We called her Mo (Maureen), she was my big sister and the creator of magic for me and my four other siblings while we were growing up. She wore the best matching outfits this little gay boy ever saw.
What was strange though was that none of us knew she was our sister or that we even had a big sister until some time during elementary school. That mystery was never addressed. What uncomfortably hung in the air was our father’s discomfort for the man she loved who happened to be twenty years her senior.
The story I made up was that Dad kicked Mo out of the house for having an older man as a boyfriend. I think she was forced out of the house when she was sixteen.
Gordon was her partner. For me he was a powerful father figure growing up and I loved that he called me Thomas, not Tom. I always thought he knew I was gay.
Maureen shared a lot of her vacation time shuttling Mom and us kids, with Gordon, around British Columbia. If it wasn’t for Mo, we never would have had any semblance of summer vacations. Endless summer road trips were always the norm.
Mom and Dad had six boys and four girls. The first child they had, Dorothy, died after just five days of life. Maureen was the eldest Dolan. I was very proud of my big sister.
Long, hot summer days would unfold with Maureen curling my Mom’s hair and both of them finishing at least a pack of cigarettes each and drinking six or eight cups of coffee. As little kids we fought over who got to make them their cups of coffee and at times who would roll their cigarettes.
Their respective conversations focused mostly on complaining about the men they loved. I just thought that’s what Moms and daughters talked about.
Maureen felt like a princess to me. She had great hair, lovely skin, scarves made of what appeared to be silk and her shoes and purse always matched her outfit. I especially loved watching her apply the shiniest of nail polish to her fingers nails without ever leaving a streak. She was my gay superhero, perhaps even my Wonder Woman.
As an homage to Maureen, after coming out, I would paint my thumb nails with polish. After telling her how much I loved watching her paint her nails, she promised one day to do mine. Sadly, that never happened.
Maureen bought the best Christmas presents. Better yet, she decorated them in a way that always had me think she was an artist. Our names were always spelled with candy.
The gifts, for all of us young Dolan’s, were usually the same. The best Christmas had all of us, at the same time, unwrap brand new ice skates. Her heart was as big as the holiday.
She also knew I disliked gifts that I had to share. She gave me, from time to time, my own presents. The best gift was a baseball glove. As I unwrapped it she whispered, “You don’t have to share it with anyone.” She never shamed me for wanting things of my own.
As I’ve remembered the life of my sister I could also feel, right along with the pain I endured growing up with an alcoholic father in a violent home, that she too felt sad, scared and alone. I wondered what she had witnessed or endured, in her life, that she could never bring the light of day to.
Like me, in an attempt to separate herself from the wackiness of the Dolan’s, she moved away from Calgary. She always said it was the saving grace of her relationship and her life.
Mom hated that Maureen was happy. She hated that Maureen had a life full of most everything Mom didn’t have. I always felt so uncomfortable listening to my Mom disparage my sister. How could it be that Mom was so jealous of her daughter?
Maureen, unlike her three brothers born to the pack of the older Dolan’s, always worked. She spent most of her working career in retail. First Kmart and then spending over 25 years and retiring from Woolco. I loved that she would give me her employee discount on anything I wanted to buy.
Gordon, whom she eventually married, would die of a massive heart attack. She always joked, as did he, that age never dented a degree of love that they shared. I believe Mo’s heart never really recovered from that loss.
We would spend at least an hour per week talking on the phone. My big sister loved to talk.
She adored me. She accepted me, unequivocally, when I came out to her. She loved my first partner and always joked that now she knew why I loved her matching outfits so much.
There came a time when I noticed, after hanging up the phone, Maureen calling back immediately. At first we joked about her redialing by mistake, but it became an all too common occurrence. There was no way she was willing to talk about what might be going on for her medically.
Other members of my family noticed the same dynamic. My Mom labelled her daughter, unceremoniously and with no compassion, crazy.
My heart broke. Maureen was not responding to any of my concerned questions. Eventually she would call back three or four times after our talks and launch into the same conversation all over again.
I was able to talk Maureen into allowing me to come for a visit. Upon arriving, at her home in Penticton, Maureen seemed fine. But after about twenty minutes she began to repeat the same conversation over and over again.
There was no evidence of Gordon in her home. No pictures, no memento’s, nothing. I was terrified for my sister. She insisted everything was alright or didn’t want to talk about the elephant in the room. There was nothing I could do.
Suddenly, my big sister didn’t seem so big anymore.
I pushed to support her until I pushed too hard, she disappeared. She no longer answered my calls.
According to her friend, whom I had a connection to, Maureen was seeing a doctor. Yet I still wasn’t able to get any details.
Upon sharing the news that Mom had died Maureen casually said that she wouldn’t be able to make the funeral because of a doctor’s appointment. She immediately hung up the phone. Within thirty seconds she called back and asked to speak with Mom.
I remember Maureen telling me that worrying about things in life was a waste of time, being concerned about things was a little more productive. I loved her wisdom. So I chose to be concerned.
On my birthday, in 2005, I received a voicemail from my brother John. He left this message for me to listen to, “Thomas, Maureen is dead.” Maureen was found unconscious in her condo and apparently had been that way for a number of days.
She was physically strong, which is a classic Dolan trait. But after being admitted to the hospital it didn’t take her long to breathe her last breath.
John was her Executor and I sensed I would have little to do with her funeral, if there was even going to be one. In a moment of energetic connection to her I sensed I needed to go and say good-bye.
I was able to get to Penticton and with a skillful call to the funeral home I was able to convince the Funeral Director to allow me to visit Mo. I never found out the details of what took her life.
As I approached the stretcher her body laid upon I was overwhelmed with a strong and vibrant sense of her spirit. Although I was naturally uncomfortable breathing into the reality that she would no longer take another breath, I was not scared.
I listened to my heart and felt my sister touch my soul with a gentle whisper, “Be concerned no more, I’m ok.”