I Love My Little Sister

I want to apologize upfront for posting this piece on the front page of NYSkiBlog. I certainly doesn’t “fit” here, as we have consciously decided to focus our homepage on eastern mountain sports.


But I just can’t find a way to process this without writing about it. Early Sunday morning, my little sister Marybeth, or MB as we knew her, passed away after a long, valiant battle with cancer. She was 53 and asked for no memorial until next spring, when a small garden will be dedicated in her honor, in Jersey City, NJ.

Nearly three years ago MB was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called GIST Wild Type. Unlike most cancers, this strain develops in between organs in your abdomen. When it was discovered there was some hope, but it quickly faded, as experimental treatments yielded no positive results.

Still, I don’t want to focus on her terrible decline or even the heroic efforts of family and friends to support and comfort her. I want to say a little about who she was, and why I love her.

As MB developed into a woman, it was clear she was very independent. She was confident, knew what she wanted and went after it. But as a little girl, before we knew this, my older sister Suz and I always thought of her as a part of us, our third musketeer.

We grew up on campus at RPI in Troy NY. One time Suz and I were attempting to play a trick on her by hiding behind an equipment shed near a soccer field on campus. We snuck behind the building, disturbing a huge bee’s nest, and we paid the price.

We were stung dozens of times, emerging from our hiding spot screaming and running for home. When we arrived all three of us were crying. My mom tended to our wounds but was surprised to find none on MB. Mom asked: “Why are you crying little one?” “Everyone was crying, so I did too!” That was the last time I remember her blindly following anyone.

In her junior year of college she left the familiar environment of private school in the northeast to spend a year studying in Europe. It transformed her. Surrounded by a new, diverse, progressive culture, she blossomed. She became more fluent in German and embraced her new surroundings.

After she graduated she moved back to Germany using her bi-lingual skills to become a writer and raise her family. She worked hard as a reporter. For fun, she skied in the Alps and made music with her daughters.

I remember skiing with her in Arosa, CH in the spring of 2005.  She wore an old school onesie and was rocking some long, straight boards.  New, fatter skis were becoming mainstream and she swore she’d soon upgrade to “carvers,” but it never happened.

Her friend Rigas introduced her to AT gear and climbing skins.  She loved the the uphill most of all and became known for banging out a thousand meters of vert, at times riding the lift back to the base.

MB loved music. She started to sing in clubs, in a style known as “Americana.”  It’s a mix of folk, country, blues and rock. In Europe it was considered niche and female performers were rare. She developed a following and had some good reviews. Each year she saved her money to come back to the states to travel to Austin, Texas and record a disc.

Remembering MB

Not long before she was diagnosed, MB moved back to the US, buying a townhouse in the shadow of the Manhattan skyline. Her plan was to further pursue her dream, supporting herself with freelance writing, while recording and making music.

All of it was cut short in a way that feels so senseless and sad. MB, we admire everything you accomplished, we’ll miss your fiercely independent spirit, and we love you forever.

42 comments on “I Love My Little Sister

  1. Harvey,

    This is heartbreaking. So heartbreaking. RIP to your sister and needless to say, us Albas are deeply sorry for your loss. Marybeth sounds like she was living life, and pursuing her dreams. May her dreams come true now on the other side. Virtual hugs to you and your families there. We hope one day to give you all real ones, in person this winter.

    With love,

    Ray, Alicia, Sandro, Nevada and Rocky (in Heaven with your sister)

  2. I got pretty choked up ready this. So sorry for your loss Harv. Your sister sounds like an amazing lady.


  3. You write so briefly … a family trait. Your special memories of your sister made me cry … and smile because I had the privilege of meeting your sister and her amazing daughters. MB had incredible talent, spirit and fortitude…like her Mom. My sympathy, with admiration and love,

  4. Extremely sorry to hear about your loss but rest assured that such an angel has been called back to her “home”! RIP MB

  5. Thank you for sharing these memories Harv. She introduced me to Joni Mitchell and gave me “Blue” as a gift. Indeed, some people as well as some songs are like tattoos. RIP MB.

  6. Such a wonderful eulogy, Harv, it must have been heart-wrenching to write. Our condolences to you and your family, she was clearly a beautiful person.

  7. Fixedheeln and I are sorry to hear the news. We know it has been a very difficult time. We send our condolences.

  8. Sorry for you’re loss Harv, I feel your pain, Cancer, more specifically Cancer treatment, took my older Sister at 38. It is an insidious disease. Sounds like Marybeth made the most of her all too short time on Earth. Prayers to her children. My Sister had none, still not sure if that is a good, or bad, thing.

  9. God, thank you all for your support. Every Sunday for the last several months, I’ve been driving up the NJ Turnpike to see my sister, thinking about what I would say at her memorial service. It turns out she didn’t want one, so I wrote it down. It only me took a few minutes. It’s been therapeutic for me. I’ve now read this piece over 100 times and I can get through it without crying. Now I need to get to that point with all of your comments.

    I know that terrible, sad things happen to people all the time, and I am not unique. I wrote this for myself and my family, and I thank you all for indulging me. All I can add is… love your family to the best of your ability. I am going to try to do a better job.

  10. Harv,

    Very sorry to hear. A well-written tribute. I hope that writing it helped to soften the pain.

  11. What a beautiful tribute. It made me smile as I think of her. Your last two lines are the best because I want, at least, to get that out of it all.

  12. Your words about your sister were touching. I can just image the joy she had skinning up a mountain or singing. You were a good brother.

  13. Harvey, your words here and your mourning for MB is not only a tribute to her, but also to you and your relationships. It is an outstanding life lesson for Neve to see someone grieve in a healthy way. I give you, your neices and the rest of your family my sincerest condolences.

  14. I’m so sorry for your loss and your entire family as well.
    I have such fond memories of your entire family as neighbors. Our family all sends their condolences.

  15. I am so sorry to hear of MB’s passing. Thank you for sharing your story. It is a great story and a great memorial.
    It certainly helped fill in the gap from MHS to when she and I reconnected a while back on FB.
    RIP MB. See you again one day.

  16. What a beautiful tribute to your sister. I remember you, Susan and MB as the tres amigos (I live in Austin now). Wished I’d have known her as an adult. We would have had so much to talk about! Germany, Europe, Austin, travel, Living abroad. A hug to your parents who were always such kind people and neighbors.

  17. A lovely Tribute. We never met, but I’m one of MB’s old Munich American friends. We were with MB and Family skiing many years in Gargelen, we also celebrated Thanksgiving every year together. I will miss her dearly. I saw her last September for the last time.

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