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Grieving brother's poignant obituary for his disabled sister is moving people to tears

The heartfelt tribute struck a chord with thousands online, who shared condolences and their own experiences of caring for a child with cerebral palsy.

Grieving brother's poignant obituary for his disabled sister is moving people to tears
Cover Image Source: Legacy

Editor's note: This article was originally published on September 23, 2021. It has since been updated.

Netizens across the world are sharing in the grief of a California man following the loss of his "special sister." Erik Sydow, a 64-year-old cabinetmaker from Oxnard, remembered his sister Karen Ann Sydow in a heartbreaking obituary that went viral on social media earlier this month. "In memory of my sister who never had wants or misgivings," he wrote of Karen, who was born with cerebral palsy. "She was born with cerebral palsy and could never speak more than three words.1) Mom 2) Donalds (she loved McDonald's) 3) Piano (she loved music). The past 2 years with COVID made seeing her beyond difficult, only recently were we getting back to normal."


"Our father passed in 2007 and our mother this year, May 2021. On my last outing with Karen, we took a sunny bike ride; she laughed and clapped her hands. When we stopped by the lake for a picnic lunch, Karen said 'Mom, mom.' I held her and told her 'mom is not here anymore.' Karen totally out of the norm put her head on my shoulder and tears ran down her cheek. Yes, she understood," Sydow recalled. "Two weeks later she passed away; I think she really wanted to be with mom. Karen, I wish I could have made you laugh one more time. I needed you too. Love your brother, Erik."


Sydow's moving tribute to his sister — who passed away of heart and respiratory failure on September 5 at the age of 61 — went viral after LA Times reporter Daniel Miller shared a photo of the print piece on Twitter. The tweet struck a chord with thousands online, who shared condolences and their own experiences of caring for a child with cerebral palsy. Twitter user, Teresa Montaug, who said that she had been Karen's teacher wrote: "I was her teacher at Tierra del Sol! I never forgot her. I remembered her as my student who could only say 'Piano.' Every student is precious because every student is someone's baby or sibling or loved one. Please support all teachers, students, and schools."




"My nephew is the kindest, gentlest, most selfless, and empathetic human I know. He has cerebral palsy too. He's also clever, deeply curious, and has an exceptional memory. His favorite restaurants are the ones on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Karen sounds lovely, just like him," tweeted @JessZafarris. Some others also commented on how moved they were by Sydow's 189-word obituary. "If the point of an obituary is to make you feel you knew the person and to share their loss then the fact her brother did so in so few words is astounding. What a beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing your sister with us Erik. I'm so sorry for your loss," tweeted @Mosatch8.


Speaking to Miller after the obituary became an internet sensation, Sydow shared more details about Karen's life. "We never knew anything was developmentally wrong with Karen until she was 3 years old," he revealed. Once they became aware of their daughter's condition, her parents worked hard to give her the support she needed and moved to West Hills in 1963 so that Karen would have access to better medical care. "My sister was my father’s No. 1 priority," said Sydow. "He left me very few instructions when he passed but... he just wanted her to continue to be happy."


He revealed that Karen thrived at Tierra Del Sol in Sunland, a nonprofit center where she received physical therapy and took music classes for over 30 years. Sydow fondly remembers their last trip to Lake Balboa Park where Karen delighted in a ride on a surrey cycle pedaled by her brother and his girlfriend, Renee Aguilar. Karen loved the wind blowing in her face, he said, and laughed at the dinging of the bike's bell. "I'd do anything I could to make her laugh," he said. Although his grief for Karen is raw, Sydow has found comfort in a special memory from about 10 years ago. Karen, who only spoke the words "mom," "piano," and "Donalds," did something remarkable at the end of one of her brother's visits. "She said it two times, clear as a bell: 'I love. I love,'" the grieving brother recalled. "It only happened that one day. I don't know what brought it out of her."

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