A Sister’s Birthday

This is my sister Diane Colby Zaun D’Leon. Today is her birthday and she would be 58 years old. However, in 1985 she passed from colon cancer at the age of 26. While I miss her physical presence on a regular basis and think of her often, I continue to celebrate her birthday because it is a day that always makes me remember the joys of having her as a sister.

The three girls in my family were all born in July and we used to have group birthday parties with the family. We had two cousins who also had July birthdays so they often joined the group party. For many years my mother and aunt would take us all to the Highland Lodge in Greensboro for a special birthday lunch and we always looked forward to that.

Who would think that after 32 years one would still miss someone so, but I do miss Diane. She had the kind of loving and gentle spirit that is easy to get attached to and so easily missed. I am gifted with many opportunities to think about her and cherish every one.

Each year at the high school we graduated from, I make a presentation to a graduating senior in her honor and I think about the similarities I see between Diane and the recipients of that award. They are always other gentle and caring souls who I know will make a difference in the lives of others, just as Diane did. This year’s award was especially meaningful to me because it would have been Diane’s 40th reunion. During alumni festivities I knew that her classmates would be remembering her fondly. Looking over the photos from that weekend I see many faces of her friends from those years and can recall them together on the track at school, or trotting horses around the yard.

Daily I drive past our childhood home and see her hanging clothes on the line out back, or somersaulting across the front yard. And when I occasionally drive by the home where our grandmother used to live I am reminded of the many hours of fun we had there. Each fall we raked up leaves and jumped in them for ; we had family reunions there in the summertime, spending hours in the playhouse; we learned to sew and bake from Gramma Colby; and we shared years worth of traditions.

When I play board games with my granddaughter I am reminded of hours spent on the living room floor at home or at card tables at Grammie’s playing Checkers, or Chinese Checkers, or King’s Corner. Colby Diane and I laugh and tease one another just as Diane Colby and I used to do.

Occasionally I run into classmates and friends of Diane’s and I will forever see them as they were in their teenage years, worry free and enjoying life.

Today I am thankful for the 26 years I knew my sister. She was a strong enough spirit that over the past 32 years I feel her with me daily and I am thankful for that as well. She was a gift to many she encountered in her short life and I know that many of those people remember her with great fondness from time to time. And isn’t that a strong testament to a person’s spirit? To be remembered with great fondness is indicative of a life well lived. It’s not so much about the years in your life, but about the life in the years you have. Diane’s 26 years were full and well lived.

Happy Birthday Sister!

Remembering Diane

My younger sister, Diane Colby Zaun, passed in 1985 after a short battle with colon cancer. She was 26 years old. Each year, on her birthday I try to write about her. I don’t write so much to remember her – because I do that nearly every day of my life – but more to remind myself that life is sometimes cut short and to remember that is important. This opportunity each year to reflect on her life helps me in many ways.

This year I have been thinking a lot about who she was – what kind of person she was. I have relatively few specific memories of Diane when we were growing up (that is astounding to me. How can one live in the same household with another for 15 years and feel like they have only a few memories of those 15 years?)

She was pigeon toed and Mom used to put her shoes on the wrong feet because a doctor told her that would force the feet to turn outward. I don’t know if it worked. My recall is that Diane was ALWAYS pigeon toed, but maybe that memory is only based on the earliest years – the years when she was most pigeon toed.

I remember that she loved animals and when my parents bought cows and one of them had a calf, Diane exclaimed, as she saw the newborn still in its amniotic sac, “I didn’t know they came in baggies!” She was probably 10 or 11 at the time.

My step-dad called her “DumDum”, but I have no idea why.

I remember playing cards with her and Gramma Colby and Diane always held onto the corners of the card table with both hands, as if it would fly away if she didn’t hang on to it. And she never cared about winning or losing, she was just in it for the fun.

Diane liked to cook and was always making brownies and cookies. She made healthy versions of many of the treats – using carob instead of chocolate, and wheat flour before wheat flour was a thing and gluten was NOT a thing – they were always delicious.

She was a horse person. Crazy for horses, like so many girls are, but I was not. We had any differences and so were not great friends until we moved away from one another. I went away to college, and then she did, then I moved to Florida and when I came back she joined the Peace Corps. Life went in separate directions but eventually we came back together to become friends.

The memories I hold dearest are the emotional ones. I know that Diane was a sweet, innocent person. I know that she cared deeply for all of life and she cherished her relationships with many many people and animals. I know that she was a passionate believer in right and treated everyone equally and with care and concern.

I think about her often because we are still connected in many ways. When I see Hollyberry goods in the grocery store I am reminded of the many many horseback rides Diane took with Holly. And when I see Facebook posts from her very dear friend Kathy I think of the two of them as teenagers, always together and laughing. And every time I see my granddaughter, who is named after Diane, and is also a horse person, I see my sister. They have the same kind and decent nature, the same gentle smile and giving soul, and the same deep caring for all of life. When Colby Diane travels to Nicaragua to work with orphans I see Diane Colby traveling to the Dominican to improve the health of the people there.

The lessons I have learned from Diane and from her passing have been many over the years. I have come to know that we don’t stop learning from a person when they are physically gone. Every time I am reminded of my sister I know that is because I need to be reminded of one who knew how to be kinder, and gentler, and more soft spoken than I have ever been.

And I know, though it has been 31 years since she walked beside me on this earth, that she still walks beside me and she will continue live on in the hearts of many for a very long time.

Diane 1985

Happy Birthday sister!

Shedding a Tear

Today I’m remembering my younger sister, Diane, on her birthday.

She passed in 1985 at the age of 26, at a time when we were just learning what a true blessing sisters are.

I think about her often and miss her sweet nature and goofiness that always made me laugh.


If I had a single flower for every time I think of you, I could walk forever in my garden.
~Claudia Adrienne Grandi

Sisters and Wool Gathering

It’s taken awhile for us to recognize it, but my sister and I have a lot in common.

Of course. We share the same parents. I mean beyond that.

Yesterday we spent the day together. Our purpose was to travel to The Dorr Mill Store for wool.
We are both project people. After all, we do share the same grandmother and mother, so it’s only logical that we would both end up loving craft projects.

Right now my sister is into Penny Rugs so she was looking at patterns and felted wool for new projects to do. The penny rugs we saw on display at Dorr Mill were lovely and I was tempted to buy some patterns.

But, I am into rug hooking right now, so I was looking for some rich deep hues. I don’t have any particular project in mind, just colors. For someone who has been hooking less than two years I have quite a stash of wool already accumulated:
wool stash

Here’s what I came home with:

Dorr Wool 2

I think I did well.

Sis found a couple of new kits she liked and more than enough wool for a pattern she already had, so we both left satisfied.

As sweet as it is to peruse a fine shop like The Dorr Mill – which is packed with fabric and patterns and tools for hooking, braiding, felting, and more – it was sweeter to spend the time with my sister.

It’s a two hour drive to the store, so we did a lot of chatting in the car. You must understand that in my 56 years this is a very rare occurrence. She and I have gone very few places together – just the two of us – without other people – alone together. We have never been close. I think it’s safe to say we didn’t actually like each other much when we were forced to live together while growing up. Though we lost our dad suddenly when she was nine and I seven, it didn’t bring us closer. The two of us, and our other three siblings all went in very different directions.

Even the loss of our other sister, when she was only twenty-six, didn’t bring us closer.

And that’s okay. We each had our own life to live and we did that. I always knew she was there, if I needed her, and I like to think she’s known the same.

But these days it seems our past is bringing us together. Our grandmother, who we talked a lot about today, is the one responsible for teaching us the crafts we love now. Gramma was a talented seamstress, quilter, rug hooker, rug braider, gardener, and cook. She taught us much about these crafts and more.

Today we talked about many things for the first time, like the loss of our father. This is a huge thing to have never talked about before. I remember, in the weeks after my father’s death I cried. A lot. One day my sister screamed at me to STOP CRYING. “That’s all you ever do!” she yelled. At the age of seven I thought that meant she was done being sad about our dad. And she couldn’t tolerate anyone who was clinging to their sadness. Like me.

In our conversation I learned a very different reality from her. In her nine year old world she believed daddy’s death was a fantastic hoax and for years she believed he was going to walk back into her life one day. My constant crying was probably interfering with her ability to maintain this belief. If all around her remained sad and grieving it would be difficult for her to continue believing her imagined reality.

I have long maintained the importance of understanding other people’s stories. In order to better understand a person you must understand where they came from, what they have lived through, what their struggles and passions are. I learned yesterday that this applies to family too. Just because my sister and I lived through the same experience doesn’t mean our stories are the same. Our stories, evidently, are as individual as we are.

I am so glad we had this opportunity and will look forward to our next time together. Just as the wool we gathered yesterday binds our projects tightly, these moments of being together will tighten our sisterhood.

It’s about time.



This is a piece I wrote for a project three years ago and I share it today in memory of my beautiful sister. I think of her often and, while I miss her, I feel blessed for the 26 years of memories I hold so close to my heart.

My sister’s birthday is today. She would have been fifty years old. She was three years younger than me and when I think of her, I know the truth of the saying “the good die young.”

Growing up we were not particularly close. Like many siblings in large families, we tolerated one another. Our own interests led us in different directions. We first spent significant time together when I was 21 and she a freshman in college. It was about the same time that I became pregnant with my first child.

Single and scared, my sister became my confidant, a listening ear for all my fears and worry. We began to write letters back and forth, getting to know each other as young women – as friends.

When my son was three Diane graduated college and joined the Peace Corps. We continued to write to each other about our trials and tribulations in foreign territories. She wrote about the struggles in a land of new language and customs. I wrote about the joys of raising Willie, hoping to keep her connected to her nephew. Through our frequent letters we became more than friends as our sisterhood developed.

When Diane returned from the Peace Corps with her Dominican husband, that sisterhood grew stronger. She was twenty five, I was twenty eight, and we were both newly married. We had so much in common and enjoyed spending time together. She embraced her role as Aunt Diane, anticipating the day when she might become a mom herself. I was expecting another child in January and wanted six year old Willie to be a part of the birth. I asked my sister to participate as a coach, cheerleader, and caretaker. Like a good friend she readily agreed and began to attend birthing classes with us. We looked forward to the future with an enthusiasm that only comes when you are young and invincible. The day of my second son’s birth turned out to be bittersweet for both of us.

In November, Diane became ill and was diagnosed with colon cancer, stage four. She was 25 years old. She would never have children of her own and would be considered lucky to see her 26th birthday. In a few months time our roles were reversed and I became coach, cheerleader and caretaker at her death. Sometimes living the truth is painful.