I hesitated when I thought about sharing my feelings on today’s topic, but, then I realized (like so many other life issues) that I’m not the ONLY one here at the No Kill Shelter to struggle with it, and, maybe by sharing our thoughts, and our feelings, we all will heal a little more, it might make us stronger.
Today is the 39th anniversary of the accident that stole my younger sister, she was my best friend, my best buddy, and my Monopoly adversary. It breaks my heart that she hadn’t even turned 21. She had two little boys; one, a newborn, survived the accident, but her 3-year old did not. My father, who was driving, did not survive either. (Funny, but at the time, I believed that 48 years old was close to being ANCIENT! Now, my son, at 41, is SO YOUNG!)
Our family had faced many heartaches in the 10 years prior to the accident. One of my uncles had been accidentally (as opposed to purposely, I suppose) electrocuted while doing some repairs, and the woman I called “mom” had died of a cerebral hemorrhage during dinner while we were on a family cruise. My sister and I stood there and watched as the doctors valiantly attempted to save her life. Even with today’s technology, there isn’t much hope when the brain begins to bleed and/or swell. I’m glad that I had no clue that in less than two years, I would be back to that same cemetery, laying my dear Gramma to rest just two plots behind my sister…followed by my grandfather three years after Gramma. The funeral pushed me close to my breaking point. At no point in my life had I ever felt as alone and abandoned as I did then. My only thought, every time I quit picking at my own fingernails and looked up, was WHY?” I stared at those three caskets, trying to understand “Why” “Why?” “WHY?” of course, there was no answer to be had…and, of course, I blamed “God”.
I barely remember that New Year…and I certainly wasn’t celebrating with the rest of the world. It is interesting just how integral some sort of “celebration” is to the New Year. It seems that we cannot “end” one year and “begin” the next without a ceremony or ritual of some sort, even if the only thing you do is watch a little of the celebration on TV and then retire early. Because I was so wrapped up in my grief, I didn’t acknowledge the year end in any way, so stayed confused about “what year is it?” for a VERY long time. I seem to have blocked the funeral from my memory. What little I do remember is that my nephew’s Sunday school class sang “Jesus Loves the Little Children”, and that everything was grey. The sky was grey, the snow was grey, the caskets were grey, even the few leaves that tenaciously clung to a few (grey) trees were grey. And it was cold. How appropriate that the sun was hidden, the trees were bare, everything covered with snow, and everything drained of color. I did not understand how a “loving God” could do this to me….If He was so loving, the least He could do is strike me dead too…so that I wouldn’t have to face the world alone…
Perhaps the best thing for me, psychologically, was that I did not live in the Mid-West near my Dad & sister…I lived in the Florida Panhandle. Eventually, I would leave the Land of Grey and go home, where everything was “colorful”. But, before I went home, I made one last trip to the cemetery. I needed to “talk” to my sister. I apologized for “tattling” on her, I apologized for “being mean”, I apologized for cheating in Monopoly…I confessed things she didn’t know, and would never have discovered! I told her that I didn’t know how to face the future without her. I told her how unfair life was…and Then, I promised her that “I would do my best to live life full enough for BOTH of us.” I swore that I would “live large”, that I wouldn’t do anything “half-way” and I would “take her with me” in every new adventure.
Even after all these years, I still haven’t figured out “God’s reasons”…but that accident and the results were a huge “fork in the road” of my life. In retrospect, my life is tremendously different than what it WOULD have ever been otherwise. I’ve discovered the axiom “you aren’t a true adult until you lose your parents” is true. Only when you realize that there is no one to “save you” are you REALLY self-sufficient. Only when you take on the mantle of “Matriarch” do you achieve true and complete self actualization. Now, I KNOW that the LAST thing you would EVER consider is “moving back into Mom’s basement”….but, it IS there…it iS a LAST RESORT. It is your “Ace in the Hole”. A change occurs when YOU become “The Last Resort”…when the only person that stands between you and living under a bridge is YOU, you become a different person. Gone are the mornings of hitting that “snooze” button just one more time, gone are the thoughts of buying that cute pair of earrings with a portion of the grocery money (saying “well, I’ll just have dinner with Mom a few nights this week”, gone are the days of calling Dad to work his “magic” on the clothes washer when the water pump stops working, or calling Dad to come fish your wedding ring out of the pipe under the bathroom sink. (Worst of all was not being able to call my sister with the million things I USED to call her about; from the baby’s fever, to the crazy person at Piggly-Wiggly, to things I couldn’t even ask my doctor about! Even now, 39 years later, I occasionally have one of those thoughts-“I bet my sister would laugh at peopleofwalmart.com!”)
Now that I am in my 60’s….and I’m watching my friend’s and cousin’s family issues…I see how fortunate I am. I’m SO thankful that my father and my dear sister did not suffer. The accident was fast, their deaths immediate. My dad didn’t even have time to put his foot on the brake. The accident was measured in nano-seconds, not months or years. I am thankful that they were spared enduring pain or suffering. Last year, my dear husband watched his mother suffer through several months of assorted illnesses, watched her “lose ground” with each episode… She refused to eat. She had 95 years of excellent health and the illnesses were very difficult for her. So, one day, she just decided that she was “tired of living”. Once she made her decision, there was no point in trying to dissuade her…so, she quit eating…after about a week, she fell into a coma, and then just “never woke up”. (I wish us all to have full lives like she did. To have 95 years with virtually no health problems, then to die quietly in our sleep! She raised two wonderful children, had two grandchildren and a great grandson. Her husband left her enough money so that she never lacked for anything at all!). (Actually, with all that she had, I was surprised at what a miserable person she was, which proves that money and things do NOT make you happy!)
My Dearest Sister/Cousin has been watching her father slowly lose himself to Alzheimer’s and chronic heart disease. Not only does he not know his wife’s name most of the time, but I’ve lost count of the number of heart attacks he has survived. He and his wife celebrated 63 years of marriage recently, but, sadly, he wasn’t really “there” for the celebration. Every winter, for the last 5-6 years, I’m told “this is probably Dad’s last Christmas”…tragically, what I used to hear in those words was sadness…but now, I believe I’m hearing a prayer; his heart attacks are very painful, the Alzheimer’s stealing his brain’s ability to remember how everything; from the names of his children to remembering how to swallow, how to breathe, how to walk…. his illness is causing great emotional pain within the family. Another cousin, Dave, who was only a few months younger than I, lost his battle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease this summer. He and his family suffered as the disease stole a little portion of him each day.
As tragic and as unexpected as the accident was, I’m very grateful that my dad and my sister did not suffer.
At first, the depression would descend on me sometime in October….and wouldn’t lift until Spring. Life was unbearable, not just for me, but those around me, too. One year, my ex-husband yelled at me “She’s DEAD! GET OVER IT!” Which, by the way, explains WHY he is an EX-husband! It isn’t like I was CHOOSING to be so miserable! There were two things that truly helped me.
My favorite Auntie came to Florida for vacation about 10 years ago. She and my uncle stayed in Jacksonville during the last two weeks of October and the first two weeks of November, prime time for my depression to start. Of course, we talked a lot about my sister…and, because I trust her very much, I was very honest with her about my problems. I confessed my problem with the overwhelming depression at Christmas. And I also confessed to her that my sister and I had argued before she died. She asked me “Did you and your sister argue and fuss at one another before this one time?” And I told her “Well, yes, of course, we fussed at each other a LOT!” Then she asked “did you usually make up, and things were ok? And I said “Yes, we never stayed mad for very long!” Then, the next thing she said changed everything: “If you and your sister always fussed yet ALWAYS made up…don’t you think that by now, no matter what you might have fussed about, that she would gave forgiven you by now? Do you think that she would WANT you to feel as bad as you do? Wouldn’t she have done ANYTHING to make you happy again? Just like you would do for her?”
I considered all of those questions for some time. I knew in my heart, that due to the unique circumstances of our lives, that we were closer to one another than most sisters are. We were almost “twin-like”, because we always seemed to know, no matter the distance between us, that the other was in trouble, or in need. I knew in my heart that my sister wouldn’t have wanted me to be upset. She WOULD have forgiven me, a long, long time ago. I discovered that it wasn’t HER forgiveness that I needed…but my own. I HAD to forgive myself, and move on with my life. I knew that I could never let go of the love I had for her…but I had to let go of my guilt. I had to allow her memory to love me, for ME to love me!
I eventually learned to live without my sister. I still miss her, but she inspired me to do things that I probably would have never thought were important enough to try. I promised to “live for both of us” and to “live large”. As a result, I didn’t get just ONE college degree, I earned TWO. I didn’t have just ONE career, I had TWO. I wasn’t satisfied with just receiving a “passing grade” in my classes…I wanted an “A” and, because I’m no Einstein, I had to work twice as hard to earn it!
She is “with me” wherever I’ve gone over the past 39 years. As watched the sun set in Ka’apalua, Maui, Seattle and San Diego, sunrises at South Padre Island, West Palm Beach, and Denver. She was with me on New Year at Greenwich, London 1999-2000 and in Paris at the Eiffel Tower 2000-2001. We’ve hiked glaciers in Alaska, canyons in Grand Canyon, meadows in Yosemite, strolled The Great Wall, climbed Macchu Pichu, cycled Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, strolled the Castro, Stonehenge, Stratford-upon-Avon and the Seine, flown over the Nazca Lines, parasail end in Bora Bora. She danced the night away with me in the Bahamas, Aruba, Puerto Vallarta, Puerto Rico, Orange County, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Lake Tahoe, Big Bear, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and Houston. We’ve shopped NYC, San Francisco, Beijing, Mexico City, South Coast and Honolulu and attended theater in London, New York, San Francisco and South Coast. And I “failed” skiing at both Big Bear and Heavenly.
Most of my cousins haven’t been out of Iowa because we come from a long line of tee-totalers, xenophobes and hodophobes. (My grandparents “eloped” to Unionville, the grand sum total of 8 miles away!). So, I’m only “widely traveled” in comparison to my family! The point of this all was that, my sister was with me “in spirit” and by taking my “stay-at-home” sister “with me”, it not only helped me tame my fear of traveling, but helped me recover, I didn’t miss her so much because she was only a thought away!
So, here we are…and I am okay. I didn’t have to drink a bottle or two of wine every night this week just to shut up the noise between my ears. I didn’t spend the week crying and feeling sorry for myself. Instead of replaying the argument with my sister over and over in my head for the past week, and focusing on “our last Christmas”…I shared the story of our “best Christmas ever” with my dear husband…and I even laughed at my own silliness.
Yes, I still miss her. But, I’m okay. I also came to realize that I didn’t need to go to Antigua or Giza to share something with her or to avoid that big black hole I crawl into…..there was a beautiful sunrise this morning, right here in Jacksonville….and she was right there with me, in spirit…just like she always is. I’m beginning to believe that she is my Guardian Angel.
So…we start this new year, guilt free. Not in the hole of depression, not in a foreign land…but right here at home…living in the present.
I hope each one of you is “ok” too. Forgive yourself. Your loved one wouldn’t want you to be suffering. The No-Kill-Shelter is always here to listen and understand. Whatever loss you face, you aren’t alone…a sister, a brother, a mom, dad or gramma…you miss them, especially at this time of year. But, we are stronger than we think we are…and, in your moments when you need a shoulder to cry on…you know that we are all here to help one another! Each of you are in Kelly’s heart and prayers, as each of you are in my heart and prayers. Begin this new year with love in your heart…and know that this will be the best year ever! Happy New Year!!
Kelly will have “technology” soon! She hasn’t stopped writing…but her pen only works on paper, it doesn’t work well on the computer screen! She’s reading your posts on the blog! (She-just-hates-writing-answers-with-hyphens!!)