Tragedy comes in different forms for people. I know friends who lost parents at a young age, that early loss of a mother or father changed them. Other friends grew up with abusive parents. Parents that were alcoholics or sadly, in one case, a drug addict. I never quite understood what it meant to have an alcoholic parent beat you up because you disturbed their vodka induced mid-day nap. I didn't understand why suddenly a friend would cancel plans, not realizing that their parent was too drunk to handle their kid having friends over. Growing up there were kids who didn't have a parent at home after school and they had to go home, eat the snack that was in the refrigerator and do their homework at the table. They weren't allowed to use the phone, they certainly weren't allowed to have people over and they couldn't go out either. Their mom wanted them safely in the house until she got home, long after us other kids had gone inside to our fresh cooked dinners by our stay at home mothers.
I was lucky in the sense that true tragedy didn't hit our family until I was in 4th grade, at least that's how it felt to me. I was four years old when I was diagnosed with diabetes but I didn't start to really feel the impact of that disease until I was old enough to understand what diabetes could do to you. For my early years, I was a pretty happy kid. I went to school, I dealt with some bullying but the worst of the bullying was to come around 4th grade. As a young child my mother made lunches, cleaned house, helped with homework, made Halloween costumes, cooked us nutritious dinners and managed our diabetes with a steel rule! She did all the things a mother of the 1980's would do.
On February 22, 1983, 2 days after my 10th birthday, my parents had a child die. That child died six hours after birth due to my mother having German measles in the first trimester of her pregnancy. This disease during those vital, first months caused severe birth defects that my sister could not overcome. At her birth there were no specialists present and she was born unable to breath and went without oxygen for six long minutes, thus causing even more complications to her already damaged little body. Combined with many other defects, Angela just couldn't survive.
Her death marked a large change in my family. My mother was, understandably devastated. I was only 10 years old though and while I was very sad that my sister had died, I didn't understand the grief my mother was carrying around with her. A grief that even today, 31 years later, sometimes resurfaces. It didn't matter that my mother had 4 other fairly healthy children; she still lost her 5th child. A child she had carried in her womb for 9 months. A child she thought would be okay even though she knew she'd had the German measles during pregnancy. She used a new doctor for her pregnancy with Angela and this new doctor didn't seem as concerned with the rash my mother had around 2-3 months of the pregnancy. As the pregnancy continued my mother, having had 4 other children felt something wasn't right. This baby didn't move as much and my mom didn't feel as though this baby was as big as us other kids were. My mother still maintains to this day that she knew something was wrong Angela.
Angela's death was the single saddest thing to happen to our family. I can still remember every detail of the day our parents told us she wouldn't ever come home. My parents picked us up from school that day which was something they never did and I mean NEVER. We walked home every single day, rain, snow, sleet, cold, ice, heat, wind... it didn't matter we walked. However, on that day, February 23rd, 1983, my mom's big, blue, Dodge Monaco was sitting in front of Kolmar Elementary School waiting for us. My sisters and I who always walked home together were somewhat befuddled. Why were Mommy and Daddy waiting for us? Not only did we NOT get a ride home from school ever but our Daddy was never home at that time of day.
They took us home and assembled us in the living room. The curtains were drawn, giving the room a dimmer than usual appearance. We were in a circle and my mom asked us all to hold hands... she then told us the story of how Angela was born and how she died six hours later. We all cried. Even my father who never cried was crying with us kids. My mom told us how Angela had been born with only half a lung. Yes, half a lung. Not one lung but HALF of one lung and nothing of the other. She was born with cataracts and extra fingers and missing toes, her reproductive organs were in the place where her stomach should have been. Angela was also born looking blue due to the fact that the half lung couldn't support her respiratory functions. They were able to revive her, get her breathing and her heart pumping but she just could not manage on her own. Angela would have most certainly had mental deficiencies as well and due to her physical condition would have never been able to live at home.
Thinking about Angela still makes me sad. They day that we sat in our living room on Tripp Street and cried as a family may have very well been one of the last days in my life (until recent years) that I felt we shared sorrow as a family, that we held each other through this tragic moment. It was definitely the first instance of such sorrow in our lives. My parents of course had been through other sad moments but as 10, 8, 7 & 4 years old we had not...
My sister, Elizabeth broke the crying by sneezing the loudest sneeze I've ever heard and literally blowing snot everywhere. Her big sneeze combined with the stuff coming out of her nose was enough to make us all start laughing. We hugged and cried a little more but that sneeze from Liz, made the sadness more bearable.
There was a funeral for Angela, a tiny, little, white casket that was closed because her little face wasn't developed right either and my mother thought it would be too hard for us to see, was buried next to my grandpa Gino. The cemetery allowed my parents to have her little casket placed at the head of his casket and her name was engraved in the marble that surrounds his name plate. It simply reads ANGELA RENDE. Every time I go to the cemetery I try to clean those letters out, I cut the grass down that grows around the nameplate, I try to get the dirt out of the letters, I usually bring some rags with me and try to shine the marble a little. My parents couldn't afford a full headstone for her in the child's area of the cemetery so she was buried with my grandfather who had passed 7 years earlier when he was only 57 years old. I believe that my mother also felt that by burying Angela with her father helped ease the sadness of Angela leaving us before we ever knew her.
My parents were divorced 5 years after Angela died. In that time, another baby was born, my youngest sister Teresa who had such a different upbringing than I did. My mother went to work when I was in 6th grade and was no longer home sweeping the floors every day when I came home from school. There were more quick meals and fewer meals made from scratch. We started growing up and were expected to help with housework more so our rooms became our responsibility to clean. My father experienced some tough job changes during those years after Angela. My mother suffered greatly from losing Angela. She tried very hard to hide it from us but I know that a piece of her was empty from Angela's death. For a long while she withdrew from life going to the cemetery every day, and going to support meetings for parents who’d lost children. Then one day it seemed she threw herself into trying to change her life, to do more with it. She became involved with our local school district, going on to be a board member, she took a job with the mayor's office and eventually went on to direct the Chamber of Commerce. She became well known in our little community and made quite the name for herself.
Life changed after that sad day in February, 1983. My world changed dramatically in the ensuring years and I started to go through some serious tormenting from my peers because of my diabetes. I don't think Angela's dying made that happen but I think her dying made me feel less secure, less safe. I know the changes my parents went through made me feel scared. Life changes though. Bad things happen to wonderfully good people.
I've had so many bad things happen in my life. So many of those early hopes and dreams are so far in the dust I couldn't recreate them if I tried. I have new dreams though. I find hope in strange ways. I live for laughter. I live for the moments when my family gets together and finds a solution for a tough problem. We 5 Rende kids are all so different. It's incredible that we had the same parents and grew up in the same house. We all face things with a different view and we all have a different answer to a problem.
When things get rough though... we all get together, we gather in that circle and we try our hardest to fix it. Sometimes we laugh about it, sometimes we cry, we hug, at times we get mad at each other but we are always there. I have my mother to thank for that closeness and that ability to get angry with each other. She always let us fight it out but she also always told us that we were the only people that would always be there for each other. I'm lucky to have those siblings, Gina, Liz, Mike and Teresa; I love you all more than you will probably ever know. Thank you for making my childhood better and most of all for making me a better person, for teaching me how to adapt, how to love unconditionally, for making me laugh and most of all for just being there.
As always, Live, Laugh, Love!