My Sister, the Quiet Hero

By Scott T. Allison

Recently, my sister Sheree passed away from stomach cancer at the age of 57.

On the surface, Sheree was no different from many people. She had a husband and two children, lived in suburbia, owned some pets, played the guitar, and loved to tinker with her home decor and yard.

But for those who knew Sheree and loved her, there was much more below the surface. She was a hero in her own quiet way.

Heroism is tough to define, but most people would agree that heroism involves improving the lives of others in significant ways. It is love and compassion put into action. Here’s one story that shows how, even at a very young age, my sister Sheree had great heroic instincts.

Back in the 1960s, we lived in a lower-middle class neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The houses in this neighborhood were packed very close together. The five of us – my father, mother, brother, Sheree, and me – lived in a small 800 square-foot home. Literally within an arm’s reach of our porch was the home of our neighbor, a woman named Irene.

Irene was a cranky, middle-aged widow with red hair and a terrible singing voice. We knew about the bad voice because she lived alone and entertained herself with loud singing. On warm summer evenings, with all the windows open in the hopes of catching an occasional breeze, we’d also catch that unmistakable singing. And to call it singing was generous. It was more like the screeching of a wounded owl.

The crankiness of Irene would be on full display any time the three of us kids ventured onto her property. We were very young kids who liked to play ball and go exploring, and so needless to say we’d stray into her yard now and then either out of carelessness or to retrieve a lost ball. When Irene saw us violating her space, she’d yell at us to get out. And much to my mother’s horror, her shouts would include a few choice swear words to boot.

None of us liked Irene, and we did our best to steer clear of her. But there were many times when we’d be shouted at, and the only comfort we took was that at least it momentarily stopped her from singing.

One day after one of Irene’s tirades, Sheree did something extraordinary. She was only five years old at the time, a sweet thing with blonde hair, deep blue eyes, and an endearing smile. She also had the instincts of a saint.

Sheree had just been on the receiving end of one of Irene’s outbursts. She ran home to escape our neighbor’s rant. But rather than stay home, she decided to go outside and pick as many wildflowers as she could. She gathered them into a beautiful bouquet and then walked up to Irene’s front door and knocked. When Irene opened the door, Sheree handed her the flowers and apologized.

And Irene was forever changed.

Obviously touched by Sheree’s kindness, Irene never yelled at us again. In fact, she became a friend to the family.  Sheree’s simple act of reaching out with love and generosity had transformed Irene into a kind, neighborly soul.

Irene’s loud and horrid singing continued, however.

Sheree’s kind gesture to Irene pretty much sums up the way she lived her life. She always went out of her way to show kindness to others, including me. Last September, after she had surgery to remove her stomach, she was very weak and in the hospital for almost a month. Yet she still found time to mail me a birthday card with her shaky handwriting wishing me well. I’ve kept the card and will always treasure it.

She died just two days after Christmas. Despite being in pain and obviously in a terribly weakened state, she still mailed me a Christmas gift just days before her passing.

There are other aspects to Sheree’s heroism, too many to describe here. She was an Art Docent in her local elementary school, teaching kids about art and famous artists, as well as tutoring and leading or participating in after-school reading programs. She took in stray animals. She reached out to people, and touched them with her smile, her heart, and her contagious laugh.

Irene was one of many whose heart was forever changed by Sheree. I count myself among this group, too.

Thank you, dear sister. I love you and miss you.

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22 thoughts on “My Sister, the Quiet Hero

  1. Scott – Thank you, so very much, for this story about Sheree. As my wife on nearly 35 years, I know how special she was, not just to my sons and me, but to many others. I was blessed to have her choose me to share her life. I truly loved her and her passing will leave a hole in my heart forever.


  2. My condolences, Scotty and Kevin, to both of you and to all of Sheree’s family and friends. I wish there was something I could say to make this better somehow, but I know that there isn’t.

    But we can all know that she left the world a better place for her presence. Your story illustrates how vital our interactions with other people are. One kind word or gesture can can change lives and relationships for the better. By the same token, cruelty or indifference can lead to disaster. The positive effects of your sister’s actions and example will be felt far into the future.

  3. I’m so sorry for your loss, Kevin and Scotty. If I believe in heaven, it’s because of people like Sheree. The song that evokes freshman year in high school for me is going through my head, and I’m singing along in her honor.

  4. Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute. I am inspired by it, and now, we both share the loss of a sibling. It was life changing for me, and it seems like your sister truly lived heartily
    “Between the dash” ____-December 27, 2013.

  5. Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute. I am inspired by it, and now, we both share the loss of a sibling. It was life changing for me, and it seems like your sister truly lived heartily
    “Between the dash” ____-December 27, 2013.

  6. I will miss you, Dear Cousine, (which is what we called each other… based on our mutual French heritage). I am in the process of writing something to be read at Sheree’s celebration of life service on Saturday, January 4th. I can’t believe, despite the experience that I’ve had with this (having lost 5 family members; & 8 people I love since 2007) how hard it is. Beautiful job capturing her essence above, Cousin Scott. I so wish that E & I could make the trip. Love to you all, Suzie

  7. Scott, A wonderful tribute to your sister. I count myself among the lucky that knew her and had her in my life. I will miss my friend more than words can convey.

  8. What a beautiful story, Scott. I’ve known Kevin since he was a boy, and met Sheree when they became a pair. Sheree was special, and the courage she lived with when the stomach cancer appeared and during her surgery and follor-up treatment continually amazed me. What a wonderful couple she and Kevin were. My husband, Bob, and I led a church youth group of which Kevin was an integral part — and Sheree became part of our extended family, and remained so until I learned of her passing. I love Kevin and will always treasure precious memories of his beautiful wife who will be deeply missed. Her entire family are in my prayers. Love & Hugs, JEANNE

  9. Well said Scott, we just met Sheree a year or so ago, and loved what we knew! Everything everyone has said rings so true of what we saw in Sheree. To Pam and I she seemed so positive all the time . When first diagnosed last May, we were making wedding plans and were over visiting with Kevin and Sheree, when kevin broke the news about her cancer, a momunt of numbness went by all of us as we absorbed All this, when Sheree interjects ” any one want some pie”? I thought , what a trooper, and we saw this same attitude all year. Sheree, you’ll be greatly missed! Love you, from Pam and Gerry

  10. Sheree was a wonderful women , loving wife & mother She has been a neighbor for aporox 20 years, never saw her without a smile on her sweet little face . I can not tell you how much I admired her for all she went through and still continued to fight with that sweet smile . We will truly miss her and will forever be in our hearts. Our prayers for you and the entire family, whom She loved dearly! Megan Devers

  11. What a wonderful story…She was a real trooper through all that she went through. I will miss her but she will always be remembered. All the memories of Sheree are going through my head constantly. We had some great times together during our Junior High, High School days, always laughing about something. I spent a lot of time at her house…laying in the sun, baking chocolate peanut butter no bake cookies – both of our favorites! She was truly a good person and great friend!
    Kathy Sarna (Smith)

    My friendship with Sheree takes in 25+ yrs as neighbors. We as moms would share time at our hoa swimming pool with our wonderful kids! We laughed, gave each other mom advice, and shared stories as we played lifeguard while our kids would swim all afternoon at the pool!!!
    My heart hurts so for Kevin, the boys and family.
    Try so hard to remember all the magical memories. !
    Peace and love xo Adrienne and family

  13. Dear Scott,
    Thank you for bypassing your own pain to reach out to those who knew and loved your sister and those of us who know and love you. This sweet account of a simple (?) act of heroism is precious. I wish I had known your sister. What bravery your then little sister showed in extending friendship to your unfriendly neighbor.
    I’m praying for your peace of mind. Love and hugs.

  14. Dear Scott: Thanks for sharing your Sister’s story. I feel like I both know her a little bit as well as better knowing the little Pittsburgh boy who still lives on in your heart and stories.

  15. What a beautiful soul. Rest in peace, Sheree. May God’s strength and peace be with you during this time of mourning yet celebrating the life of a hero so close to home. Thanks for sharing–I think I’ll give a wildflower bouquet to the next person who yells at me, in honor and memory of Sheree. Thanks for sharing her.

  16. Scott — I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your sister.

    “What we have once enjoyed, we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes part of us.” -Helen Keller

    Thank you for carrying a bit of her here and sharing with us.

  17. Scott–Thank you for sharing your story. I never met Sheree, but have had the pleasure and honor of knowing Kevin through his work. Through our conversations, I have come to understand that both Kevin and Sheree faced her illness with great strength and courage. As a physician, I know that these rare qualities occur in really good people with great relationships. Your letter and the comments prove the point.

    As Kevin said, I am sure that all those who knew Sheree are thankful that she was a part of their lives. My wife and I send our prayers and best wishes to you, Kevin and all who knew and loved her.

  18. Hi Scott,

    I`m sorry for your sister. But heroes never die! They are only sleeping in a better place because their mission was completed and all they had to teach us was done. And the lessons will never be forgotten.
    Nobody comes into our life without giving us something and also taking something from us.

    Thanks for sharing her heroism acts.

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