Courage: Aunt Carol’s Story

Paths our Lives Take

I received the news that Aunt Carol died peacefully early Saturday morning. The date was January 22, 2022; she was 94. Her story of courage and triumph throughout her life will inspire you; she inspired me. Although Aunt Carol said we cannot choose the path our lives take, I believe she did choose her way. She chose strength and hope rather than the road of despair brought on by the tragedy of losing her young daughter Debbie-Jo in 1959 and her eldest daughter Kathy in 2021 (z”l).

NEXT STORE NEIGHBORS

I grew up living next door (I used to think the words were next store) to my dad’s sister, Aunt Carol, Uncle Milt, and cousins Kathy, Lisa and Lori. The subURBAN myth in my young mind was that our grandparents didn’t want to drive all over Long Island to visit each week. Two houses went up for sale and, my family and my aunt’s family grabbed the deal. My childhood memory also recalls that grandpa gave a sizeable down payment on both houses in Westbury, NY; he always liked to get his way!

Paths our Lives Take
Grandpa Leo (z”l) (Aunt Carol’s and my Dad’s, Dad), Vickie (left), Cousins Lisa (center), and Lori
Paths our Lives Take
Cousins Kathy, Lori and Lisa with me (second to the left)

A lifetime of memories with my aunt flood my mind, from traveling to Florida with them as a kid (when I liked the bumpy plane rides) to sharing holiday tables and the joy of family. One such piece of advice from the early 1970s was “Don’t sit in the sun because it will give you wrinkles!” Excellent advice that I ignored and later found that life and the sun gave me wrinkles. I also think she told me not to smoke because it will stunt my growth – it was an easier time back then. If only smoking caused a case of shortness.

Below is an inspiring passage demonstrating courage after loss, that Aunt Carol wrote many years ago.  

Aunt Carol’s Story – In Her Words.

We cannot choose the path that our lives take. We can only learn to deal with the adversities and to enjoy the pleasure that life does bring. Debbie-Jo Sirota was born on March 2, 1955. She was a very peaceful child. She was born 3 weeks early and surprised everyone. As an infant, she loved to sleep, and I felt guilty waking her up for her feedings. She loved to eat as all my girls did. She loved her older sister Kathie and always followed her around.

On September 18, 1959, we suffered the accidental loss of Debbie-Jo: she was run over by an ice cream truck. Kathie was with her when this happened and witnessed the accident firsthand. If we chose to dwell on this horrible tragedy, we would have sacrificed Kathie’s life as well. I tried to believe that G-d had a master plan and that if I had faith and courage, we would all pull through this ordeal and be able to function as a family as normally as possible.

Ten months later, we experienced a miracle when I gave birth to twin daughters, Lori and Lisa. They were 6 weeks premature and very sick. I believe Debbie-Jo helped pull them through their difficult health issues and helped shape them into the outstanding human beings that they are. 

You never forget a loved one that is gone: you find a new place for her. I cannot imagine a life without my children and grandchildren. It is humbling to think that 5 out of my 7 grandchildren would not have been born had this tragedy not happened. I can say that I try to enjoy every day, be thankful for what I have, and not dwell on what I no longer have. “ (Five great-grandchildren were born after this was written)

Transformation

Aunt Carol struggled with increasing illness over the final years. But her final gift to her family was her last week of life. Her daughter, Lisa, a physician whom I have spoken of in previous blogs didn’t leave her side. Other close family members were also at Carol’s bedside. Lisa is the rock for the entire family and demonstrated her compassionate, empathetic skilled medical talent with both her parents. Lisa documented the transformation of her mother’s last week of life. The change in Aunt Carol’s skin, her peaceful face, and the acceptance of love and care. I was able to see this transformation through photos without Lisa saying a word. Aunt Carol let family members and her devoted assistant Barbara know, that she was OK. It was her time.

May Your Memory be a Blessing

We celebrated Aunt Carol’s life on Wednesday, thanks to the genius of Zoom, I was able to attend. The eulogies and outpour of love were extraordinary. Grandchildren sharing the unique relationship they had – each felt special and truly beloved by their grandmother. Aunt Carol and my Uncle Milt (both of beloved memory), and married almost 70 years, cherished family above all else. This is a lesson that I have taken to heart.

Paths our Lives Take
Glamour Shot of Aunt Carol and Uncle Milt

Especially touching for me was the eulogy given by Carol’s baby brother – my 91-year-old father.

Paths our Lives Take
Aunt Carol and Her Baby Brother Monroe and Me and My Baby Brother, Keith

Courage

Aunt Carol had the courage to continue life. She taught health and physical education for 35 years and continued to live a healthy, active life into her 90s. She was my substitute gym teacher at Salisbury Elementary School.  I remember one day in the gym working on the rings that were attached to large ropes.  I was the only one who was able to do a flip and my classmates insisted it was because my aunt was the teacher and not my incredible skill! Really!

Mourners from all across the country spoke of Carol’s impact on their lives and the community.   Carol and her husband Milt devoted their time and resources to JAFCO. and other meaningful charities. Carol’s  grandson Jeff wrote, “Thousands and thousands of lives were improved (if not saved) because of *their work with JAFCO.”   They received the  Lifetime Achievement Award for their contributions. Aunt Carol and Uncle Milt chose a path of philanthropy, community engagement, leadership, and family. They choose life – We can all learn a lot from their story.

 I will never forget you, Aunt Carol; I just found a new place for you in my heart.  

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You can purchase my book Raising Jess A Story of Hope on this site or through Amazon and other retail outlets.

19 thoughts on “Courage: Aunt Carol’s Story

  1. Such a warm and touching remembrance, Vickie! I know that you know I also grew up on LI, but here’s a story I’ve never had a reason to share with you. In the early 1950s my parents and my mother’s slightly older sister and her husband, all Brooklyn born-and-bred, we’re looking to make the move to the burbs. Two new houses with adjoining back yards in a new development on what had been a potato farm in North Valley Stream were available; my parents bought one and my aunt and uncle the other so my grandparents “wouldn’t have to drive all over Long Island” to see their grandchildren!

    1. WOW, Glenn! I wonder if this is more common than I originally thought? My neighbors also were cousins- two brothers and 1 sister (my parent’s age) lived on the same street as us – with all their kids too! Thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment! Vickie

  2. You wrote a beautiful and moving tribute to your Aunt Carol. She exemplified courage and selflessness. I often say the it not what happens to you during your lifetime that defines your life but your attitude about whatever happens to you is most important

  3. I knew your cousins, Lisa and Lori, having gone to camp with them. Your article is a beautiful tribute to their mother and to the importance of family and love.

  4. I’m very sorry for your and your family’s loss, Vickie. Your Aunt Carol sounded like a wonderful person and the passage she wrote that you shared demonstrated her strength in character. My sincere condolences to your family. 🙏💕

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