Shining lights

My sister died on December 31, 2010 although the doctor’s report says she was pronounced dead on January 1, 2011. It’s just that there wasn’t a neurologist at the Cardiac ICU that night; he got there the next morning. I watched him run through his tests for signs of life in my sister and I could see there weren’t any. He said there was no choice that she had to be taken off of all the machines because she was dead. The respirator was moving lungs that did not breathe.

Sometimes death comes quietly and sometimes horrifically. My sister actually fell asleep and didn’t wake up, it was peaceful for her. Waiting for and watching the doctor proclaim her dead, was horrific and unreal for me.

My sister is gone and it is still unreal. I keep thinking she’s here because it makes no sense for her to not be.

I can’t really imagine how her 12-year-old son feels.

When my parents died, it was unreal and I didn’t want it to be so, but they were older and I knew they’d die ahead of me. Not so with a sibling. So, I can’t imagine what my nephew is going through.

I sometimes feel like I will throw up. I sometimes feel as if I will start to cry and never stop. I sometimes feel as though I will faint. I sometimes want to scream at the top of my lungs. And, I wanted to be mad at someone; I want it to be someone’s fault.

At what I call the “wake” and they called the “visitation,” maybe it’s a Southern thing, I went up to my nephew who had been in a receiving line for about an hour, to see how he was holding up. I gave him a hug and asked him how he was doing. He sort of shrugged and then he said, “A million of these hugs equal one of hers.” I was awed. He was comforted himself on probably, and hopefully, the worse day of his own life. And his one little sentence was so uplifting to me. I said to myself I must remember this.

When he was complaining about my siblings and not wanting them to participate in this good-bye ritual, I said, “How ‘bout some forgiveness? They have lost their sister and they are devastated.”

My nephew said, “Well, maybe I don’t know because I don’t have any brothers or sisters.”

I keep thinking he is the last of my sister I’ll ever get to experience while I’m living. I don’t want to miss out on having the last of her with me. And, I don’t know how he came out so amazing, insightful, and kind. I just hope that he never loses that better part of himself – whether or not it is rooted in my sister or not.

I have studied and worked on changing my basic character for over 9 years now – in order to stay sober and to help other people do so too. I often fall back into my defects. I, then, have to start again and pray for the Will of God to be shown to me and for the Grace of God for me to embrace that will. I still have such a long way to go and I will never be done.

Yet, my nephew is the person I want to be just by birth and innocence.

I want to love and respect that forever, not only for my own growth and because he is so special to me, but also because, without him, my sister’s death would be beyond my ability to continue living. I don’t have any excuse to be that selfish; it’s just that my grief is so overwhelming at times. But I have so many reasons to live on and try to change and make a better life for me and others.

And, my nephew needs to be at the top of that list of reasons. He has so much to teach me yet.

Orphans and Strangers

How hard it has been to call my siblings and have them say “Happy New Year” when I’m calling to let them know that my sister – their sister – died on January 1, 2011. My brother-in-law asked me to be the liaison with my siblings for the entire process of my sister’s death and funeral.

It’s almost as hard to know what to write in this posting but I have the need to write; and, it’s been a longer time than I intended since my last post.

Orphans and strangers. That is what came to mind this morning as I contemplated my birth family. I am fortunate now – at soon to be 50 years of age, single with no children – to have another source of family, and by that I mean, the friends I have shared my healing and recovery with for almost 16  years now. I also have my best friend who is a writer and has her own children and family she shares with me.

My parents had seven children and I’m the youngest. I have four brothers and two sisters. Now, only one sister who is still living. And, it seems to me that each of us, with our seven different experiences of reality, have always felt like orphans. Like we have stood alone and survived of our own sustenance. As a family, our interactions seemed to always be power struggles or maneuvers for “more” attention. This caused some of us to talk rapidly and loudly; and,I think I dealt with it by being quiet, invisible, and disconnected. Our interactions also resulted in retaliation upon retaliation; old hurts never forgotten; twisted motives and misunderstood meanings; feelings of neglect and being ostracized; and desperate acts of grabbing for “more” of what little there really was.

It is very heavy and disabling to carry this kind of perspective through life. I have had a warped view of the world, myself, and my place in it.

I cannot forget, however, the times that we sat playing card games or “Clue” or “Monopoly” together after having been out playing in the Ohio snow or skating on a frozen pond in our neighborhood in Virginia. Or that I shared a bedroom with my two sisters for the first 6 years of my life. In subsequent houses, when I had a room all to myself, I always longed to be back with my two sisters sharing a bedroom.

Home from a business trip to San Francisco, my father brought my sisters each a charm bracelet, one gold, one silver, and he gave me a small box of crayons in a leather pouch. I didn’t understand why I didn’t get the same gift as my sisters. I was 3 and they were 9 and 10. The gifts were age-appropriate, I understand that now, but at the time I felt a terrible longing to be like them and to be included in everything.

While we still lived in Ohio, my sisters were members in the Campfire Girls, which was similar to the Girl Scouts. When we moved to Virginia, that community only had Girl Scouts. I was so disappointed and never really got “into” being in the Girl Scouts. I continued to focus on wanting to be what they were and not understanding why things had to be so different for me. This gave my childish perspective more proof of my superfluous position; my obsessive vision of being a diminished member of my family.

Always deep within me was my longing to be with my sisters, to be a part of my own family.

Among the family wreckage, there were good moments, loving gestures that cannot be denied. Maybe they were too fleeting. My recovery has helped me remember the good moments, which I had perhaps forgotten or not honored. My lost sister used to call me “Mushes” and the sister I still have, used to call me “Pumpkin Seed.” I never want to forget either nickname or how loved and included it made me feel. Still makes me feel.

Unfortunately, of course, there are all those hurtful things I said and did that I would take back, that are suddenly made trivial, unimportant, or childish the instant I realized my sister was truly gone. Now, I see how important time with her was and that loving someone is the greatest gift I can experience; as well as the gift of  becoming aware of, unexpectedly and painfully, how deeply I loved my sister and still love all of my siblings.

There are places my heart can’t go right now, or else it will break apart. I will go there after my sister is laid to rest.

Afterwards, I will allow myself to reflect and feel what I need to feel and say good-bye to my sister Ro-Ro. Which was my nickname for my beloved sister Rosanne.

Father’s Day

Had he lived longer, my Dad would have been 85 years old tomorrow. Happy Birthday, Dad.

He died in 2004.

Before 2004, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to lose my parents. By December 14, 2005, I’d lost both my Mother and my Father.

Obviously, we all lose our parents, hopefully before they lose their children.

My Dad was very charming; he love to golf with his fellow Government employee retirees – men he had work with for over 35 years. He loved “Jeopardy.” He liked baseball. (My Mom loved baseball.) He liked it when I’d come over on his birthday and carve their pumpkin’s face for Halloween. He like babies, he did not like teenagers. He liked the movies of his generation and he like PBS – Mysteries, “A Fine Romance,” etc. Unfathomably, he liked to watch reruns of the Lawerence Welk show. He had the same job for almost his entire adult life until he retired, a bit early, because President Reagan made it hard for him and his fellows to save the environment. After he retired, he sent money to every environmental group in this country.

I only found that out when he offered me one of 20 calendars he got annually.

He liked to listen to Frank Sinatra sing. He got me interested recordings of old mystery radio shows, he bought me a subscription to Ellery Queen magazine, and he gave me books to read like Woody Allen’s “Without Feathers.”

He called me when there was something on television he thought I’d be interested in. One night he called about 9:45pm to say there was a show about the comedy team of Elaine May and Mike Nichols on PBS. I got to watch the last 15 minutes. He knewed I’d be interested because I had worked for Elaine May when I lived in New York City in 1985.  But, I don’t know why he waited until the show was almost over to call me. He was kind of like that.

There’s another side to him to, but I will limit anything I write about him today to the things that make me missed him everyday since he died. I spent the next year almost calling him on the phone when there was something he’d like on television or just to talk about stuff. When I got laid off from my job last January 2009, I wanted to tell him even though I knew his first response would have been “what did you do?” and his second response would be to ask me if I needed any money.

He didn’t believe in God – he took my Mom to church every Sunday, but when I asked him, he said he didn’t believe.

My Mom, my sister, my niece, and I were by his hospital bed as he passed away from us. I said, “Thank you. We’ll be ok. I love you.”

Wish I could talk to him.

Happy Birthday tomorrow, Dad…you are still loved and thought of often.