My Sister is Dying
Violet M. Huntley-Franck
In tribute to Anita Marie Wendland,
March 19, 1941 - June 17, 2005
an account of my dear sister's death.
Written to help others understand . . .
Written to help me understand.
June 03, 2005
The cancer which has been on Anita's skin, in her bladder, her breast, her bones, is now in her liver. Two weeks ago she had an emergency appendectomy. Her heart works at 17 percent of what it should. Her blood pressure is high, has been for years. Her doctors recently told her she had 4 to 6 months to live. She is only 64, eight years older than me. Longevity is in our family and yet . . . .
When I was 5 she made me a dress. There wasn't much money, so my brother, Wes, and sister, Anita, would hold out a blanket. I climbed into the center, they held it by the corners and bounced me trampoline style. Anita, Wes, the neighbor kids and I all played Annie, Annie Over, over the top of the house, although I was really too little at the time to be of much help. We went swimming in the mucky slough adjacent to the home place. We camped with our parents. Anita and I shared a bedroom until I was 8. At 16 she married her childhood sweetheart, Dan. They have been married nearly 48 years. She has three children, the youngest disappeared 7 years ago, a source of constant heartache. She has 5 grandchildren and 2 3/4 great grand children. Her family is her life.
I have lived a very different life. I chose not to have children, a decision I do not regret. I ended two marriages because my husbands treated me badly. I finally met a man I loved who loved me. He died suddenly of cancer in 1988. And even though I subsequently found a dear man I love bunches, who now shares my life, it took me a long time to be whole again. Over the years there have been numerous tragedies in my life, tragedies I worked to overcome. These heartaches led me to evaluate the belief system I was raised with and adjust it to what works for me.
My sister made no such changes. She believes much like she did as a young person. So when I learned of her prognosis, I wondered what I could do to help comfort her through this. I thought of the things that comfort me now. But knowing who she is, I know these things would not comfort her.
So many times when someone is dying people try to convince them that if they just accepted this new way of viewing things, spiritually speaking, they will be better off. To do this to my sister would be unfair. It would not help, and it is unnecessary. And it would certainly not honor her right to choose her own way of viewing the world, God and the afterlife. All I've gained, while for me is just right, would be of no help to her - except for one thing.
One of the ways both she and I work through our troubles is by listening to music. And although I have expanded my choice of music from the country and gospel music our parents raised us with, Anita has not. She loves country singer, Don Williams. I like his music too. She absorbed every album he produced. She'd listen to and sing each song until it drove the rest of her family - Dan and the kids nuts. So I reasoned that she must also like Jim Reeves. Remember Jim Reeves - the velvet voice that entered directly into your soul?
I had no cassettes or CD by him. Unfortunately he died in a plane wreck, like all good country-western singers used to do, before cassettes or CDs. So I took out my LP collection, yes, I still have it, and retrieve his album called, We Thank Thee. His voice, his words, this LP has soothed me for years.
I put the LP on the turntable and set about making a cassette - eliminating the scratchiness as best I could - the album is probably 40 years old. To fill the tape I had to find other songs. I considered some I love, but knew they would not speak to her soul. I was tempted to put them on the tape anyway - to expose her to it. I thought again. No, this is for Anita, not for me. So I added some of Sonny James gospel music. After filling side A, I copied the same music to side B. It took all day . . . so I could get it just right. And I realized that for me this is part of what is known as grief work.
Today, in my grief, without knowing it, my sister gave me a gift. She helped me reinforce within myself how important it is to honor the needs of others, to address them in the way that is right for them, not try to change them.
June 05, 2005
Anita is now going downhill really fast. I pray her passing is quick, easy and painless.
June 08, 2005
The day after I made the tape for Anita, I mailed the package and then went to our small public phone utility to find out what was available locally relative to receiving phone calls while I'm online - for the emergency call from my sister's family that is surely coming. I learned of my options - all poor for full-time writers/artists who have yet to make a living at it. The only viable option was $50 a month for DSL. This is more than our strict budget allows.
While I was talking to Rhonda, the receptionist at the phone company, about Anita, I felt the heaviness oppressing me, like it has been since learning of the prognosis. I had known it was coming, but when it actually arrives it's something else again. I talked to Rhonda about my sister. and she asked about my brother and the book I'd written about the murders.
Three-fourths of my way through the conversation a local colorful guy, Jose, former rocket scientist and amateur philosopher came in. He and I have had many extensive conversations about life, the meaning of it, reality, etc. He looked at me and told me there was something different about me, that my aura had change. I felt the change. It felt dark, heavy, intense. I told him that my sister is dying - that's what he saw. He said that usually I have a lot of confidence and it all effervesces from me and that that had changed.
On the way home I got to thinking about Jose's comments, and all the losses I've experienced. I began analyzing what I was feeling. I realized that some of it was my own grief, but some of it was the grief of my family members. I feel some of what my brother-in-law, Dan, is feeling because of the death of my boy friend from pancreatic cancer in 1988. I feel some of what my sister's kids are feeling because of losing my dad in 1983 when I was 34. Empathy is a biggy for me, but it can be debilitating. The words that kept coming to me were - this is not my heartache. Yes, I have my own impending loss, but. . . . I began to think what I've learned from my losses - I've considered this upteen times over the years. Here I was again. I began to think that some of what we perceive as bad things will always happen on this level of existence - here on Earth. Every time I have experienced these things, I've made a conscious decision not to be leveled by them - easy to say, harder to put into practice. There has to be a better way of dealing with "bad things" personally. I'm not talking about faith here. This is not a crisis of faith. I'm talking about finding a way to dissolve the heaviness oppressing me.
So like I do sometimes when I'm alone, I talked aloud to God. A lot of my thoughts are really ongoing conversations with God. I said to God that I choose not to let this kind of thing oppress me anymore. I asked for help with this, of course, and I began to say I am light. It's not just that I wanted God's light to surround me, but rather that I am that light. I thought of the little song we sang in Sunday school - "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine." I didn't feel the heaviness lift right away. It's a discipline thing for me - I'm practiced at depressing myself. But the heaviness did ease. There's a mantra that goes with this kind of thing, one that came to me some years ago: I am the light. I am the heart of God. I am the soul of the One. So I said it again and repeatedly.
That was last Friday. On Monday, two days ago, I went down to my mom's and picked her up. She no longer has a driver's license. I took her up to see my sister. It's two hours south to Mom's, three hours north to my sisters, then it's an hour south to my house. Before I left my husband, Phil, said, "Remember you are there to love. You are not there to solve their problems, just to give love." I always want to fix things for everyone, so I have to keep his words in mind.
Mom and I arrived at Anita and Dan's. She is obviously so ill - she now has the look of one who is dying. It was the first time I had seen it on her. Apparently she had hardly been off the couch during the day, since she got out of the hospital a week earlier, the last time I saw her. A number of her family members were there. They'd come to visit Mom and me, but mostly I think it was Mom - a grandma thing. I visited with them, in my sister's presence and away from her. It was a good visit.
Afterwards I brought Mom back home with me to spend the night. I showed Mom the Boomer Women site and the words of comfort the women had expressed in response to my posts. Mom liked the computer and decided she wanted one. She was able to post a reply to one of the women.
Yesterday I got an email from my sister's daughter, Betty - we haven't emailed before. She said that the visit did her mother a lot of good, that after we were gone her mother got off the couch and began playing computer games with her four-year-old great grandson. Betty said she hoped I came back real soon, that it was the first time there had been life in the house for a week. I told her that my husband, Phil and I, will be back next week the day after her parents' appointment with hospice.
Today, Dan let us know that the doctor gave Anita stronger medication for pain yesterday, and she slept through the night for the first time in a long time.
Over the years I have not been around my sister's family much - only occasional family things. But I do love them. During that time I've been healing myself, growing, becoming. My current growth step is to become light full-time.
This brings to mind something Peg, one of my spiritual mothers, said to me once. Her son was terminally ill when he was a toddler. The doctors had given up. She had heard of a healer. Even though she didn't believe in this kind of thing at the time, she took her son to the healer. She said, "I never saw the man. All I saw was the light." Her son was healed.
I seek to be the light - a light. We all are really, even if we aren't aware of it. We are all part of the heart-light of God.
"This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine."
June 10, 2005
I remember what Aunt Lottie, my grand aunt, once said. Her mother had been gone probably twenty years by then. Aunt Lottie was probably eighty years old when she said, "Without your mother, what do you have...?" Her words trailed off into infinity.
Aunt Lottie was a strong, spiritual, old woman. She was 45 years older than me. When I asked her how she dealt with all the losses, she said most of the time she was all right with it, but once in a while they ganged up on her.
A dear friend, Tosca, died, a death I did not hear about until 9 months afterwards. I learned about it when I was in the middle of handling another crisis. I couldn't put Tosca's death to rest. She was someone I thought would live to be very old. She could heal herself quickly of any health malady. She was loving, pure of spirit, talented, creative. So when I learned of her death I was stunned. She was 76. I felt cheated, the loss unacceptable. This went on for two years. I am a painter, and I'm learning to do likeness. I love painting people. So I decided to paint a picture of Tosca. While I was painting this picture I talked aloud to her. I told her how upset I was that she had died. I told her how I missed her. I talked to her about a lot of things. By the time the painting was complete, I had accepted her death.
I think it was Eienstein who said, "We stand on the shoulders of giants." Aunt Lottie and Tosca are two of the giants I stand on. I am a better person because of them. But oh, I miss them so much sometimes. So much. And yes, I'm glad they are in a place where they can learn and grow. But for me, selfishly . . . .
The death of the physical body leaves the rest of us perplexed how to deal with it on this level. Even when we have a belief that says the person's spirit is now with God, and they are fine, still . . . . We have a void, an emptiness. Mom/Dad/our loved one is no longer sitting in their favorite chair. The house where they lived rings with the emptiness, even if others are present. We can no longer touch their skin. We can no longer see the love, the ways they could get upset, hear the things they have to say. I was amazed after my boyfriend, Gary, died how quickly I forgot what his voice sounded like. I longed to hear his voice again. After Dad died I longed to see him sitting in the easy chair pretending not to have tears in his eyes when he watched a sad movie. I longed to have my loved ones alive again, so they could annoy me. Yes, annoy me. We always talk about the good qualities in our loved ones who have died. But let's face it, all of them annoyed us at times, and we annoyed them.
And then there are those well-meaning people who say to us, "Turn it over to God. He will comfort you." Yes, of course, but during the worst of the pain, I long to touch the other person's skin. God doesn't have skin I can touch. The physical emptiness rings in pain.
I've come to believe that we are God's skin.
June 11, 2005
Yesterday I got the book Dotsie on Boomers recommended: Final Gifts: The Special Awareness Needs and Communications of the Dying. It is beautiful, and oh so helpful. I recommend it to everyone, even those who are struggling to overcome the loss of someone who has already passed.
June 13, 2005
I did not see my sister this weekend. She was very weak by Saturday and had to be taken by ambulance to emergency. Turns out, her heart, which functions very poorly, wasn't providing enough oxygen. They put her on oxygen full time and sent her home. When she woke up the next morning, she felt a lot better. I didn't know about it until yesterday afternoon when I talked to her. She had clarity, and it was a good conversation. She said she felt good enough to dance.
While I talked to her I kept in mind the things I learned from the book Dotsie recommended. So when my sister said she woke up and heard her son's voice and thought it was an angel, (she hadn't known he and his wife had spent the night) I used the opportunity to ask her if she saw angels and told that I do sometimes. She said she thought maybe so, but she always forgets. At least now she knows she can talk to me about it. Then this morning I heard from my brother-in-law. He said today she is weak and rambling again, and he was hoping he could get her to the car and take her to her doctor's appointment. She can no longer walk. The doorways in the house aren't wide enough for a wheelchair. I haven't heard yet how that went. My husband and I will be up to see them Friday, the day after they go to Hospice to see what services are available. I sensed my brother-in-law is near breaking. His kids are helping him, but still.
I spent the day yesterday mellowing myself out about the whole thing.
June 15, 2005
I feel my job is to pour love onto Anita. Beyond that I play it by ear each time I visit her.
I mentioned the angels Sunday when I talked to Mom. Off and on in the past, I've talked to her about what it might be like to die. She's been expecting to die for a while now. Her heart is bad. She's not afraid. She's ready. She's never seen an angel, or so she tells me. But one time as I woke up I saw an image of Mom standing beside my bed. She was wearing a scarf, and a pink cardigan sweater and was caring her purse. When I talked to her after that, I asked her if she remembered dreaming about visiting me. She didn't remember it. But I think she may have been having a small stroke at the time. After that her mind was not as clear. She has never been one to remember her dreams. She is very religious, but at that time did not believe a person could see spirits. I've been trying to gently open her mind to it for some time. I've told her of other people I know who see them, including me.
I was raised to believe that we couldn't see angels and such things, that that ability died out when Jesus' apostles died. But I love it when they appear to me. It is so cool.
Tonight I heard from Dan. Hospice comes tomorrow. Thank God. Thursday Anita and Dan were supposed to talk to the oncologist about hospice. Dan told him they couldn't wait. They got a portapotty today for beside the bed, so he doesn't have to try to get her to the bathroom in the middle of the night. He's afraid his back is going to go out. Tomorrow hospice will bring a small wheel chair and talk to them.
In addition to Anita's regular pain killers they are now giving her methadone. I do hope the good Lord takes her peacefully, soon. I realize it is not my timing .... but God bless everyone involved. They are so tired and stressed.
There is so much to be learned from something like this. It's invaluable. Before my mom's last husband died, I learned a tremendous amount about Alzheimers. The poor man would get so frustrated. He loved to talk, and he couldn't get the words out. He hated living like that. He told me so on several occasions before the last of his words failed him. Thankfully, his heart took him before he had to be institutionalized.
Life has so many beautiful lessons. A lot of them are accompanied by pain. And for me at least, I know I wouldn't learn them nearly as well without that pain.
June 15, 2005
I was raised in the Church of Christ. It had a very strict doctrine. The minister thought he was the only one who knew what was right - the gospel according to Melvin. It turned a lot of us off. The God I'd been raised with was a jerk. I couldn't believe in a jerk. So I became agnostic after I left home, and my spirituality floated for a while. That changed with what my brother did in 1980. I began searching for a higher way of viewing things. A spiritual mother, Peg, found me and helped. After my boyfriend, Gary, died in 1988 I opened to yet another level. While I was healing, another spiritual mother, Elaine, found me and helped me in so many ways. She saw angels and other spiritual beings. After their deaths, people whose spirits were passing into the light would be attract to her light. She would pray for them, help them to see their guides and go into the light.
I started exploring the sacred texts of a number of religions. It gave me a respect for the beliefs of others that were very different than mine. Ultimately that led me to write a multicultural novel which is part of a trilogy I'm marketing. About four years after Gary's death I began waking and seeing holographed beings. I never expected to see them - not after what Melvin taught as I was growing up. It's like the beings were on duty watching after me, their heads were moving, back and forth like they were surveying things I couldn't see. I only saw them from the shoulders up. One day I would see one of them. The next day it would be another I saw. There were three different beings. Their lips were moving, but I couldn't hear what they were saying. At first it scared me. They were so huge. I came to know that they were good beings, so the fear went away. I call them my guardian angels. One time I awoke to see a line of beings holographed next to the bed. One would step forward and I could see it, then another one would show itself and another and another. It was very interesting.
It makes me feel so protected and cared for, being able to see them. I know they are always there, although I forget to look for them when I first wake up these days. The image fades as my day vision kicks in.
My great maternal grandmother, Sarah, saw angels and other spiritual beings. My grand aunt, Lottie, Sarah's daughter, also saw such beings. One time she said she saw Jesus holographed out over the canyon in back of her home. She told me after her little sister, Lila, was severely burned, before she passed she saw an angel. Lila said the angel was so beautiful.
I put beings like this in the visionary fiction books I write. My hope is that through my stories people will find hope, in their own way, like I have.
June 18, 2005 My sister, Anita, died yesterday, Friday June 17th.
Wednesday, the 14th, I didn't get on the net in the evening to answer my emails and such, the way I normally do. Neither did Phil, my husband. So the phone was free. Finally just before bed at about 10:45 I decided to check my emails. One had come in at 7:30. It was from Betty. She said that she didn't expect her mother to live through the night, that she had the look on her face like an animal gets before it dies, eyes glazed, food just ran out of her mouth. She was unresponsive. My niece was not at her parents' home when she wrote the email, her brother and his wife were. It did not feel urgent for me to get to my sister's house. It was late, so I didn't want to call my brother-in-law, Dan, just in case everyone was asleep. The next morning, Thursday, at nine I called, expecting Dan to say my sister was dead. He said she seemed to have come out of it a little and was willing to take in Popsicles and eat a little something. Phil and I immediately drove up.
I kept in mind the things I was still reading from the book, Final Gifts, as well as the things I had learned from other deaths of those close to me. We arrived at the house and Anita was laying in the easy chair beside the couch. She responded to me, and I told her I love her. In a very weak soft voice she told me she loved me too. There was no doubt that she was going to die or slip into a deep coma soon. She's diabetic - the chemo caused that - and her blood sugar was down to 40, which is extremely low. Dan had been trying to get her to eat and drink, but she was no longer willing to do that very much of the time. She finally had a little orange juice and a little candy. Her blood sugar rose to 98. Her face had, by now, lost all the lines. It looked thin and frail, though the rest of her did not look emaciated. She could not hold herself up. Each time Dan gave her something he held her tenderly, spoke sweetly to her. I know he was exhausted from the 5 year fight with the disease. And as she got worse and worse, he slept less and less, but you would never know it from his tone with her. Anita slipped in and out, her mouth open as she "slept." Sometimes she snored. I was sitting next to her when I decided to tell Dan of the dream I had had the night before. In the dream I was in a room with a bunch of people, Anita was there, and she was very ill. In the next scene I was standing outside the front door with Anita. I asked her if she was alive. She said, "I don't know." I woke up.
Their son and his wife and step-son were also there some of the time. There was hugging going on - intense feelings exchanged through the hugs. One time when I hugged my nephew I could feel the energy exchange, and when I pulled away I felt almost a jolt of energy leave me. I knew it was because he was so needy, had no strength, and took some of mine. I've felt energy drains before, but not like this. This was like a smack of it. I felt instantly depleted. I did not mind. He and his wife and son took the opportunity, while Phil and I were there, to go home and get more clothes and things they needed. So while they were gone, and while Phil and Dan were in the other room talking to the pet birds, I decided this was my chance. By then Anita was laying on the couch. I walked over to Anita. Her eyes were closed. I said softly, "It's okay if you want to go home. We will miss you, but if you need to go, we will be all right." She said, "Go home? You are going home?" "No," I said, "I'm talking about you going home." Dan and Phil came back in. Anita said, "go home?" Dan said, "No, they (meaning Phil and me) were not going home yet." She repeated it another time, and he reassured her we were not going home.
After my nephew, Rick, and his wife, Donna, returned I had the chance to talk to Donna. I have never had the opportunity to get close to her before, but she was so obviously concerned. So we talked and hugged, and I told her about Final Gifts. She said she would get it and read it, so she could help everyone with what they were going through. I felt her soul. She's a good lady. She's been in the family about 4 years. I told her that everyone needed to tell Anita that she had permission to die. She told me her husband was a "puddle." One time when I hugged him I told him he would make it through this somehow. He said he didn't know how. We were all in and out of the house, standing around talking, hugging, like people do at times like this. Phil and I stayed several hours. Then we told my sister goodbye and again told her I love her. She was aware of us. She repeated, "I love you too." As we were leaving Dan walked us out to the car and told us that the night before, his daughter had him read something she found on the web about what to expect as Anita died. He said it was hard to read. He said his son read it too. We talked about when Dan would want me to go pick up Mom - a five hour trip. He wasn't sure yet. We decided to wait until after the hospice visit the next day at one - to wait for their assessment.
On the way home, Phil said what he saw was real family there, and it was beautiful. All the barriers were gone. When Phil and I got home, via email, I sent my niece the name of the book, Final Gifts, since I now knew she would be open to it. The next morning I received an update from Dan by email. I spent the morning reading more of Final Gifts. Phil was on the web. At about 12:20 ish I went downstairs to see if Phil was ready for lunch. Phil was still on the web. We were talking while he finished up what he was doing. At precisely 12:25 we somehow lost our connection to the web. At 1:20ish I received a phone call from Dan. He said, "She's gone." She had died at 12:25.
When Dan called, hospice had just left. Dan told me that his sister, Louise, was bringing Mom up. So, thank God, I didn't have to. When they had left, Anita was still alive. We worried how this news would affect Mom. She's 86 with a bad heart. Turns out, a little before Anita died, she asked to see her momma. When Dan told Anita that Mom was on her way, a tear came to Anita's eye. In a few minutes she died peacefully at home the way she wanted to.
Phil and I went up immediately. It's an hour away. Anita's body was still on the couch. Since she was being cremated, they waited to have the funeral home come out until after Mom got there so Mom could say good-bye. Since Dan's sister had a cell phone, someone called and told her while she was en route that Anita had died. Dan's sister is a sweet loving person, who has had many losses. It was good Mom was with her.
Phil and I stayed at the house for some time. There was a lot of sadness, of course. We all did the things families do at times like this. The picture albums are out, phone calls are made. People took turns breaking down and being strong for each other, talking about Anita. Phil has never been around death. (I have been my whole life. My family and I are of pioneer stock, and my family members used to have big families. A myriad of my family members have died over the years, and my parents chose not to protect me from it.) In addition to it being sad for him, Phil was observing the interactions. He said he thought it interesting that it was the men who were the ones visibly breaking down. The women got tears in their eyes, but the men sobbed. Dan, of course, but also his son and his son-in-law. His son in-law lost both his mother and his father in the last year. In addition, people were teasing each other about any little thing, and there was some joking going on. That's how much of my family lessens the stress. My dad always said, "I wouldn't tease you, if I didn't love you, Sissy."
The house was going to be full last night with people sleeping on the floor, in the travel trailer, and stuffed into corners. Phil and I would have been welcome to stay, but we had no need to do so. The memorial service is to be held on Saturday the 25th . . . the day of the family reunion on my dad's side in another part of the state. The Red Cross arranged for Dan and Anita's grandson, who is in the Navy, to fly home for the service. God bless them.
Last night I was glad to be able to come home to recuperate. The energy drain is extensive when one goes to something like this to offer support and freely give love to those who need it, as well as, dealing with one's own loss. This week, I work on myself, so that when next Saturday arrives, I will have a full supply of love to give to my needy family.
I'm hurting, but at peace with it.
June 19, 2005
This morning I was reminded of a song I used to sing in Sunday school:
Help somebody today,
Somebody along life's way.
Let sorrow be ended,
the friendless befriended,
Oh help somebody today.
That's the point - isn't it?
June 21, 2005
My Sister's Shoes
Today, I wore my sister's shoes to the river. It was a warm day as my husband and I stood on the bridge overlooking the Umpqua River. He was fishing for salmon. I was fishing for peace. The morning clouds had gone. Only an occasional puffy one wandered across the sky.
It's been only two weeks since Anita gave me the shoes. She said they were too tight for her, would I like to have them. I found them by the front door - white canvas tenny runners with a few smudges of dirt on each one. I sat down near the couch where she was laying and slipped them on. Width-wise they were fine. They were a little too long, but as my husband tells me I have Barny Rubble feet. My toes rarely reach the ends of my shoes. I usually have to add stuffing if they are to fit just right. I showed them to Anita and thanked her.
We had never been able to wear each others clothes like sister often do. I was eight when she left home. After her babies she was never able to lose the weight. One time after one of her diets, when she gained some of the weight back, she offered me a yellow outfit that was now too small for her. I didn't wear that kind of thing, so I didn't take it. After the fact I knew that she was making a loving sisterly gesture and so wanted me to have it. Ever since I regretted not taking it. So not long before the visit two weeks ago, I decided that if she ever offered me any of her clothes again, I would take them.
So today, it was comforting wearing my sister's shoes, sitting on the bridge watching the river heading toward the sea.
June 22, 2005
I awoke this morning with an image in my mind.
I am standing on a precipice. The sky is before me, below me, above me. I feel a breeze unfurling my wings, wings I didn't know I had. I look around for the origin. It is not readily apparent. I feel a lift. Alone, frightened, unsure, exhilarated I glide into the vast ocean of sky. I know not where I will land, if I will land. And it is good, it is oh so good. For soon I learn that the breeze is a celestial one and wherever it is guiding me will always be good, even though it may not always seem so at the time.
June 24, 2005
This entire week, always in the back of my mind, sometimes in the foreground is Anita's impending memorial service. I really can't get on with the recovery until it is over.
I talked with Dan, he told me a little of what they planned for the service - a celebration. He and his kids designed it in a way so it won't be so sad.
Under it all I sense his desperation. I know something of the emotional turmoil he is headed into. The saddest thing for me is that I can't remove or dissolve his pain. It wouldn't be good if I could. It's his journey, his opportunity.
Tomorrow is a day to get through - the service, the reception, talking to people with our emotions raw and dealing with some whom we have unresolved conflicts, hoping none of it surfaces at the wrong time in the wrong way.
Even so, this has been a productive week for me. I've spent my mornings staring at nature, letting go. I've spent my afternoons painting a picture from a photograph of my husband taken during his young hunk years, and thinking of where my life is about to take me, where I am about to direct it to go.
As sad as it all is, it is, in fact, a beautiful time of growth. I look forward to the coming journey. I await the unfolding for the highest good, even if I do it at first with tears in my heart.
June 25, 2005
My husband, Phil, and I arrived at my sister and brother-in-laws house around 11 a.m. The service was scheduled for 2. The house was nearly ready for the guests that would arrive later. Mom and Dan were there along with my brother's son, Glenn and grandson, Cody. They'd driven from central California, a 12 hour drive, instead of taking Amtrak because it was running 2 hours late. Dan gave Phil and me a large framed picture of Anita, a copy of the one enhanced for the service. It was thoughtful of him. He had copies for other family members as well.
I had decided to flow with whatever happened. Emotions were largely concealed. I know that during this time, with the service pending, people often put on their facades so they can make it through - without breaking down, or whatever. Dan and Anita's oldest son, Rick, his wife and step-son arrived. We all drove over to the chapel. Betty and her husband, Ron, were waiting. Some of the flowers Dan had ordered had not been delivered. We had this problem when Mom's last husband died. A call corrected this error. Because of this, the florist gave Dan two free arrangements. The family arranged the flowers and the displays and set up the large picture of Anita in the vestibule along with a couple of collages of family pictures.
Dan learned that Anita still had not been cremated. It had been 8 days. This bothered him. This meant that the urn up front next to the flowers was empty.
Next, we went to Izzy's, a pizza place with a buffet, for lunch. Grandkids, great grandkids, Betty, Rick and their families joined us. I had been to Izzy's 2 months earlier when Anita and Dan took my friend Mary and I there for my birthday lunch. There were 18 of us, this time. It was a comfortable peaceful gathering.
Back at the chapel relatives and friends had started to arrive. Some of them I had not seen for ten years - last family reunion on my mom's side. It's always interesting to see who comes to this kind of thing and who doesn't. There was a reunion scheduled in another part of the state for the same day for Dad's side of the family. So some of those people didn't come, but some came to Anita's service instead. My dad's siblings are gone. Mom is the last one of her generation on her side. One of Mom's remaining sister-in-laws was too ill to come, the other had just had surgery. There was a lot of hugging. I am grateful to each one who came. There was a good crowd. I always think ahead of time - what if not very many people show up?
As people entered the chapel, Peter, Paul and Mary folk songs were playing in the background. Mom, Phil and I went up to the front to sit by Dan. He had opted not to sit in the family room. Soon he moved to the other side of the front of the chapel. Angus his 4-year-old grandson wanted to sit over there, Dan said. Soon others joined Dan.
The service began with the pastor talking of Anita's life, then opened it for others to speak. Rick, their son and a granddaughter, Jasmine, each read something that was important to Anita and her life. I hadn't known if I would have the control to say anything. But when it came time I went to the podium and spoke of being the little sister and a couple of memories. My voice was edged with light tears, but basically I did fine. Other cousins got up and spoke as well, including cousin Jill, whose laugh is infectious and whose open loving nature brings a lightness to every gathering. After the remembrances the pastor brought a message of Anita's faith and a service in keeping with that faith. When he was done he announced the next music - Puff the Magic Dragon. It seems as the grandchildren were growing up and accompanied Anita and Dan on their vacations, they would all sing about Puff.
I was sitting between Mom and Phil with family and ex-family all around. So many of us these days have ex-spouse and ex in-laws who still care. My second ex, Jeff, who has remained close to Dan and Anita, brought his wife and kids. This time there were no barbs in his statements to me, like there were at the last funeral. I was glad that Phil is now my husband. His loving support blesses my life. Mom did okay, taking it like she has the other losses in her life. She has strong faith. This carries her.
At the reception at Anita and Dan's house, we all visited, kids played in the yard. The weather was warm, pleasant. As I spoke to cousins and other family members and friends, learned where their lives had taken them and some of how they were feeling, I remembered family gatherings when we were young. Now on the edge of old age I was reaffirmed, within, for the choices I made. I was so glad that these choices, that sometimes the family disapproved of, led me to the place I am now, to the future I see opening before me. It gave me a lightness within the loss.
Anita - prior to the service I kept getting the words in my head - "Wear red so I can find you." Red has always been my color. It cheers me up. So I wore red - a red tee shirt and a red blazer with jeans. But it was warm, so I removed the blazer. My family wears jeans and tee shirts or whatever they are comfortable in to memorial services. For us it's better than getting all gussied up. Maybe it wasn't Anita speaking to me. Maybe it was. But whatever the case, it was Anita's day, and she was very loved.
June 27, 2005
Dan, my friend, Mary, and I kept a lunch date made a month ago when Anita had just gotten home from the hospital. We'd hoped she would be well enough to keep our monthly luncheon date by then. If she showed up, I was unable to see or hear her. I had thought Dan wouldn't be up to the lunch, but he suggested we keep it, and we went back to Skippers - his favorite seafood place. The four of us had lunch there numerous times. He bought us lunch, and we talked of whatever, each of us very aware that Anita wasn't with us, each of us not mentioning it. It went okay. Dan sent Mary and I home with flower arrangements from the service. He's resumed his morning walks. He's sleeping in his own bed again, since Mom has now gone home. She stayed with him for a week.
June 28, 2005
Today, as I painted I thought of it all - my sister's life, what she might be doing now - I mean, sitting around listening to harp music would get boring after a while, don't you think? I'm sure Anita is not bored. I'm sure she's doing fine and visiting everyone. But even though supposedly there is no time there, still, after a while, just hanging out with loved ones would get boring. Sitting around blissfully doesn't work either. She has a new beginning. And for her that is good. So do the rest of us, really, and it can be good. It is our choice. It's all about choices.
June 30, 2005
I was okay with the idea of living blissfully ever-after after my dad died - the hanging out idea. But after my boyfriend, Gary, died, I really got to wondering - what is he doing now...or now...or now. He was such an important part of my daily life, that I wanted to know. So I asked him. He communicated with my spiritual teacher, Elaine. She shared what he said with me. I had visions and dreams of him in places I'd never seen. Of course, there was no way to verify any of it. That's the way it is with everything, really.
I've studied a lot of religions. Each has it's own belief about what the soul goes through after the body dies. It's fascinating. What comforts me the most is what I learned from a little seagull who so loved to fly. In his story when we passed from this existence we went on to another one where we could learn and grow, and on to another and another and so on. It works for me. But I still want to know what my loved ones are doing now...and now...and now.
The fact that they no longer have to deal with the violence and fear on the planet comforts me. My dad, my sister, my grandparents, friends I've lost over the years, I'm so very grateful that they no longer have to deal with all this stuff.
And I'm glad I'm still here so I still have a chance to make a difference.
July 02, 2005
When Aunt Lottie died at age 97, it felt like one of my pillars was taken out from under me, and yet she is so a part of who I am.
July 04, 2005
Today I got an email from someone who says she's okay with death, that it's the agony of life that bothers her. So I began to think about this. Am I okay with death? To be honest no. But it's not fear of death that I'm talking about. And the agony of life...I'm better with that.
First the death thing. It's selfishness, I guess. When someone I care about is gone, I miss them. I miss what they represented in my life too. In the last few years a number of my parents' generation in my family have passed. With their passings, even though I may not have seen them for years, I became aware that I miss what they represented when I was a kid - a safe, kindly place to be. I miss the period when, at least in my world, things were more innocent. I miss the hardworking integrity of that generation, something that each subsequent generation seems to lack a little more than the last one. But mostly, I miss being able to go see someone if I want to. I think - they are now gone from this dimension, and this period of learning is over for them. It saddens me - for them. Yet, I know that's okay. I know they are okay. I know I am okay. But there's this void, the place that they used to occupy, and I don't like it.
As for the agony of life - there certainly are a lot of them. And in the middle of all the various agonies, life is very difficult, sometimes wrenching. But after each set of agonies I know I have grown. So for me these things are good.
Then there's the intellectualization of it all. As a writer I do that with everything. This is a good thing in that the process can be enlightening, mentally. But sometimes the over intellectualization of something makes me miss the point. Sitting with something and not thinking about it can be very good too.
July 08, 2005
Today is Betty, Anita's daughter's 45th birthday.
The whisper that comes softly, the feather touch, the breeze that caresses, the visions, the dreams with more "body" - there are so many ways our departed loved ones come to us, very real ways. As grief clears, the veil between us and our loved ones partially dissolves. It is so cool.
July 09, 2005
Phil had an experience with his grandmother who lived with his family. She acted as a tyrannical parent. He said once she was gone, he had to forgive her for all the horrible things she had done to him. After that, he was able to release his anxieties.
One day I was walking around my driveway - 8 times is a mile. I thought about my first husband Joe's grandparents, how much I loved them. I was sending love to them. They passed away more than 30 years ago. All at once a face appeared in my mind, the face of Loren, Joe's father. He'd been deceased for 15 years, and I hadn't seen his family for longer than that. Loren's face was sad, and he said, as a whisper in my mind, "Forgive me." I said, "For what? There's nothing to forgive." And he said in ways that were not words - For the things that I did to Joe when he was a child that caused your marriage to fail. Loren was an alchoholic and was sometimes violent with Joe. I said, "I forgive you." Loren smiled, and his face faded from my mind. It was beautiful.
People who pass on to the next level can still hear us. Even after they are gone, it is not too late to tell them we care, that we are sorry, that we forgive them. They can still hear and feel the love in our hearts.
July 12, 2005
The emptiness is here today for my sister, for my cat Fleggie who died last fall. Sometimes I wonder how one can be fine with something and not fine at the same time.
July 13, 2005
I have felt Anita off and on lately. The emptiness feeling can put up barriers. This has happened with others who passed, and as the grief lessened I was better able to feel their presence. When I needed the assurance most, I was standing in the way of it. Sometimes I've worried that maybe the person can now read my thoughts, and what if all of those thoughts aren't exactly diplomatic. I don't want to hurt anyone, especially not a loved one I care so much about. And yet...to grieve it would not be good for me to block those thoughts. All of them need to come out, so I can release them. But lately, even with those kinds of thoughts, I've known she is with me.
It has been my experience that no one can fill up that empty spot. No one can replace another. Each has a unique niche. It is both a blessing and a source of distress.
July 14, 2005
As a writer, or maybe I should say a participant-observer, my mind goes to lots of places, i.e. I entertain all kinds of possibilities, some of them valid, some of them off the wall, some verifiable, some impossible to verify on this level. So, I consider all the things I do and how all these will impact others wherever they are. Love is, love does, love heals, love never harms another soul in anyway...if it can avoid it...for the highest good.
July 16, 2005
He walks alone now.
He returned to the mall where he and Anita walked before she became too sick - morning walks before the stores opened. He walks with, yet not with, the others who also come to stave off infirmity. After the walks he stops for breakfast . . . so he won't have to cook. He did so much of that for her, for her special needs. He doesn't cook for himself much now. His former daughter-in-law, a gourmet cook, brings dinners and treats.
He returns to an empty house. He senses Anita with him. Tears touch his eyes when he talks about it. His pain is evident, but he does not display it. He is a man who has always kept this kind of thing to himself. His children and grandchildren invite him over, to help keep him busy, to show their love, to comfort themselves. But he is alone when he goes home.
He keeps the house very clean, because she did. He does many things because she did, because they did them together. His son stops by mornings sometimes to spend time with him, goes with him to seek out areas for the fall hunting season. His daughter and son-in-law search for property with him, so he can purchase land for a permanent camping site. Overcrowding is such a problem; it is hard to find a place these days. He and Anita and the family loved to camp - to enjoy nature and each other. Soon he, his daughter and son-in-law will take the trailer to the ocean and spend time beach combing, like Anita loved to do.
Yes, Dan walks alone now. And it is hard to see him in such pain.
July 17, 2005
When a loved one no longer has skin you can touch, the one who was part of your 24 hour day, when they are in another dimension, it feels like you are walking alone. The heaviness in the heart is close to unbearable. I see that in his eyes. And I remember how it was for me after Gary died...only Anita was part of Dan's life for so much longer.
May the Good Lord bless and keep him, and everyone who is now experiencing this kind of pain, and remind him/them that the relief of time is on it's way.
July 17, 2005
Anita died a month ago today. I remember after Gary died, for years I was aware of the day he died on the monthly-versary of that day and the exact time, what I was thinking and feeling. At first it was very intense. Although Gary and I were not married, at the time we were both burned out on marriage. It was something neither of us wanted. However, we were just as committed to each other as if we had been. So I sent Dan an e-card. It seems so inadequate. But I know this is part of his growth. Loss is all about growth for the ones who remain behind.
July 18, 2005
One makes it through this kind of thing, a day, a minute, an hour at a time. Ten minutes can seem like an eternity, because the person is not there, in the physical sense. I sat and cried a lot after Gary died. I moped a lot. I walked until I was so tired I barely had enough energy to get back home. I re-examined my spiritual beliefs. I talked aloud to God, and all my words weren't nice. I nearly killed myself. Most of my friends pulled away. I read books on the subject of loss. I went to a support group offered by a woman, Kelly Osmond, MSW, who lost her son when he was twenty. She and I had the same prof in college. He told me about a book she had written about the loss of her son and her group. I made friends at the group with those who were going through intense losses of their own, though none of them were their lifemates. It took a long time for me to be okay.
Basically, I can say it was hell, but it helped me grow into a kinder more loving, more compassionate person, a person who is open to spiriutal possiblities I considered implausible before his death. For all this I am grateful. I love who I am now...even though I still have a lot to learn.
July 19, 2005
There is a benefit to this form of hell. Otherwise it would be totally unacceptable.
Sometimes I wonder if I hold onto the grief longer than I need to out of loyalty to the one(s) I have lost. Sometimes if I catch myself not thinking about them, I bring thoughts of them back, which, of course, reinforces the loss and the heartache. There are so many variations, so many paths for so many reasons, some of them known to us, some of them not, that grief can take.
July 21, 2005
Seeing someone in a casket used to bother me. I remember when my grandmother died at age 69. I was 16. At the funeral I remember her sister, Lola, touching Grandma's hand, saying, "Oh, Mabel, Mabel." Aunt Lola had tears in her eyes. That was 40 years ago. I've been to so many funerals of close loved ones since. I was with Gary when he took his last breath. Later at the funeral home I needed to be alone with him in the viewing room. I needed to slip my hand inside his shirt and touch his skin, to feel the surgery incision. I needed to infuse this into my mind so I could accept that he was dead, really dead.
I was there an hour after my sister died. She was just laying there on the couch, her mouth hanging open. I took her hand, to infuse the death into me. Even so, it was different, but I realized this is how it used to be when there was a death. People came to the family home and viewed the body. I still see her in my mind, it will probably always be with me, but it seems natural to me now. I'm not haunted by it.
I think being with Gary at the end and working all that through changed things dramatically for me. That change is a good one. With the gravesite - Gary was buried in a military cemetery. It was free. After his death I went and sat with him several times. But he wasn't there. It didn't comfort me to be there nor did it bother me. I could as easily talk to him anywhere else.
Maybe the acceptance of the gravesite thing is because my father's family has a family cemetery. The first funerals and burials I attended were at the family cemetery. It was just a small place, no fancy markers. But the last physical remnants of their earthly lives seemed to belong there. My father was not buried there. This does not bother me either. He does not live in a box in the ground. He is free and happy.
I think this culture has changed so much in so many ways so very quickly that we now miss the belonging - that we are part of our ancestors in this way too.
What I learned from a raccoon.
Today the old raccoon, Missy, came again to the back door. When we first met her years ago, she was old, tired-looking, a piece of her ear and part of her tail was missing. At the time she was the matriarch. Now, no longer the reigning matriarch, she watches nervously for another raccoon, the one who must have defeated her sometime during the winter. After raccoons attacked our old cat, Fleggy, last fall we stopped feeding them. Missy was not part of the attack force. She and Fleggy got along, respected each other's ways, each other's space. Still to stop the group of over eighteen from coming around and threatening all three of our kitties, we had to stop feeding them. Unfortunately neighbors shoot raccoons around here for robbing chicken houses. When Missy showed up this spring, she looked elderly, no longer agile. Even more of her tail was missing, and she wore the defeat of age. This year for the first time she has no litter. Only last year she was vigilant, watchful, in charge.
This morning my husband, Phil, said, "I think this will be Missy's last year."
I said, "She probably won't make it through the winter."
"She may not even make it through the summer," he said.
Always while she eats now I sit watch for her. Perched in an easy chair back next to the sliding glass door I comb the deck and the hillside to make sure no one comes and attacks her for the food. These days there are only two other adult raccoons who show up. One has three kits, the other has one. Usually after Missy eats she hobbles to her favorite spot behind a small stump next to some ferns, cleans herself and sleeps for a while. Today she curled up on the ramp to the deck, nestling her nose to her feet and tail. Two times she roused herself and ate again, cleaned herself and went back to the ramp to sleep. Eventually she climbed under the deck and wandered away.
Missy's movements have slowed. She is obviously achy. Life is difficult for her now. I thought of how she resembles my 86-year-old mother. My husband and I shop for her food. We and some lovely people from Mom's church clean house for Mom. She sits most days and watches television - whatever is on. Her arthritis hurts too bad for her to do anything else, even with pain killers. The difference between Mom and Missy is that Missy has no pain medication. She does not have a safe place to be. One day soon she will wander off and die, or she will snuggle into her den, go to sleep and not wake up or be attack by another animal and die as a result.
It reminds me of how hard it is for so many on this planet. The reality, of this place we've come to learn and grow, is that life for all living beings is difficult. For me Missy has become a case in point on how important extending kindness is/will be as the population continues to soar and the competition for resources escalates. Instead of fighting each other, instead of yelling at others on the freeway, instead of rushing to get the last parking place, instead of saying mine, mine, mine, it's important we learn that what happens to one happens to us all. As we reach up and learn the meaning of kindness and extend it - we become. And when death comes, as it did for my sister, as it has for our mothers, our fathers, our lifemates, our children, it becomes a transition into beauty and freedom.
July 25, 2005
There is a need to move on from sources and places of pain. Those who have hurt us need not have power over us anymore. I once allowed those things and persons who had caused me pain and despair to control me. And finally, I thought, I'm tired of feeling like this. I'm sick of being miserable. I can spend the rest of my life being miserable, or I can find ways to climb out of the toilet I'm living in. Yes, it is as simple as that - simple but not necessarily easy.
During my search for ways out of my toilet I explored many theologies. In each I studied, there was validity, underlying truths, beauty. The followers, of Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, Mohamed and so many other wise ones, have found what they need in these men's teachings. There's a wonderful book by Huston Smith, The World's Religions. It is very enlightening. He brings respect and honor to the subject. His parents were Methodist missionaries. Each seeker finds enlightenment in the ways that are right for her/his heart.
There is oh so much validity in the words of a writer called Shakespeare - This above all: to thine own self be true.
There is beauty in each of us already, waiting for us to acknowledge it. It is unnecessary to look to anyone else. The answers we seek are not in the mountains; they are not in the desert; they are not at the ocean; they are not in a building. We are each connected to All-That-Is - the essence of the Universe - what some call God. There are so many paths winding their way to this place that is not a place at all. It is within. To look externally is to miss a profound blessing. All that we need is available to us right here, right now in a way/ways that are right for each of us. My way doesn't have to be the same as your way, for it to be right for me. Your way doesn't have to be the same as my way, for it to be right for you. Respecting, allowing for the difference, is the key to peace. It has always been so. My sister had the right to choose her own way of dying, and we have the right to choose our own way of living. This is a wonderful thing.
July 29, 2005
Today, I took Mom for her quarterly visit to the doctor. I made sure my sister's name had been removed from the person to contact in case of emergency list. I didn't want Dan to receive a call asking for Anita and have it hit him hard. Then I took Mom grocery shopping or rather I shopped for her at Walmart, while she sat in the McDonalds part of it. Walking very far is too difficult for her now. Back at Mom's house Phil was housecleaning and setting up Mom's new computer in hopes that she can develop Internet skills, and this will take her mind off of her pain and improve her memory. She had said she wanted a computer and wanted to surf the Net. She told me this repeatedly. So when we got back to the house, he gave her lessons. She wasn't much interested. Phil had spent 3 days preparing the computer so it would be simple for her to use. It was frustrating for both Phil and me.
Basically the day was an affirmation that neither my sister nor my brother is available to help with Mom. Not a problem except for the things that have always irritated me about my mother - her learned incompetence as a form of manipulation is always there. And it bugs me. I love her, but . . . That's how I'm feeling today.
August 01, 2005
Dan dropped by today for the first time since Anita died. I think it's been over a year since the two of them were here - she'd been too sick to visit. Him and his kids and their spouses had gone early this morning to the river, not far from here.
So Phil, Dan and I sat in the living room and talked. We didn't mention Anita. Even though I've had training on how to talk to people about this kind of thing, training is irrelevant at times. It's kind of go by what feels right. So we talked of Mom and caring for her and my frustrations, and about what Dan has been doing. I showed him my latest painting of Phil and a variety of other things. Phil and I are both glad he is getting out and doing things. He is taking his travel trailer to the beach this week for the first time without Anita. His daughter and son-in-law will join him for the day. One of his granddaughters will be there for a weekend. But other than that he will be alone.
It still seems so odd that Anita's dead. Odd is the operative word. One can think these things over and over, and I know in time it sets in. But there it is. Odd.
The reality of our world was different for Anita in some ways, I think. She accepted it. But her way of seeing things was old school, as a teenager during the 50s. So in many ways I am glad she doesn't have to be here with all the violence and unrest.
She is in a loving place now. I'm pleased for her. And Dan will make it somehow...like we all do when we experience loss. Love of others helps.
August 02, 2005
Mostly I'm okay. I feel so bad for Dan. For me it's a matter of how my world has changed, not that I can't stand the pain. It's the honor and integrity a whole generation represented, that is being lost. My sister was not of that generation, but she held on to some of its basic tenets. In the last 5 years so many of my parents generations have died.
Once we can get Mom onto the Net it should help. First we have to make her computer-literate. The other day we were showing her how she had to hold the mouse for it to work right. She just didn't get it. The next time we go down, there will be more basic lessons. She had my old computer years ago, but she's forgotten everything she knew. Part of it is mild dementia. Part of it is selective, convenient amnesia. It's my job to distinguish the difference. If I do everything for her, it will make her less able to do for herself. She does not want to live with me. She does not want to go into a home. My goal is to keep her at home as long as I can. She was a good mother to me. I love her. I will make sure her needs are met as best I can.
Dan is alone with the pain. I remember how it was...but for him the time he spent with Anita was his entire adult life. He has to learn how to be alone and be okay with it. I think that's the worst of it for me, knowing there's so little I can do to help him. I can't wave a wand and make him all better. The thing is, I've always wanted to fix everybody. And I just can't. That's part of my frustration - part of what I have to learn.
When there are losses like this with my family and loved ones, it brings the world situation front and center. I think about the people who are out there killing people on purpose, causing others to experience this kind of loss and pain on purpose. It reinforces the reason for my life - to promote kindness and peace.
August 13, 2005
Dan and the Bear
For the first time Dan took his travel trailer to his and Anita's favorite camping site at the beach. He spent his time walking next to the water, 5-6 miles a day, laying on his belly in the sand, gathering agates, making peace with the place the two of them had loved so much. On the weekend his granddaughter, Jasmine, and her two small children joined them.
One day he was walking on a trail. Suddenly 50 feet in front of him was an adult black bear on all fours. He looked at the bear, and the bear looked at him. Dan assessed the situation, looking around for cubs - nothing like an angry momma bear. He didn't spot one. Thinking the bear needed the trail more than he did, he did not panic, he just backed away and took another route.
On the trail of his life with Anita, Dan found a bear on the trail. He did not panic. He considered the situation and did what he could. When he realized Anita needed the trail ahead, unable to walk forward with her, he took another route. He is surviving. God bless him.
August 15, 2005
When I was sixteen a girlfriend, Denise, died suddenly in a diabetic coma. No one knew she was diabetic. 3 people besides her grandparents came to the graveside service. I was one of them. Denise was probably the sweetest person I've ever met. Yet, her father had beaten her. That's why she was staying with her grandparents. She had had polio, so one arm just hung. She taught me about smiles. She had a wonderful smile. The world was a lesser place without her.
I've been seeing my sister's face in my mind, not of her in her older years, but when she was a teenager. Her freckle-face smile, her wavy auburn hair with the pageboy haircut and short bangs. I've been thinking I will never get to take her to Nashville and the Grand Old Opry like I wanted to do when my books become bestsellers. She so wanted to go someday. And I've been thinking that she and I will never be little old ladies together. I will probably live to be very old. A lot of people in my family do. I may have 30 to 40 years without her. My aunt Lottie lived 40 years without her older sister, Mabel, my grandmother. Aunt Lottie took far better care of herself on all kinds of levels. But that meant she lived all those years without her older sister.
There is so much to learn on the many facets of this gem we call death. I think about how much each person teaches another with their life and their death. We teach each other, even when that was not our conscious intent. And I love learning it, I do. It makes me a nicer person. And in the long run, I so like what I have learned/am learning and who I have become. But I hate it, too, not hate in the sense that there is anyone or thing to despise, but hate in the sense of, I sure don't like the pain and the loss and the rearrangement of my life.
So how am I really? The loss is there, and it is more fodder for the writer in me. All in all, it is a good thing - which is what it was design to be or so it seems to me.
August 15, 2005
About being real and people being in roles and hiding behind masks - when my brother murdered his neighbors I realized I had no energy to maintain a mask. I was just who I was and if somebody didn't like me, they could go somewhere else. I realized that so much time is wasted, when we are responding to what someone wants us to think, rather than what is real. No wonder we have difficulties fixing things or ourselves. Life based on lies doesn't work very well.
September 21, 2005
I find myself in a stage of licking my wounds. Not that the pain is bad or anything. I'm not in the mood to contact my family unless I have to - I will provide for Mom, though. I just want to sit with my own adjustment. To do otherwise at this time makes me feel annoyed, even though just to say that makes me feel selfish. But I'm being honest. This is about honesty for me.
It seems impossible for me to hibernate with Mom needing me, and my concerns for Dan. But I know it's necessary to do it as best I can.
Mom is doing okay. Her take on death seems to be one of acceptance. She misses my sister, but when I ask her how she's doing with it, she seems to be okay. I have noticed though that she seems to be letting go of life more. I think that's why she no longer wanted the computer we got for her. I think she's winding down getting ready to die. She will be 87 next month, so it's a reasonable thing to do.
November 03, 2005
Don't tell me I don't understand.
"Nobody understands, unless they've been through it," he said. He still wore the look of devastation at times. But he smiled now and laughed and talked about the new woman in his life.
"That's right," I said,"No one does understand exactly what you've been through."
"But Rosey does. She understands completely," he said.
"I'm sure she does," I said, guardedly, remembering what he had told me about her - that her husband took three years to die of Leukemia.
After the conversation I felt more alone with all my losses, all my grief. He hadn't a clue how hard they had all been for me, especially after Gary died. My sister and mother had come and spent the night. Dan, Anita and Mom had attended the funeral. I spent three weeks with Mom.
Although I had only known Gary two and a half years, my devastation was complete. Sure, I hadn't lived with him for nearly fifty years, but I had had two failed marriages, a history of relationships and life in general not working out. I had no children on purpose. I've always felt that people who don't want children are doing them a disservice if they have them. My friends rarely called after Gary's death - it was like they were afraid death was catching. Mom knew I was in agony, like she had been after Dad died. One friend was available if I needed to call. She almost never called me. I needed her to call every day, sometimes several times a day. She didn't.
It was after I almost walked myself into the fast moving water of the Clackamas River three months after Gary died, that I decided I had to force myself to get more help - even though at the time I was seeing a counselor. I found a grief support class. There, I met people who knew what it was like. Maryanna, 52, had lost her mother - the one person she could depend on in her life. Michelle, 31, had lost her teenage sister - to suicide. We befriended each other. One man had lost his baby - his wife was busy with the new twins, so he felt alone with his loss of the toddler who suddenly died of SIDS. There were a dozen others with their own unique stories. We shared our stories and cried together. Each of our losses was different, yet the same.
So when Dan said, "No one understands . . . But Rosey does," I knew it was ignorance speaking.
No one can know the depth of anyone else's loss. No one can know, no matter what kind of relationship has been lost, how it affects another. It's almost like sometimes people need to think that what they are experiencing is far worse than someone else's loss, to justify their feelings of isolation. Feelings of isolation are a natural part of the grieving process. I forgive him for not understanding my losses, my needs, but it hurt, a lot.
So please don't say or imply to anyone, ever, that they don't understand. That's like the statement a teenager makes, who thinks their parents have never been young. I may not know what it feels like exactly for you in your circumstances. But I know loss - the kind that strips away all hope. That's why I write my stories - to help others, who reach the bottom, know that there is a way out of the pit. You can learn to be happy again. As you sit alone in your grief, I want you to know that I care - whoever you are.
November 09, 2005
The best I can figure out is those of us who remain, who survive the storms of insurmountable loss are here to learn, to grow, to become and to bless with our presence. Why me Lord? How many times have we asked ourselves that? How much can I take, Lord? Like Popeye always said, "I've had all I can stand and I can't stands no more." And yet it keeps coming. To live, to agree to live now, is to experience loss. To learn, to love, to become all that we can be, means to be immersed in pain at least some of the time. How can we ever expect to understand the needs of others, how can we ever hope to be of help to other hemorrhaging hearts, if we haven't gone through it in someway ourselves.
My mother-in-law, Elizabeth, was in a concentration camp in WWII. Her husband was in Hilter's army, although they lived in Yugoslavia. Many in her family were killed. She escaped the camp all by herself, carrying her daughter who was one month old. She depended on the kindness of strangers - her supposed enemies. She stopped at farmhouses and spent the night with these people. When she and the baby made it back home, her home had been destroyed. She temporarily had to leave the baby with the nuns in a nearby convent, so she could work. When the war was over Elizabeth, her daughter and a son, the person who became my husband, moved to this country to start a new life. After all her losses, her husband took up with another woman. Not speaking English, she got a job in a factory that made zippers. Her mother, who came with her, told Elizabeth constantly that she was worthless. The mother asked her why she, a mere woman had survived, when her brother had died. Her mother told Elizabeth, that it would have been better if she had died. Even so, Elizabeth continued to live with this mother; there were few economic choices at the time. She rose to a position of power in the zipper company. She met a man she loved who loved her. When circumstances finally allowed them to marry, he died suddenly of pancreatic cancer. Elizabeth is now 85. She was a loving mother to my husband. She taught him to respect women. She taught him so many good things...because from her hardships and heartaches, she learned.
As we walk this painful life, we have a choice to become all we are capable of becoming and to develop the highest way of being - to become love.
November 11, 2005
The hole in the heart can be enormous. I've felt the ache, the sorrow. I know of its depths. I know of its despair. When you are grieving, each day, do you feel that you can hardly get out of bed? Do you feel that the house is sitting on your chest, and you can hardly breathe? Do you feel that it’s impossible to get through the day? Do you feel like nothing will ever be all right again? I've experienced all those things. It seemed I would never get passed them. It took me a long time, because even though I had tried to heal from my losses, each one as it came along, still the effects were cumulative.
After my sweetheart Gary died, I again asked God, what more do you want me to do? How can I do this? I had no strength left, and even though I know God is always with us, that we are all part of the whole, still God did not have skin I could touch. I knew despair deeper than I ever thought possible. So I walked - a lot. I'd walk until I was exhausted, then I would turn around and walk home. I did this so I would be tired enough to sleep, so I would be so tired I wouldn't care if I was miserable.
I examined all my beliefs, as I had each time tragedy hit. But this time I explored areas I had not explored before. I learned of the ways those of other faiths found their paths to God. I read and read. I went to workshops. After a few months I returned to the story I was writing about my brother.
I took one minute, ten minutes, one hour, one day, one week, one month, one minute, ten minutes - at a time. It was so difficult I never thought I'd get through it. Relief didn't come all at once. I didn't just pray for peace and have it suddenly show up. It came in little bits. It came as I learned to quiet my mind and stare at nature. It came as I dedicated myself to what I was born to do - as I learned more about who I was and additional things I was born to do.
I am okay now, even though I have had other losses. They all leave a hole, but I am able to reclaim the peace more quickly than before. I am more determined than ever that all the pain I went through will not be for nothing. I use this pain as the stepping stool it was intended to be.
Each person has to find her/his own unique way through the cesspool of pain. There is a path or a series of paths that are right for each of us. We will find them, if we seek and do not give up.
There's a quote by Paul Harvey that one of my friends paraphrased to me. She couldn’t remember it exactly. It's taped to the front of my computer so I can see it as I write my stories every day. It goes like this:
"Never, never, never give up, for in the next second things could change in a way that will improve your whole life."
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