Cassandra Austen was with her beloved sister to the end. Jane died cradled in her sister’s embrace. “I was able to close her eyes myself and it was a great gratification to me to render her these last services,” Cassandra wrote her niece, Fanny.

It isn’t possible for me to read Cassandra’s words and not think of the loss of my own sister. Unlike Cass I was not with Leslyn at the end. While I used pressing work and distance as my excuses, the truth was that I did not want to watch the life drain from her body.

I had hoped to see her one last time but waited too long. As I was off-loading my luggage at the airport the phone call came. Leslyn was gone. I had rendered no service.

Leslyn and me, 1951

We knew it was coming. Like Jane she wanted nothing but death. Unlike Jane it was Leslyn’s choice. At her insistence the machines were stopped and the intravenous tubes removed. It took only a matter of hours for her to breath her last.

We will never again giggle over nothing or wonder at her inability to make fudge. One day we made two batches of fudge, same ingredients, same recipe, same stove, same kind of pans. Hers was grainy, but mine was smooth. We won’t plan family parties anymore; we’ve certainly done our share of weddings, birthdays and anniversaries. We won’t spend hours on the phone speaking of little nothings. No more doll shopping or antiquing. My sister is gone. No more tea breaks, the Constant Comment has been put away. Her favorite tea mug sits in my cupboard.

As Cassandra said of Jane and I shall say of Leslyn, “Such a sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed. I have lost a treasure.”

And today, on what would have been her 70th birthday, I celebrate her life.

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