Sissy

I used to call her sissy. I barely remember that, and it seems so improbable now, but I did. 

This one thought keeps circling in my head: How do you mourn a sister? 

I can’t imagine it. I can’t fathom it. But I’m doing it. 

Last Sunday, June 15, my sister’s cancer journey came to an end. She was 53. 

Charlotte was about 14 when my mom married her dad, he adopted me and he became our dad. I was just a baby. I didn’t have a childhood without her in it. 

 As a teenager she had to share a room with a toddler. I’m sure that totally sucked for her, and was maybe why she moved out when she was 19. But for 5 years she was stuck with me. 

I remember her high school girlfriends all treated me like I was their little sis too. I’m even Facebook friends with one of them to this day. 

I remember when I was 6 or 7  I thought of her with such awe. She was amazing. She was beautiful. She danced, performed, with big hair and gorgeous leotards, with a dance group and I wanted to be her. My mom tried to put me in dance but I was painfully shy. I quit immediately, except in my own living room … where one time I did a flip and fractured my wrist. I didn’t have her grace.

I was the flower girl in her wedding when I was 7. She was such a grown-up to me. She was only 20, but I was still in such awe of the beautiful, dynamic creature going through this incredible ritual. That’s MY sister? 

When I was 10 years old I became an aunt to this goofball: 

And then these two:  Years ago, when I was barely done being a kid myself, I’d babysit, pick them up from school when she couldn’t, and sometimes take them to gymnastics. I loved being their young aunt.  

It was when I was a late teen and even more after I finished high school, thereabouts, when my sister and I became the adult (ish) version of being sisters. This is when her inappropriate jokes started to make sense. When I understood her “titty twister” threats. When I realized how she could say shocking things and get away with it because she did it with a laugh and a smile.  

 

For awhile we did a lot of things together. Her family plus me & my boyfriend (at the time) went to Disneyland together, Las Vegas for dad’s wedding (where all 7 of us shared 1 cozy room!), and to the lake or camping together. We had the best time. 

 

She lived her life fearlessly. She advocated for her children fiercely. In a lot of ways, she was a role model mother as much as my own mom has been. A younger, more modern mom role model (sorry mom) that I could compare my mom against – and I’d like to think I’ve healthily incorporated both of them into my mothering.

 
She was determined to live her life according to her desires. I really admired that in her. Whenever she wanted something she figured out how to get it. She managed, somehow,  and she gave her kids a wonderful life with myriad experiences. They always knew how much they were loved.  

  

 

Later – after our parents split, and when I moved to Idaho to live with dad & go to college, and then met my husband and got married – my sis and I had some conflicts. I’m not going to go into that, I’d rather forget it to be honest, but I really wish that time had been different. I wish my kids had known their aunt more. I wish she had known & loved my kids. 

But I know I loved her. I loved her light, her positivity, and her bright soul. 

My sissy.

 Tell me – how do you mourn a sister? 

Xoxo, 
Stef

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Here is what you do when you are grieving

Yesterday, as I was getting ready for bed, bone-tired, I absentmindedly scrolled through Facebook one last time before sleep (because, you know, what if a catastrophe happened and I didn’t know for 6 hours?) As I scrolled, the title of a Huffpost article caught my eye: Here Is What You Do When You Are Grieving.

I’ve read lots of grieving articles. They’re usually about death rather than heartbreak, however heartbreak is very much like something is dying.

In my sleepy haze I clicked, what the hell, and decided to read a few lines. Then a few more. This was not like the other articles. OMG. But … but … but that’s how I felt! That’s what I went through! It’s was my very actions, my very thoughts & feelings, my coping. It was as if the words came from my mind – however I’m not nearly as good of a writer to have stepped outside myself to portray my heartbroken grief so accurately.

I was in tears, bursting out, audible sobs. This, yes, this. Somebody else felt this too. They knew this pain. It was a humanizing experience. I was not alone in this grief.

I can’t just say all that and not share it with you, right? So this is shared without permission but I’ll take it down if requested. But these words should be shared. Everybody should understand the death that comes with heartbreak; the mind-numbing grief.

Read these words:

Here Is What You Do When You Are Grieving
by Katherine Fritz

You spend some time curled into tiny spaces. They are useful for this. Big, open rooms give you too much space for your wild thoughts to tangle and knot. If you curl yourself into a small place and sit there, you will ultimately feel cramped or foolish or angry enough to leave and make yourself a cup of tea.

You make yourself a cup of tea. Even if you don’t particularly like tea. Warm liquids are good when the back of your throat is burning like you’ve smoked a thousand rotten cigarettes and you can feel the weight of your mistakes trickling down into your fibers and your muscles and burrowing underneath your eyes, your breasts, your heart, your bones. You wrap your hands around the cup and you press your cheek and your eyelids to the side of the porcelain mug and you focus on what warm feels like, you remember the word ‘warm,’ you think it to yourself, quietly, because small thoughts are useful right now.

You learn to trust who you talk to. The best ones will comfort and pretend to understand even if they don’t. The best ones will understand if you want to be alone, and will understand if you change your mind about what you want. The best ones will not make you feel foolish for appearing vulnerable and weak.

Weakness and vulnerability are not the same. In case you’d forgotten. It is sometimes helpful to remember this.

You spend some time with distractions. I like drinking, and I like television, and I like sex, although that can be tricky because it is easy to mistake one particular kind of intimacy for another. Distractions are useful. Most people like distractions. Many people spend their entire lives with such beautiful, such glowing distractions. I can see why.

You think about soft things, like cotton sweatpants, and fleece blankets, and flannel sheets, and creamy pasta. You indulge. People who are grieving do not want to put on high-heeled shoes and mascara. They do not want to wear tummy-slimming pantyhose. They do not want to order salads.

You turn your brain into a film projector. You replay the movie you’ve unwittingly starred in, again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again until you think you might understand the sequence of events, if not the meaning. You replay it endlessly, at night, at breakfast, while reading, on the phone, while looking at the Internet, while picking at your nails, while shopping for toilet paper, again and again and again and again.

You remind yourself how breathing works, how sleeping works, how going to work works. You teach yourself basic lessons as if you were a child: It is time to clean up after yourself, time to take a shower, time to behave, time to leave the house today. You notice the circles under your eyes, and you buy some makeup in an inexpensive mirrored compact, and although you do not think anything of it at the time, it feels significant, when you reflect upon it later.

If you are phenomenally lucky, and I know that I am, you wake up one day to discover that you very much feel like moving your legs off the bed and placing them on the floor. You feel like lifting your head from the pillow and swiveling your torso and moving to an upright position and maybe even splashing some water on your face and brewing some coffee. You notice that you want to wear a brightly-colored sundress because it will look pretty on your skin; you discover on your commute that there are windows and doors and telephone wires and flowerpots and building placards and crumbling sidewalks that you’ve seen a thousand times but never really noticed. You watch a family in a park and you think you might start to cry, but not for any reason that can be explained, and then you are not crying, you are smiling, or maybe you are doing both, and then and then and then in a sudden release, you start to notice everything. You notice your fingertips. You notice your heartbeat. You notice your body and it all feels like your own. You notice other people. You notice everything. You wonder how you’ve never seemed to notice just how big everything is.

You start to think it is all so impossible. You start to think it’s all incredibly possible.

You start to think that maybe you’re okay.

Thank God for words. For wordsmiths. For poets. For lyricists. Thank you, Katherine Fritz.

ETA: I found the original blogger and blog! So, giving credit where due, here’s her blog and this posting: http://iambeggingmymothernottoreadthisblog.com/2014/06/25/here-is-what-you-do-when-you-are-grieving/.

Remember, you are not alone.

All my love,
Stef

Defying Gravity

Do you remember Ally McBeal? I’m totally aging myself but, hey, who cares? I used to love, love, love Ally McBeal. My best friend and I lived a couple states apart and we would call each other during the commercials to talk about the show – silly? Yes. A fabulous memory? Oh yes. But that’s not the point of this blog post. (But I should get back to that, at some point).

Ally used to have theme songs. Depending on what was going on in her life, she would adopt a song that she could mentally conjure up that would give her strength, or courage, or comfort, right when she needed it.

Well, I’ve been doing the same thing. Blessings on Ally for the inspiration. Last fall it was David Guetta’s Titanium, with lyrics like:

“I’m bulletproof, nothing to lose
Fire away, fire away
Ricochet, you take your aim
Fire away, fire away
You shoot me down but I won’t fall
I am titanium
You shoot me down but I won’t fall
I am titanium”

It was exactly what I needed to get through some excruciatingly hard months.

Over the last several weeks I’ve recognized that I’m transitioning into another phase in my life and/or another phase in the life cycle of my heartbreak. I’ve been mulling that over and trying to understand what I want/need right now. What’s next?

Then I went to see Wicked (again, because, duh, it’s so awesome) and words were put in my head that have been resonating with me continuously for a couple weeks now. I’ve realized my new theme song, the song that defines this next stage is, has to be, Defying Gravity: (edited for brevity & relevance)

“Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by the rules
Of someone else’s game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It’s time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes and leap!

It’s time to try
Defying gravity
I think I’ll try
Defying gravity
And you can’t pull me down

I’m through accepting limits
’cause someone says they’re so
Some things I cannot change
But till I try, I’ll never know!
Too long I’ve been afraid of
Losing love I guess I’ve lost
Well, if that’s love
It comes at much too high a cost!
I’d sooner buy
Defying gravity
Kiss me goodbye
I’m defying gravity
And you can’t pull me down

So if you care to find me
Look to the western sky!
As someone told me lately:
“Ev’ryone deserves the chance to fly!”
And if I’m flying solo
At least I’m flying free
To those who’d ground me
Take a message back from me
Tell them how I am
Defying gravity
I’m flying high
Defying gravity
And soon I’ll match them in renown!
And nobody in all of Oz
No Wizard that there is or was
Is ever gonna bring me down!”

I don’t always feel strong, but in those times of weakness I just need to be Idina Menzel in my head and belt out this song. I’ll remember then just how strong I am! And when I’m sad this song will cheer me because it’s an anthem to make me believe what my heart & my head knows, but forgets, that I can do anything I put my mind to, and I can live the life I want. I CAN do it.

With love,
yours in insomnia,

Stef

Grief is a tricky little bitch

One minute you’re driving along, everything is cool & moving forward and then – BAM – you get smacked in some unexpected way that knocks you on your ass. Before you know it you’re bawling, sobbing, full-on Niagara Falls, at an airport while the manager of the rental car place is giving you a hug. Don’t laugh, because that totally happened to me.

It’s over the oddest things too. Little remembrances that make you or break you; fortify your decision or make you crumble into despair.

That stupid saved water bottle sitting by the sink. The absence of the expected creak in floorboards when your partner usually comes to bed. Curtains with memories. T-shirts with smells. Stumbled upon receipts. So many pictures. So many words.

All memories shared. Memories thrown away. Memories that have lost their emotional value. At what point in the grieving process do those memories become valuable for the experience itself rather than the emotion that was inevitably present? I’m waiting.

Yours, in love,
Stef