My Memories of a Beautiful Sister by Janice Connelly
I met Irene in 2005; we were bunkmates at Hammond House Shelter. She was one bed over from mine. Irene was a beautiful, long-haired, quiet, dignified Native lady. She liked her beer and could get a little rowdy when she came in at night, and she was well liked by the staff at Hammond. In spite of her condition she could always be talked into retiring to her bed peacefully. We didn’t get to talk too much because she usually came in close to quiet time at 10 p.m. She had a boyfriend who adored her; she felt the same about him.
Irene talked about her sister who still lived in Minnesota or Wisconsin. They were close and phoned each other regularly. She loved to show me her jewelry that her sister gifted her with on her birthdays. In fact, she had just celebrated her 50th birthday shortly before her passing. She had that typical Indian humor about life and people. We laughed a lot.
I was new to homelessness, and she shared a lot of information about resources she knew, because she was out and about every day. She told me about the St. James meal program and I had planned on seeing her there. I went there with another resident of Hammond and enjoyed a delightful community meal. On that particular day she was not present. I was to learn later the reason why: She had died the night before in a motel on Aurora.
Irene had often taken a night or nights out, so there was nothing out of the ordinary about her not coming into the shelter. The following day I stopped by Angeline’s Day Center for some reason and noticed her name on the front desk counter. It didn’t register at first, and then it hit me. I left out of there sobbing in shock that she could be gone. I walked blindly away from there wishing I never knew this terrible news.
That day and days after I would spot someone at a stop signal and from the back, if they had a beautiful mane of hair, I would automatically think it was Irene. She had such a beautiful long healthy head of hair. Then I would be shocked all over again because I couldn’t believe she was really gone from us.
I still miss her and grieve for our lost friendship, our Native sisterhood, our laughter.