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My sister died when she was 23. I kept all her letters so my kids could have a connection with their aunt.

Elise Seyfried   

My sister died when she was 23. I kept all her letters so my kids could have a connection with their aunt.
  • My sister died in a car accident when she was 23.
  • I kept a robe of hers, her cologne, and all the letters she had sent me.

By the time my oldest child was born, my sister had been dead for several years. A car accident had claimed Maureen's life at age 23. My two sisters and I were incredibly close, and the loss of one of our trio shattered Carolyn and me. It seemed impossible that this beautiful, funny, vivacious young woman was gone forever.

In those days, I was not much of a saver. When it came to my sister's belongings, all I had was her navy bathrobe and a bottle of her favorite cologne. I kept the robe for years, carrying it from apartment to apartment as I moved. I would spray the cologne sparingly, the fragrance bringing her memory back into sharp focus.

I also saved her letters.

We kept in touch through letters

Back then, my husband and I, both actors, traveled where the theatre work was — the Southeast for dinner theatre and the Northeast with children's theatre. At least weekly, there would be mail from Maureen. Sometimes, it was a postcard from her own travels or a New Yorker cartoon she found hilarious.

Often her letters were entertaining descriptions of her life — waitressing, working at a law firm. Or she'd tell about her risky adventures, driving (usually barefoot and low on gas) well after midnight to pick up a stranded buddy. She wrote about the crazy crash diets she invented. Some of Mo's letters were on company letterhead ("The boss thinks I'm typing up a brief, but ha! I'm really writing to you!"). Her handwritten notes had her large, loopy script covering page after page.

Shortly before she died, Maureen decided to move North. We had settled in Philadelphia by then, and she was eager to make a fresh start. Those final letters were filled with hopes and dreams for a new life ("Break me into Philly!"). When we traveled to Atlanta for her funeral, we saw Mo's open suitcases, silent reminders that she really had been on her way to us before the accident that ended everything for her.

I wanted my kids to know their aunt

As my five kids grew, I would try to describe their aunt, but my words always fell far short of capturing her personality. I would re-read the letters every year on the anniversary of her death and cry. Why didn't I give them to my children to read as well? It never seemed to be the right moment.

The decades passed. I finally gave Maureen's robe to Goodwill. Her cologne turned rancid and was thrown away. There were a couple of times when I shared a few letters, but by and large, they remained in a box.

October 2021 marked 40 years since my sister's death. Walking with a friend one day, I mentioned the letters, and she suggested I have them photocopied. Finally, there was a plan to preserve them and make a bound copy for each of my children. My friend helped accomplish this task, and now I had a precious gift to give the kids. Over the next few months, I gave them their books (my children were all grown now and living in various cities).

I don't bug them about reading the letters or quiz them about their reactions. It's up to them to decide how and when they read them. But I'm very glad they have these snapshots of Mo's life. I am grateful for this history of my beloved sister, in her own words. She shines through every sentence.

And I believe, through the letters, Maureen lives on, not just for me, but for the nieces and nephews she would have loved so much but never got to meet.

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