Opera Diva Beverly Sills has passed away.

Unlike most opera singers, who seem to live in a world of elites, Ms. Sills delighted many people when she appeared on TV shows like Johnny Carson and the Muppets, bringing opera to popular culture.

Her nickname was “Bubbles” and indeed she brought a  bubbly joy to those around her.

But what few know is that her personal life had it’s own sorrows.

In 1959 Ms. Sills gave birth to a daughter, Meredith Holden Greenough. Two years later she gave birth to the couple’s second child, a son, Peter Bulkeley Greenough Jr. At the time Meredith, called Muffy, was 22 months old but unable to speak. Tests revealed that she had a profound loss of hearing.

Just as Ms. Sills and her husband were absorbing their daughter’s deafness, it became clear that their son, called Bucky, now 6 months old, was significantly mentally retarded, with additional complications that eluded diagnosis. “They knew nothing about autism then,” Ms. Sills later wrote.

With support, their daughter thrived over time. But the boy’s problems were severe, and he was eventually placed in an institution.

(As a doctor I should note that there were no resources in communities for retarded children in those days, so institutionalization was the only way open to parents who wished treatment for their children with disabilities).
At first she stayed home with the children. But then she was encouraged to go back to work, and she overcame her bitterness and used the lessons learned to deepen her art and spread joy and hope to others.

Perhaps she wrote her own epitaph:

In a conversation with a Times reporter in 2005, reflecting on her challenging life and triumphant career, Ms. Sills said, “Man plans and God laughs.” She added: “I have often said I’ve never considered myself a happy woman. How could I, with all that’s happened to me. But I’m a cheerful woman. Work kept me going.”

Rest in Peace, Bubbles.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind CLinic and Fishmarket.

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