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June 22, 2011

Le plus ça change .... the more things change....

A special porch from my past
Most of us have heard the French saying, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."  Many times, that is true.  It is not true for me, however, after a loved one dies. June 23rd marks one year to the day that my sister died. I remember driving to the hospital the evening of June 22nd, wondering how I would be able to Be There for her.  "She is changing clothes," I would tell myself, as the tires pulsed along the hot highway, "just changing clothes."  Somehow, on that day before she would leave us, that phrase helped me.

I, however, am still in my earthly robe, and it seems that everything else has changed. Some of the changes have surprised me.

My house has a marvelous porch, and I used to spend a great deal of time on it.  It dawned on me a few weeks ago that I had not spent much time at all on the porch this past year.  I stopped sitting peacefully on the porch after we received my sister's diagnosis. There was no more peace-time/porch-time. The strange thing, though, is that I thought I would have returned to my beautiful porch by now. I arrange the plants on it, I sweep it, and I keep it looking lovely. But I don't sit there now, and haven't in more than a year.  Will it be a haven for me again?  I have no idea. For the time being, I cannot sit there as I once did.

I am both more and less sympathetic with others.  My goddaughter's brother died in 2002. He was in his early 20s.  Oddly enough, his birthday and my sister's were the same.  I was distraught and grieved deeply at the news of his death then, but now--now I know so much better what my goddaughter felt and had to live through in her 20s.  How I admire her strength... admire it as never before. In fact, I admire it so much, I have no words to express the admiration. I had those words before my own sister died. I don't have them now, just this soul-deep specific knowledge, this shared suffering that obliterates normal vocabulary.

On the other hand, I find myself less sympathetic with people I know who have lost a parent during this past year--if their siblings are still alive. If their sister(s) and/or brother(s) are still alive, I don't feel nearly as much sympathy for them as I might have in the past. I'm not proud of this, but at this moment at least, it is my truth--a surprising one. If anything, I've had a surplus of sympathy for others since childhood. I was watching a John Edward show where two adult sisters were sobbing over their mother's death. I looked at the television and said, "Hey, you still have each other! Stop crying!"

Some television shows I watch with real pleasure, because I know my sister liked them. Others I cannot watch--for the very same reason.  Why?  I have no idea. Some put me in touch with the comfort of her having been and others with the piercing pain of her not being here now.

And, having just gone through a bit of relationship trouble, which I would have talked to my sister about, I now find myself doing "girl talk" with my brother.  That's been good, because it can be very reassuring to have a male point of view to balance my female brain. Still, though--a change.

I feel sick at my stomach a lot, especially on anniversary days. I still have a visceral sense that something is wrong, that part of me has gone missing, and the search party has neither skill nor luck.  The sea-sickness of it is made more intense by the fact that I had at least contemplated the departure of my parents before being confronted with the fact of it.  I had never, however, even had the remotest thought that I would finish my life here without my beautiful, buoyant, blue-eyed sister.  But, so it is.

Swallowing Time by Ysabel de la Rosa
One change trumps all the others, though. It's hard to describe. It is akin to the notion that hay más tiempo que vida, that there is more time than we have life to live it. It starts there, but it's more than that. It's the strengthening of the sense that no one had better mess with me (as we say in Texas). Don't lie to me. Don't try to talk me into doing something that is a waste of my time. Don't tell me that fashion matters, that love is skin-deep-beauty-based, or that a cruel joke is ever funnier than it is cruel.

The person that my sister left behind in this body that types these words is: sadder, stronger, less patient, readier to risk, more honest, and ever more committed to living a worthy life--whatever shape that takes.  For me, it's like the difference between a luxury carpet and a 50-year-old hardwood floor. The first may be comfortable, but the second is certain. Step on the planks, and your bones meet wood. You know where you are and on what you stand.  You truly meet that hard surface that supports you. And from there, you move on.

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