Red and white – colours
of a sister’s soul – I mourn
(Cee’s Flower of the Day.)
Red and white – colours
of a sister’s soul – I mourn
(Cee’s Flower of the Day.)
I took this photograph thinking of my oldest sister, gone now almost thirty years. Red and white were her favourite colours, and we decorated her casket with large flowing bouquets. I was disappointed by the blur, but then decided that the blur is fitting – it is how she resides in my memory – the sharp edges of her now softened by the passing years.
So, my flower of the day is dedicated to you, JoJo. Red for the fire that defined you, white for the freshness of your spirit.
(Cee’s Flower of the Day.)
The morning drizzle gave way to sunshine by noon and even though I’ve been tired today, I decide to take advantage of the clearing before retiring for the evening. I grab my camera and go in search of worthy images, but my legs are useless today, so I decide to sit instead, on a picnic table beside the stream. I hear, before seeing, the family of geese I’ve been tracking making their way towards the water. A I raise my camera I see movement in my peripheral vision.
The man approaching is a regular here; I see him walking past several times a day. I raise my hand to wave.
“Do I know you?” he asks. “I’m sorry, but I’ve had a stroke and this doesn’t work very well.” He taps on his temple.
“I know how you feel,” I say. “I have inflammation on the brain. Mine’s not in the best working order either.”
His eyes open wider and he steps closer to me.
“I’m Ric’s wife,” I say and point to our motor home.
“I’m photographing the baby geese. Trying to keep track of them.”
He nods again and then steps back as if he’s in my way.
“They grow fast.”
“Sure do. Good thing kids don’t grow that fast.”
He smiles, then blurts out: “The hardest thing is that I feel like such a burden.”
He has caught me off guard – hit a nerve. I glance at him and see that his eyes have filled. My tears come too.
“I do, too,” I croak.
“I came here thinking I could make a difference,” he continues. “I wanted to help out, and now I rely fully on my sister.”
“We are lucky to have someone who loves us enough to care.”
“All we can do is focus on our progress – even if it seems awfully slow.”
“Oh for sure. They thought I was dead – had to force feed me.” And then: “I’m sorry about that. I’m over it now.”
“You’re doing well,” I say. “I see you walking every day.”
“I made it through the winter,” he says, still fixated on his own story. “I guess that is something.”
“It sure is!”
“I was here all alone, too.”
“Wow. That is something. Good for you.”
He thanks me for my time and walks away. I linger and take a few more pictures of the goslings, then limp my way back to our home.
Everyone has a story. Everyone is battling something. The best way we help one another is just to listen.
The sign on the community pool clearly indicated that the pool was closed, and the gate was locked, but that didn’t stop my friend from scaling the fence and jumping in. Our other friend hesitated only briefly before joining her, and I stood by in disbelief.
It was day one of our girls’ getaway, and as I had signed on for the rented condo, I felt the weight of responsibility close in around me. I turned and walked back towards our unit, listening as the hollers of my fellow travellers echoed through the resort. Regret flooded me. How did I ever think this would work out?
Friend #1, whom I’d known since childhood, was more of a sister to me. An extreme extrovert, with a tongue that could win medals for speed, made her the life of any party. Friend #2, a colleague of mine and longtime neighbour of #1, was quietly confident, and not averse to having a good time. I, a non-drinker, had been struggling with my health for sometime, and while I enjoyed company and good conversation, I preferred quiet, intimate settings.
“I think this vacation is a mistake,” I told my husband in muffled voice the next morning while waiting for the other two to wake up.
“Well, come on home if it’s not working out,” he suggested.
Except, I had been the one to drive, so leaving meant stranding them, and I couldn’t do that. I decided to the make the best of it: be the designated driver, and hopefully, get in some sightseeing.
The fighting between #1 and I started the moment she woke up and announced that she hoped I wasn’t going to be a stick-in-the-mud all week. I countered that she had a drinking problem, and tempers flared out of control. (Told you we were like sisters.)
As the week progressed, and my stomach turned into a ball of fiery pain, the rupture in our friendship deepened. I vowed that it was over.
“Let’s go for lunch and talk about it,” #1 said weeks later. “I can’t bear not having you in my life.”
I acquiesced. We agreed never to go away together again. We vowed to resume the friendship.
Maybe I was too uptight, I cajoled myself. We have been friends for a long time, after all.
“She really does have a good heart,” my husband and I agreed.
And then I got sick. Really sick. So sick that I could no longer leave my bed, or even talk with her on the phone.
“Let me know when you can come out again,” she said once during a brief conversation. And another time: “Are you better? When are you going back to work?” And then, more recently: “I’ve talked it over with others, and we agree you should be working now.”
I haven’t seen her in over a year. She has no idea what my day-to-day living looks like.
“You don’t need toxic people like her in your life,” my health-care aide once said to me, overhearing our conversation. “You need encouragement and understanding.”
I am a dog when it comes to loyalty. It is hard for me to recognize if a relationship is healthy or abusive. I am not good at setting boundaries.
We have been home for a bit, and I have not called #1. I am thinking that I might not bother. It is causing me grief.
What would you do?
The prompt for this week is to consider the vulnerability of new growth and what it takes to protect it, tying it into nature. Here is the edited version, after the instructor’s suggestions.
It came in the peak of summer
that most optimistic time, when
sunshine equates with health
and bodies glow with exertion
fit and in their prime – it came
with all the fury of a winter blast
harsh and cold and unyielding –
wrestling me from my complacency
annihilating vibrancy, self-definition
de-leafed, rendering me raw, exposed.
I clung to the darkness, blanketed
against the harshness of light,
the impossibility of sound, or scent –
was de-shelled, ungrounded, ravaged
by volatile nerves and misfiring impulses
praying for the certainty of death
but it is spring that follows winter
and in time, restlessness set in –
the dogged whine of hope willing
my mind to stretch, my body to try
spirit, tired of withdrawal, pushed
against the wall of dysfunction,
bolstered by a shifting acceptance
found roots in an in unspoken faith
and I felt possibility, like a tiny sprout
reaching for the sunshine,
ventured out of my cocoon –
still alive! Redefining purpose
still precarious, highly vulnerable
but optimistic for the return of summer.
(Note: for those following our travels, we are still stranded…more to come.)
Dead Ends and Surprise Beginnings
The emails started arriving the morning after I presented at the regional conference—invites and accolades validating my life’s passion. Here I was at a critical juncture, poised to take my work to a new level, and only I knew it would never happen.
My hands hovered over the keyboard, mind searching for a way to express my regrets without conveying the darkness that was settling in. I had gone to the conference knowing it would be my last hurrah. There would be no encore presentation.
Sweat dampened my forehead. Please, God, I begged, give me just enough time to finish things up here.
Within days, I would be incapacitated, barely able to lift myself out of bed, brushing my teeth a monumental effort. Life had chosen a different path for me.
“How do I cope?” I asked the doctor, really wanting to say, “How do I reconcile who I am with what I’ve become?” But words, like movement, had lost their fluidity.
“Set a timer for yourself,” she replied. “Seven minutes for standing, fifteen for sitting. Stay away from television— it’s too much stimulation—and limit phone conversations. You may find it difficult to read, and if you listen to music, try to avoid lyrics. Visits should also be regulated. Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is characterized by exhaustion after exertion, and it is systemic.”
My already slumped body felt like collapsing onto the floor.
“Is there anything I can do?”
She took my phone and downloaded a relaxation app. “This will help; try it a couple of times a day.”
Then, as an afterthought, she added: “If you write, you might be able to do that.”
And in that moment, the clouds parted and the glorious irony struck me: I’d finally have time to write.
“I’m in trouble!” My sister’s voice was weak but charged with panic. “Help me!”
“What have you done?”
She’d locked us all out of her apartment that weekend; said she was tired of being sick, tired of people hovering over her. She wanted to be independent.
Reluctantly, we gave her space. I’d held my breath the whole time, anticipating this call.
“I stopped taking the meds,” she began, and before I could express my disbelief, she continued: “I just wanted to go dancing one more time. I thought it was the morphine that was making me so sick. I thought if I stopped…..oh, V.J., I can’t bear the pain.”
“Call 9-1-1,” I told her. “I’ll meet you at the hospital.”
She didn’t want to go to the hospital. People die in the hospital, she’d said. I reminded her that they would also be able to get her pain under control.
She did die in the hospital, two days later. Her white blood count was off the charts, and she’d spiked a high temperature before slipping into a coma. I was by her side.
“Did you get some of my birthday cake? They’re serving it in the hall.”
Those were the last words she spoke to me. It was the night before Valentine’s; we’d celebrated her forty-third birthday in November.
I stayed and watched as death crept in, enveloped her and carried her off. Her eyes flew open in that last moment and met mine, her mouth made a large ‘O’, as if she wanted to exclaim, but no words came out, just one final exhalation of air.
We’d known her death was imminent; she’d been at war with cancer for fourteen years, and the last year had been a continual decline.
She was feisty, my sister. Loved a good argument, never content with the way things were, always wanting more. And she loved to dance.
“There wasn’t a table that Jo didn’t dance on,” a cousin said of her at the funeral. “She was a live wire.”
I’d had a love/hate relationship with my sister; we didn’t see eye to eye on many things. She was the consummate center of attention, thriving on drama. I was the pragmatic younger sister, trying to keep a level head. I found her ideas off the wall and, well often infuriating.
“It’s as easy to love a rich man as it is a poor one,” she advised me once.
Infuriated, I retaliated: “That has nothing to do with love!”
Thing is, she never had luck with relationships. She’d thrust herself with passion into any man’s arms, and with equal violence, leave him. Trust was not her strong suit, nor was patience.
“She’s like an eight-year-old in a woman’s body,” one beau once described her to me. I believed him.
Despite our differences, it was me she turned to when the diagnosis came.
“Promise you’ll be there with me till the end,” she pleaded.
Of course, I said yes.
In the end, it was mostly Mom and I who cared for her. Stubborn as she was, she wouldn’t let the home care nurse bathe her, or change her bedding, and Mom had a bad back, so I landed the honour. Joanne had withered away to nothing, her velvet brown eyes now hidden between drooping lids, her lips constantly cracked, her long limbs sharp. Although she was fifteen years my senior, I felt as if I was caring for a fragile child.
We fought in those last months, and we laughed, and we cried. Some days, so exhausted from my responsibilities outside of her care, I would just lie on the bed beside her and hold her hand, both of us dozing off.
When she died, I quite honestly felt relief. At the time of her diagnosis, the doctor said she had only months to live. She had survived for thirteen more years. Some good, some bad, but she’d kept on going.
“We don’t know what’s keeping her alive,” one of the oncologists told me. “Whatever she’s doing, it obviously works.”
“I can’t explain how I feel,” my mother said while we were arranging the funeral. “She consumed so much of our lives for so long, and now she is gone. It feels like there is a huge whole, and no closure.”
The night before the funeral, I had a dream. Joanne was on a stage, dancing with a chorus line before a large audience. She looked radiantly happy.
During the reception following the burial, four others shared that they’d had the same dream.
Joanne had found her paradise, dancing in Heaven.
(Today’s post is in response to The Daily Post prompt: dancing. Image: www.shutterstock.com)