Poof! Gone.

I’ve never written about the day my sister died. Not in a journal, not in a workshop, not for this blog.

She jumped out of a small plane on June 10, 1972. Her parachute didn’t open. Neither did the reserve. She was almost 19. I was 20.

Her death played out in my mind over and over last week. I don’t know what triggered it. The retired man I live with said I moaned in my sleep a couple of nights. It was time to write and let go of something. What?

I decided to write it as the 1st chapter of a memoir. I opened a new blank Word document and started typing.

I never really learned to type and now my hands are damaged by my arthritis so I am a two-index-finger writer. The other fingers just sort of hang there. It works for me. Usually.

I typed 4 1/2 pages. I came back from going to the bathroom, sat down at the computer and looked at a blank page.

All my writing was gone. I felt sick, but didn’t panic. I figured one of my wandering fingers had hit something. Surely I could recapture it.

And I could have, had I saved any of it.

I DIDN’T SAVE. Any of it.

I write this blog on the WordPress website and it automatically saves every so often. I don’t have to remember to save. So I never thought to save while I dug deep into the narrative of my sister’s death.

I called my daughter who knows more computer than I do. I’d already done the things she suggested. I tried everything I could find in the Word Help menu.

It was gone. Poof. Out into the universe.

I sat and stared at the blank document.

And I laughed.

Last Saturday at my women’s AA meeting we discussed acceptance. AA’s Big Book includes this paragraph:

And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.

“Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.

What if writing the story of when my sister died was enough?

What if the process mattered more than the product?

What if letting go and acceptance mattered the most?

 

 

Published in: on August 23, 2016 at 10:28 am  Comments (13)  
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Tapestry

On her mother’s  last day (though no one knew it was her last day), Terry got some help and pushed her mother’s bed out a door and into a garden.  Her mother lived through a decade of dementia and had been actively dying for 2 1/2 weeks with Terry by her side.  It was a beautiful early spring day and a comfortable breeze ruffled through the new blooms.  A robin sang  for them.  A bee buzzed around her mother’s head for a long time.  Terry thinks it was her dead brother, Jimmy.  Betty died outside in the spring garden air that afternoon.

I don’t believe in a God that manipulates us like marionettes.  I do believe God offers us situations and opportunities that can move us in one direction or another and that our choices have consequences, both immediate and long-term.

I like the idea of life as a tapestry.  These words are from “Tapestry,” a Carole King song you can easily find on youtube:

My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue
An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view
A wondrous, woven magic in bits of blue and gold
A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold

On the back side of a tapestry, strings of many colors go every-which-way, knots sit in unexpected places, blank places look bare, strings overlap, and some just hang loose.  On the front side, a beautiful picture emerges.

I was assigned a project, maybe in 6th or 7th grade, to learn about two professions.  I picked teaching and foreign service.  I researched foreign service requirements and options like working in an embassy or for the State Dept in DC.  The work fascinated me, but I remember no encouragement at school or at home for such an ambition.

I expected to be a teacher most of my life.  I enjoyed school and good grades had value in my family.  My parents both taught after college.  I never really knew I had other choices.  What did other girls  who became attorneys or ministers or scientists hear that I did not?

I started taking French in 7th grade and took it all through high school and even took a French literature class (in French) in college.  It came easily for me. I loved the sound of it and all I learned about French culture and way of life.

My college choices came down to UNC and Duke.  UNC=Special Education.  Duke=French.  I was the oldest of 3 kids close together in age.  Our college costs would overlap for years.  I chose UNC, a state school with much lower tuition. I earned a bachelor’s degree in Special Education and found a husband.

In the mid-1970’s, in my 20’s, I taught at the Tammy Lynn Center, a private residential and educational facility for the mentally handicapped in Raleigh, NC.  Terry’s brother, Jimmy, who she thinks came to their mother as a bee as she was dying, lived at the Center while I was there and attended the school during the day.  Terry’s parents were among the founders of Tammy Lynn Center and I remember talking with them.  We discovered this surprising connection during a get-to-know-each-other lunch a few years ago.

After our children left home, my husband and I took my dream trip–a week in Paris.  Though I hadn’t spoken French for over 20 years, much came back to me. I bought a necklace from a woman who spoke no English using my memory and my French-English dictionary.  I was fearless!  I fell in love with everything French.  I think I was French in another life.  I went back with my daughters a year later.

I am grateful for each day I have.  Since a cancer diagnosis 9 years ago followed quickly by remission, I danced at both my daughter’s weddings, am blessed with 3 grandchildren nearby and am still happily married to the husband I found at Carolina, though I call him “the-retired-man-I-live-with” now.  I even went back to Paris–alone!

I love and treasure the life I live these days.  My daughters like to spend time with us and willingly share their children with us.  I volunteer at church and with a non-profit that serves those touched by HIV/AIDS.  I’ve been sober for almost 27 years.  I have friends from all parts of this community where we have deep roots. My tapestry is knotty and messy on the back.  The front is beautiful.

But sometimes I wonder…what if I’d taken another path?  Why did no one encourage me to take a different piece of string for my tapestry?  What would it have looked like?

 

Published in: on April 18, 2014 at 8:47 am  Comments (15)  
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Young…Middle-Aged…(??)….Old!

Stephanie:  “Mom, great outfit! (turquoise t-shirt, jeans, bright coral cardigan)  “You look so young!  You need to dye your hair.”

My hair is gray.  Different shades of gray.  Whitish in the front, darker in the back.  But all gray.  I like it.

Me:  “No, actually I don’t need to.  This is me.”

Comfortable, mildly stylish clothes. At 61, not so young, but also not old.  Cool, definitely cool.

She stared at me for a few seconds and said, “I still think you should dye your hair.”

She is 35.  And already talking about Botox for wrinkles.  I tell her to just buy really good moisturizer and use it faithfully.  Especially on the neck and chest.

“I believe we older people risk wasting the second half of our lives in unconscious compliance with a youth-obsessed culture.”  (Lynne Morgan Spreen)  We need an alternative to the belief that maintaining the appearance of youth is an antidote to aging.

We don’t even have name for this time of life, 55-70!  At 61, there is no question I’m beyond middle age, though I stretched it out through my fifties. I don’t know when “old” starts.  I think it depends on which birthday you last celebrated.

Every morning, I walk down the driveway (actually, the retired man I live with walks down more than I do), get the newspaper and come in to have a cup of tea while I read words printed on newsprint that I hold in my hands.  No matter how many times they redesign the website, I will not cancel my subscription to the printed version.  We older folks like to turn paper pages.  Most days I just read the front page, the obituaries, the editorials, the letters to the editor, the comics, and horoscopes for me and my family.

I started reading the obituaries years ago when I worked as a volunteer coordinator at Hospice.  I learned you don’t have to be old to die, but back then they were usually older than I was.  Most still are, but not all.  A lot are in their 60’s.  A good day is when everyone who died is older than me.  Is that weird?

So, fellow boomers,  what stage of life is 55-70?  We need a name.  Got any ideas?

Published in: on September 18, 2013 at 3:59 am  Comments (22)  
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Turtle Pokes Her Head Out

I am an introvert, a Turtle (see “Turtle or Gazelle“), and I’ve been really sad.  This line from the Turtle post sums up where I’ve been:

    Turtle naturally withdraws and goes within

when in turmoil.

It does not need to learn

the importance of this focusing inward,

it naturally knows.

In cancer survivor circles, they talk about Finding Your New Normal.  New Normal comes after a scary diagnosis, falling in love, a death, a birth, a letting go, a child leaving home, a graduation–any life-altering event or moment.

My New Normal includes:

1.  I am the only surviving member of my family of origin.  I used to have a mom and a dad and 2 siblings. (my sister died in 1972).  That’s a lot of memory gone missing.  I still have some questions.

2.  I am really up in my brother’s business and it feels wrong because he was VERY private.  (I’m the executor for his estate.)

3.  I tell people “You better have a will or your family will hate you.”  Yes, my brother had a will and it’s still a pain in the a** to sort out what to do when.  Someone should teach us this stuff at some point.  Thank God for the internet.  And a nice paralegal in Ned Barnes’s office in Carolina Beach..

4.  I am truly grateful for the retired man I live with and am married to, my daughters and sons-in-law, and above all (sorry guys!) my 3 grandchildren.  They stop the sad, at least for a while, and they help me smile and reconnect with what’s real.

5.  I’m not young anymore.  I’m not old yet, but more of my life is behind me than ahead of me.  I want to be aware of every minute I have left–happy, sad, blah, exciting, boring, rainy, sunny, hot, cold or perfect.  Each moment matters.  I guess it always has, but maybe more now.

6.  I read and watch Dr. Oz, the American Ninja competition and Entertainment Tonight instead of drinking, binge-eating, and shopping to temporarily stop my feelings.  Well, sometimes online shopping still acts like it helps, but I’m getting better.  Progress, not perfection, huh?

7.  I think about my brother, Jim, every day.  Partly because there’s stuff I need to do for the estate, partly because his ashes are on the fireplace mantle in the (finished) basement of our house, and partly because I keep remembering I can’t call him because he died.  We probably talked once or twice a month, at best, while he was alive.  I wish it had been more.  So now I feel closer to him than I have for years.  That is sort of confusing.  And why I keep remembering he’s not down at the beach like he’s supposed to be.

8.  Thanksgiving will be hard.  We saw Jim 3-4 times a year.  But he always came for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  He’d drink his Coke Zeros one after the other (he and I both stopped drinking alcohol years ago–bad gene pool.).  He had an amazing caffeine tolerance.  He’d kind of stand back out of the chaos–we were a noisy bunch even before grandchildren–and watch and smile.  We knew he loved us.  And that he liked his not-chaotic, solitary, hardworking life at the beach.  And that was okay.

9.  Jim’s best friend since high school football, Barry, is now my friend, too.  He says Jim was always his quarterback.  Barry was a lineman and his job was to protect Jim.  He is sad, too. We talked on the phone yesterday for an hour and a half.  He told me things I didn’t know about Jim’s past and I told Barry some things, too.  I know my brother better now, thanks to his friends, than I did before he died.  I still love him and I like him even more.

10.  I want to get back to writing amusing or provocative or silly blog posts.  I just had to do this one first.  Thanks for waiting.

(And thank you to the people who have been checking my blog for something new since August 15.  I don’t know who you are, but you are special!)

Published in: on September 11, 2013 at 9:44 am  Comments (8)  
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A Good Man Gone

My brother, Jim Reaugh, died July 12, 2013, with dignity and grace.  For 3 weeks before he died, he drove himself to the hospital for radiation. He was hospitalized on July 5 for extreme shortness of breath. A day later, they began treating him for heart arrhythmia.  When transferred to the ICU he said he wanted to be DNR–do not resuscitate.  He said no to any further treatment, including chemotherapy. He was very clear that he was ready to go.  He transferred to a Hospice facility a couple of days before he died.  The staff there kept him as comfortable as possible.  My husband and I were with him through that last week and as he died.

Jim was a fiercely independent, gentle soul.  He DID NOT want to need help of any kind.  He lived alone, had no wife or kids. He did hard physical work for over 20 years.  He still had friends from high school and others he got to know later.  He didn’t share much about his illness with anyone.  We didn’t know the extent of it until he went to Hospice.  It was in his brain, his lungs, the cavity around the lungs and most of the bones in his body.  It’s hard to imagine the pain he lived with the last month of his life.  He was strong and stubborn.

He told me he was afraid after he was admitted to the hospital.  We all knew the likely progression of his illness thanks to the internet. It would be bad and probably fatal.  After the DNR decision, I never saw anger and I never saw fear.  He seemed to be at peace.

He died on his terms and when he decided to go. I am so grateful for Hospice’s assistance.

I admire his courage.

I am proud to be his sister.

Published in: on August 15, 2013 at 4:34 pm  Comments (21)  
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