knockin’.

Death, divorce, disease, disaster, darn the luck – the Five D’s of Dire Dismay started in January and by March, I was running for cover. “This can’t be happening,” I said to life. “Oh, but it is,” life responded.

Sometime in April, I peeked out from under the covers long enough to email the details of my woeful year thus far to my older and wiser sisters, Alice and Lillian.

“WOW,” Lil responded. All caps no less. That pretty much said it all. “You’ll get through this,” she wrote. “And as soon as I figure out how to send this email, I’m throwing the computer out the window!” Lillian and computers don’t play well together.

In an email to Alice, I recited my list of woulda-shoulda-coulda’s, not realizing sisterly news travels faster than the speed of light. Thirty seconds after I clicked “send” my cell rang.

“What’s this I hear you think it’s all ya’ fault,” Lil said, her Jersey accent taking me to task. I blubbered and boohooed yet somehow, through sisterly intuition, Lil summed up the fears I couldn’t express.

Alice, my computer savvy Delaware sister, sweetly admonished me. “We do the best we can in raising our kids,” she wrote. Then, through another dose of sisterly intuition, Drill Sgt. Ma’am stepped in. “They don’t give us a manual, you know. So stop being so hard on yourself. You. Hear. Me. Missy?”

The year moved on, Alice and Lil kept in touch – “How you doing?” they asked, “What’s going on?” they pestered. Summer blended into fall and I breathed a cautious sigh of relief that 2012, at long last, was in the home stretch but not before tossing another dastardly deed into the Dire Dismay box in the form of Superstorm Sandy.

Lil and Alice live near the New Jersey and Delaware coastlines. When Sandy came bearing down, Lil packed up her feline friend and headed to higher ground. Alice and family battened down the hatches. Communications went silent. I watched the news, checked email and cell, whispered prayers … and waited.

“We’re okay,” Alice finally wrote. Lillian, however, had gone rogue. And because cellphones are like computers in Lil’s world, no one could reach her.

“Just heard from Lil,” Alice wrote a few days later. “She’s okay and her house is still standing but the Shark River’s in her driveway!”

Eleven days later Lil’s electricity came on and she was busily cleaning the debris out of her yard when I called. “People have lost so much,” she said, “it’s heartbreaking. But the community has really come together. We’re planning a block party for summer!”

Out of the storm, comes light.

“People from all over are helping,” Lil said, and I mentioned rescuers from Washington state were also on the East Coast. “Really? You tell everyone in Washington thank you from all of us in New Jersey, okay?”

Will do, Lil.

Life is odd at times. Three years ago my sisters were unknown to me. Now they phone and email and harass and ask questions and laugh and squabble and probe and tell me insane stories and become drill sergeants and sum up fears I can’t face and … I don’t know how I made it so long without them.

This year, difficulties came knockin’, but I’m amazed to realize that, in some curious and wonderful way, comfort and joy answered.

Voices correspondent Sandra Babcock can be reached by email at Previous columns are available at