Clare is the youngest of the eleven Duggan siblings. Smart, loving and so well -adjusted, her siblings always teased their mother that with number eleven she had finally gotten the formula right. The caboose in large families is often the cherished and coddled mascot for older siblings. Clare balanced any privileges her last-in-line position afforded with the challenges of divorced parents, an absent father, an exhausted mother, and siblings so busy and necessarily self-centered that at age six she bemoaned her life as too many good byes and not enough hellos. A last child is often an only child of sorts. But Clare transformed the solitude her older siblings had never known into an independent, outgoing and fearless foundation for life. And what a life!
At age 25, her Evanston, Illinois employer offered her a short-term assignment in The Netherlands and she accepted. Despite Clare’s protests that it was only a temporary assignment, Mary knew better than to believe there would be anything short-term for this natural born linguist turned loose in Europe. Her fluency in Spanish, French and Italian was soon enhanced with impeccable Dutch. She had the perfect package for any employer — language skills, technical expertise, and a strong education in the humanities that informed her cultural awareness. Mary, in particular, knew that Clare was gone for good and she grieved for years and years and years. For both Mary and Annie their beloved little mascot was gone for good, living in the land of 6-week vacations, extraordinary health care and bike rides through tulip fields.
Her career exploded. Job opportunities flowed smoothly one into the next as her international business expertise developed and matured. We never knew where the next phone call would come from. “I’m in Moscow and I have bronchitis and I’m miserable” could just as easily be followed the next month with “I’m in Rome for a friend’s wedding.” For fifteen years, we lived for phone calls that went on for hours — Clare always insisting that we not leave out a single detail of our lives in Chicago.
Clare’s European home and her generously shared Frequent Flyer points guaranteed that Mary and Annie would travel extensively in Europe. The Netherlands became home base for yearly romps around Europe financed by Clare. It was one way Clare could soften the pain of her living so far from home and support her sisters through the struggles they were encountering at home. Mary likes to reflect that she slipped a disc at the Eiffel Tower, had walking pneumonia in Italy, limped around Bruge with plantar fascitis and nursed a broken heart in Portugal. Her wounded traveling travails went on and on across many borders over many years. Always Clare with her youth, enthusiasm, and language skills pulling the sixteen years older Mary out of her natural shyness and into the great big European world Clare thrived in.
And then, of course, the inevitable: the long-term Dutch sweet heart became the dashing fiancé and the destination wedding followed — a spectacular gathering of hundreds of family and friends for a Roman Basilica wedding followed by a reception and relaxation at a restored organic farming village just outside of Rome. The charmed life had come to fruition. Europe had won: she had fallen in love with one of theirs never to return home for good. The short-term assignment had become a destiny that would keep Clare far from her older sisters. A fait accompli — as Mary watched her baby sister walk down the long aisle and into a future that meant one visit per year for the rest of her lifetime. She consoled herself with the imminent joys of tow-headed nieces and nephews but she would have traded everything European, even sun-washed strolls on the Isle of Capri, for lots and lots of Saturdays just hanging out as sisters in Chicago.
But much too soon Mary’s grief was supplanted by Clare’s heartache. Everything crumbled overnight. Nothing was what it had seemed. The charming brother-in-law capped off their decade long courtship with a frightening reveal. Political wrangling at work spiraled quickly into the unthinkable — a job loss. The dream home in Haarlem overnight became a tomb and a terrifying and solitary financial responsibility. The sisters worried unceasingly about their little mascot as she mastered the most difficult language of all; this time the ancient language of grief, loss and betrayal. In this language too she became fluent; fluent and wise and to her big sisters amazement and pride more graceful and purposeful and soulfully accepting than anyone could have imagined possible. For months, it seemed that Mary and Annie never slept as they worried about Clare as they shared the daily losses and stresses she was facing alone seven hours and a vast ocean away.
Resilience. They thought she would be the one to be spared. But life had a different plan. Once again, the little business that grew from so much adversity opened its arms to yet another Duggan Sister and said welcome home. Welcome home to an endeavor that matters. Welcome home to a small artisan shop that needs your business process expertise to be able to grow. Welcome home to two older sisters, flagging under the weight of exhaustion and sustained stress, and in dire need of your youthful energy and enthusiasm. Welcome home to a destiny different than the one you had planned; but larger and even more wonderful than anything you might have imagined. Welcome home, Clare Margaret. Always the silent partner; always the one to send money when it seemed we might lose everything; always the one to guide us through the great unknowns of web design and overwhelming information technology; always the one to cheer us on when it seemed that we could not take one more hit. Welcome home sister woman partner adviser expert mascot. May this worthy endeavor bring into your brave heart the same healing and purpose and light it has brought into ours. Welcome home.