‘I needed you’: Brother’s heartbreaking obituary for sister, 61, with cerebral palsy who could only speak three words ‘mom,’ ‘Donalds’ and ‘piano’ goes viral as it touches the hearts of millions on social media

  • California man Erik Sydow, 64, penned a loving tribute to his sister Karen, 64, who was born with cerebral palsy 
  • The short obituary garnered the attention of thousands on social media, with an outpouring of love and support
  • He noted that she only said three words: ‘mom, ‘Donalds’ in reference to McDonalds and piano
  • Many online shared their own stories of caring for loved ones with special needs, and a tweet featuring the obituary was retweeted more than 30,000 times 

Erik Sydow’s loving obituary for his sister Karen (pictured) drew a massive response on social media, and was shared thousands of times 

A California man’s loving obituary for his sister, who was born with cerebral palsy, has touched the hearts of thousands on social media.

In the 189-word tribute, Erik Sydow, 64, noted that his sister, Karen, 61, could only say three words: ‘Mom,’ ‘piano’ and ‘Donalds’ a reference to McDonalds, which was her favorite place to eat, but that she ‘never had wants or misgivings.’

He titled the piece A Special Sister, and placed it in the September 18 edition of the Los Angeles Times, roughly two weeks after her death from heart and respiratory failure.

He wrote that the last two years of the Covid-19 pandemic made visiting her difficult, but that they had just been getting back into their routine when in August he took her on a bike outing to a lake. 

‘Karen said “mom, mom,”‘ Erik recounted. Their mother had died in May of this year. 

‘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,’ he wrote. 

She died two weeks later. ‘I think she really wanted to be with mom,’ he noted, adding, ‘I wish I could have made you laugh one more time. I needed you too.’

He concluded: ‘Love, your brother Erik.’ 

Among the tens of thousands who shared the brief tribute included celebrities such as Today Show anchor Hoda Kotb

Erik Sydow’s tribute to his ‘Special Sister’

In memory of my sister who never had wants or misgivings. She was born with Cerebral Palsy and could never speak more than three words.

1) Mom

2) Donalds (she loved McDonalds)

3) Piano (she love 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 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.

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

Thank you to all that helped in Karen’s care for so many years at Valley Village and Tierra del Sol. 

Although brief, the weight of Sydow’s tribute struck a chord. Touched when he read it Daniel Miller, an enterprise reporter for the LA Times, took a photo of the printed obituary and posted it on Twitter. 

It has since been shared more than 30,000 times, and garnered more than 249,000 likes. It has been viewed millions of times. 

‘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,’ tweeted one user in response. ‘Thank you for sharing your sister with us Erik. I’m so sorry for your loss.’ 

Many others replying and sharing told their stories of caring for loved ones with cerebral palsy. 

‘This is my son Alex,’ wrote one user along with a photo of him. ‘I cannot even bear to think about what it will be like for him when I’m gone.’ 

‘I’m taking care of Ken after mom passed last year. every morning is just like christmas for him,’ replied another. 

‘This is my 25 yr old son who also has cerebral palsy,’ replied another. 

‘Hes got three siblings: two human and one canine. He’s an amazing person and I dread the moment we depart from each other.’ 

Children’s book author Jess Zafarris wrote: ‘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,’ she added.

The outpouring of love and sympathy from thousands including well known personalities such as the Today Show’s Hoda Kotb, drove Miller to visit Sydow and ask him what he thought.

In his own piece for the LA Times, he noted that although he was touched by the reaction, Erik was still more interested in talking about his sister. 

Karen was been born in New York, and signs of her condition did not emerge until she was 3, and their parents moved to West Hills Los Angeles to provide better medical care for her.

She loved listening to records on her father’s photograph as a child, and Erik said that may have led to her love of the piano. 

Many shared their own experiences caring for loved ones with cerebral palsy 

Their father worked as a software engineer, and when he came home she would crawl on his back as he took naps after work. 

It was a ritual they continued even when he became sick, and was in hospice care. He died in 2007. 

‘He would just not move and allow her to do that,’ he told Miller. 

Karen spent much of her life living at Valley Village, and receiving physical therapy and taking music lessons at Tierra Del Sol, a non profit center. Erik thanked the staff at both locations in her obituary.

He said he never understood people who didn’t give extra attention to loved ones who need it.   

‘There are a lot of people who don’t want to acknowledge it, or are embarrassed by it,’ he told Miller. ‘That doesn’t sit well with me.’

The family used to vacation at a beach in Cambria together. It is there, he told Miller, where he plans to scatter the ashes of his sister, father and mother in a private ceremony.     

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