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The Loss that Taught Us to Nurture Relationships
by Joyce Oetting

The first memory I have of growing up with my sisters was sharing a bedroom and telling silly stories way past our bedtime--making each other laugh and earning a series of stern lectures from our parents. Our lives were typical of many. We played together, dreamed together, and supported each other through the trials and tribulations of childhood: the first loves, the heartbreaks, the successes, and the failures. As time went on, we all left home, attended classes, found spouses, and followed our own dreams. And as so often happens, we lost sight of the special bond we'd had as it took a backseat to the other aspects of our lives.

That was until 1990, when we learned that our mother, the one who had loved, nurtured, and supported us through it all had Alzheimer's disease. Despite what the disease did to her memory, through our eyes and in our hearts, it was clear that her purpose in life was always family and God. Eight short years later, this woman who had been the glue that held our family together was gone.

Our family was devastated as we suddenly found ourselves set adrift, with a great deal of pain filling the tremendous void that had been our mother's presence. Coming back home, my sisters and I reminisced on the old days of our youth, realizing how out of touch we'd become over the years. We promised to try harder -- to do better at keeping in touch. And then tragedy struck again.

by Shirley Kirkes Mar

This time it was another important woman lost -- my sister Denise's best friend died of breast cancer at just 38. Realizing the tremendous weight she carried, Barb and I flew out to California to be with Denise. Little did we know the tremendous things that were to come from this simple gesture of sisterly companionship.

For the next week, my sisters and I drew upon the bonds that had been created in childhood and reignited in the face of adversity. We spent a great deal of time laughing, crying, and supporting one another as we worked through the grief of losing a friend and the rawness we all still felt from the loss of our mother. These women had been taken from us by disease, taken before we could truly tell them how special they were, how much they were loved and how honored we were to have known them.

It was then that it occurred to us how tremendous the bonds between women -- whether they are our mothers, daughters, sisters, or friends -- truly were. We talked about how incredible it was that we had one another to help see us through these troubled times and how sad it was that it took losing someone to realize the powerful gift of sisterhood. And we knew that all too often it happens just that way; women going about their busy lives, drawing upon the women who mean the most to them in times of hardship and yet often forgetting to say the words that mean so much until it's too late to say them at all.

It was this realization that led my sisters and I, three very ordinary women, to turn our despair into action and create something extraordinary from the ashes: a business venture that embraced the bonds of sisterhood, provided a forum for women to celebrate, and a way to help fund research leading to a cure for the devastating illnesses that took our mother and friend's lives.

And so it was, in October of 1999, that SIS (Spirit in Sisterhood) was officially open for business. We now spend our time traveling from one city to the next, attending women's shows and sharing our stories, our newly discovered outlook and our products: a line of clothing that bears the Sis logo - a small yet lively 'i' with an 's' on each side that represents the joys of sisterhood. Today, we three are closer than ever, with experienced shoulders to lean on and life-worn hearts to carry each other through happy and sad events. When we sit down to plan for the business or just to arrange a family barbecue, I see the reflection of our mother in Barb's eyes and Denise's laugh. And I know, deep in my heart, that we did the right thing by holding on to each other and creating a way to honor the women in our lives.

Joyce Oetting, president of Spirit in Sisterhood, lives in Indiana with her husband. She founded SIS in October 1999 with her sisters, after realizing what a powerful connection women share. Regardless of what life has to offer, be it joy or pain, there will always be a mother, daughter, sister or friend with whom to share it.

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