Hearts and Spades: Burying my sister - Day 1433: 5 Minute Freewrite: Prompt: spade

in Freewriters4 months ago (edited)

We are never ready for this,

no matter how many years a loved one has suffered from a terrible illness. Not even when it's your 97-year-old grandma who was mobile and sharp-witted to the very end.

How many times did I think my sister Lori needed to give up her train wreck of a body and go, if she really believes in heaven and the afterlife, just go, already, and be with our sister Julie, be free of your pain and suffering.

Did I really believe it was the better fate?

On paper, yes, I do, and if it were my own body ravaged by 27 years of leukemia, radiation, then five years of dialysis, yes, I think I would roll over and die. Pull the plugs, stop the dialysis, let nature take its course. But I may be wrong. My youngest daughter would want me to hang in there the way Lori did. Hang in There - the last card I ever mailed Lori. Just after Labor Day. If she got it and read it, she was too sick to mention it to me. (She loved kittens.)

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Why does it hurt so much

that she actually let go, at long last. She no longer had the strength to fight, the warrior, the lion-hearted Lori. Monday, my sister died. Wasn't I prepared for this, ready for this, even hoping for this relief from her misery?

There are so many, many stories, so many details, so many emotions.

My daughter had a vision of Lori in a hospital bed, Julie nudging her awake and saying "Let's go." Lori opening her eyes, getting up, looking young and healthy, and off they go. Hours later, Claire got the call that Lori was in the hospital. That night, she went to visit Lori, who looked radiant and happy to see the three kids. How she loved kids!

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They'd both deny it, but I believe a strong sisterly resemblance here cannot be denied (Lori on the left):

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I could devote one post to Bohemian Rhapsody, significant to me since November 1975.

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That's our youngest sister on the right. Sssh, don't tell. She's very private, unlike me.

I could blog about our grandson's fifth birthday party which I am forced to miss when I want nothing more than to be there for him, with him, celebrating his life.

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However, "spade" is the prompt, and my first thought was "No, we'll need a post-hole digger." And how timely "spade" is.

Lori was cremated yesterday. She wanted her ashes added to Julie's grave. By law, Lori's urn must be interred three feet deep. Our dad was shocked at the unorthodox business of going to the cemetery and doing this thing. (In the TV series "Poldark," an old man and his wife, Judd and Prudie, often muttered It ain't fittin', or 'taint right, taint proper, but I wasn't there to hear what Dad said). Someone checked with church/cemetery rules, and this peculiar form of grave-sharing is allowed. Now, who will dig this hole for this urn of ashes. Our father? My husband? A post-hole digger, not a spade, will be needed, along with a lot of stoicism. I'm reminded of that John Gardner poem in which the man digs a grave for his dog, who stands with him watching him dig, but the man knows the dog has to be put down, because our loyal canine companions will never voluntarily leave us. (It's in one my old Hive posts.) Dogs and cats will be unable to eat or stand or drink, yet they would linger on for weeks or months in this state, forcing us to go to the vet and give them permission (and assistance) to move on to a "better place."
UPDATE 2/10/2021
Lori's daughter dug the grave the day before, with her grandma helping. The service was Sunday, family only, and my husband was asked to bring his guitar. The dreaded song request materialized. Stairway to Heaven. No no no no no. He did it, though. He who stopped playing at weddings 30-plus years ago after the trauma of yet another rendition of The Wedding Song ("rest assured this troubador is acting out his part" - gag). He played from memory, without sheet music. She played sax. They sounded fine together.

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Lori did a lot of digging her garden. How old is this photo? I don't know. Her daughter snapped it. It's not very clear, but I do believe that's a spade Lori is wielding.

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Part of me, literally, part of me, my bone marrow, went down with her.

We were a 99.9% match, in spite of being different blood types. Radiation destroyed her marrow and replaced it with mine. She became O-positive.

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Oh, so many words

so many things to say about you Lori
so many feelings
so much hurt and anger
so much love

We buried one sister when we were all teenagers, and it was hell, so why is it so much harder now, when we are more than half a century old, seasoned veterans, old pros at burying loved ones (grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends) - we knew this day was coming! Whence the shock? When does this actual, physical aching in the heart muscles finally ease up? When do the tears stop flowing? Isn't it supposed to get EASIER with practice, especially when someone so battered by disease is finally "released" to the other side?

"Anger is easier than sorrow," so I've found plenty of petty things to feel mad about, but that didn't really help. Especially after flipping open a book and the page that came up was this:

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Duly noted. And so often forgotten. How many times have I read these reminders to be a better person? Why do I keep committing sins of omission (the good that we fail to do) and pride, resentment, criticism? Why is it so hard for me to love unconditionally and quit being a critic? Why didn't I show more tenderness, compassion, and generosity to my suffering sister? Every single one of us says we wish we had spent more time with her.

Who has ever said upon the death of a loved one, "if only I hadn't spent so much time with them."


No funeral service, as per Lori's wishes, just a private family-only gathering at Julie's grave. No minister, no church ladies serving lunch. We are on our own. No break from the cooking and cleaning. I keep re-reading St. Thérèse of Lisieux of "The Little Way," reminding myself to do these things for my family no matter what, without complaint, honoring their wishes, and not daring to feel it a bit unjust that I am called to prepare the comfort foods of our Midwest upbringing, none of it safe for me to eat (too many food allergies). I've been fasting, losing weight (and sleep), not by choice, but because I've lost my appetite for the first time in my entire life, and because even corn is the next food to eliminate. Sacrificing gluten (bread of life! bread was my god!) was hard enough, but then dairy and eggs, yeast and casein and now corn, even barbecue sauce with corn starch, but hey, I'm still above ground, and if all I had to eat was astronaut food, I should still rejoice! No matter what maladies come my way, not a single day of my life could have been as bad as the days Lori suffered for most of her life. Lori never doubted the Bible, but I do.

"Jesus did not come to end all suffering in this life, but to transform it." (I heard that on the radio the day after she died.)

Lori and our mom endured stuff I would not tolerate because they see it as their Biblical lot in life. They believe in justice for the wicked and a reward in the afterlife for the righteous. ("In my father's house are many mansions; I go to prepare a place for you"). I've read too much to be able to believe the Bible is more than a myth. Why does one person get so much more than others. Was she Ghengis Khan in a previous life?

Every man has a price to charge, and a price to pay. Yeah, I've paid mine in spades.

--Wolverine, in X-Men

Lori, nobody deserved to suffer as you did, 27 years out of 63, half of a life, a very short life, but longer than Julie's at least.

You two have fun now,

and feel free to drop another frog on my head. (More on the frog in last week's post, Visits from lost loved ones coming to us via birds, butterflies, and...frogs? ).

Day 1433: 5 Minute Freewrite: Thursday - Prompt: spade

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My deepest condolences on the loss of your sister ... I cannot even imagine how much that must hurt ... I'm so sorry

Deeply sorry for your loss. I hope someday, somehow, somewhere in this vast and complex universe, you will meet again.

Sorry about your loss, @carolkean
I can see why it was so hard for you to key go and be content.
So many questions.
It looks, though, that Lori had a beautiful life and influence.
My deepest condolences. May her rest in peace.

Thank you @hlezama, @litguru, and @deeanndmathews,for your kind thoughts.

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This was a beautiful tribute to your sister. I lost my Mother on August 30 she had a stroke in August of 2020 which left her bed-ridden and unable to speak. I feel as you do, it is a heartbreaking blessing. May Lori and Julie smile down on you. I can not wait to hear about the frog. Also, we put my Fathers ashes on his Mother's grave, the graveyard worker dug the hole.

Thank you, and my condolences on your mother. Next to losing a child, losing a mother has to be the worst loss. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the blessed "release" and ashes over another loved one's grave. Our dad is shocked at how "unorthodox" it is. Also, he has been called to do the digging, as no cemetery workers are on hand in their small, rural church. He could wait for my husband to come do it, but knowing Dad, he will .

BY JOHN DONNE
Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

(The rest is not as fitting here)

I, like an usurp'd town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov'd fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

You are welcome and thank you. Your Dad should let your husband do the digging, losing two children is a hard enough task. Hugs for your Father.

My daughter had a vision of Lori in a hospital bed, Julie nudging her awake and saying "Let's go."

This post has me in tears. It's beautiful, gut spilling, heart wrenching, and true.

except for the part where you feel you haven't done enough

All my love to your entire family, here and not here. The earth is richer for you all.

Thank you so much (and how do you create the little font! @Raj showed me once and of course I forgot).
The cemetery service (family only) was today. We all survived. Lori's daughter asked Tim to bring his guitar and play.... wait for it... accompanying her on sax.... STAIRWAY omg. "Asking a lot" - he will not play The Wedding Song either but for my sister, he did play Stairway today. Now that a true sign of love and devotion. What a good man. How did I get so blessed? This would have been my response:
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Oh I'm so happy it went well. I woke up this morning thinking of you.

No accordion?

I'll have to email the commands because I don't know the nifty trick the pros know of highlighting them so they don't do what they're supposed to do!

Hello to you,

I visited owasco's blog and saw your posting there. ... I was thinking if I shall give a comment, for we have not talked to each other yet. I dare doing so.

Please, receive my sincere condolences. I would like to respond to the questions and thoughts you share here. They are questions of importance and I want to give them space. I hope to do this in an appropriate manner and in case I go astray, please forgive me.

My mother died six years ago at the age of 86. I can confirm that it was much closer to me than many years before, in the 90s, when my father died. I was in my early 20s then and I accepted his death much more quickly than my mother's. I think it has to do with the fact that as you get older, death becomes more real to you and confronting it can trigger greater resistance. When you are young, death is far away, not something you really fear. And I think that's all right.

My mother is so much a part of me and I often hear her words when I am in situations where I remember her comments. She didn't leave me, how could she? What made me feel sad was not being embedded in a social community that doesn't see death as an enemy, that doesn't creep around you insecurely and doesn't dare touch the subject with forceps.

I missed the accepting way of dealing with the death of a family member, a self-evidence of what is indispensable. I didn't want to hear how terrible and awful it was that my mother was no longer with us, but rather to feel the acceptance around me and perceive that death is something natural.

Deep grief sought me out, not because I had built up resistance to her passing, but because I suffered from the wordlessness and awkwardness of those from whom I foolishly sought permission to speak about the last moments between my mother and me. To do what? To take the scare out of it, to tell them that there is strength in letting the other go. And warmth, as well as a deep peace not to burden a loved one to strive to stay alive because of me.

That was the reason for my suffering, that I regretted having waited for permission to speak first. Because in this way I had deprived myself of something that I think would have been good not only for me but also for my listeners. I experienced how my mother, in her weakest moments, despite her physical suffering and signs of confusion, radiated a clarity and strength in between that made me simply laugh. When my sister tried to feed her, she pushed the spoon with the food aside with a very decisive gesture and said clearly: "You! Eat!" After a moment of irritation, my sister and I burst out laughing, it was typical my mum. Therein lay her decision as well as her gesture to communicate that she had decided to leave. Stopping eating is something that is reported by many dying people. I was so proud of my mother and I really loved her for that expression of decision. She freed me from my own insecurity, not knowing exactly what to say, how to react.

It is extremely difficult and I suppose a daring thing to put yourself in the perspective of a dying person. For me personally, I want to trust my relatives to cope with it. Trust in each other is evident in many situations where it is not yet a matter of dying but, for example, of saying goodbye to each other over and over again. How could I be happy in life if I had to assume that those close to me would not be able to cope with not having me with them for a while or, conversely, that I would not be able to come along without them?

People say "life goes on" and of course they are right. Letting life go on is what happens anyway, you can't help it. It's just the vibration between people saying things like that to each other where you notice if someone is saying it because they don't really have anything to say or where that statement is sending a confident and trusting message to you. The dead would in no way want the living to stop living, would they? Nor would they see repentance as helpful, because what is done is done.

May I therefore ask you if there were strong moments in being with your sister that gave you that inner strength and peace that is really very very difficult to put into words?

Thank you so much for this @erh.germany - your name is familiar because anything germanic catches my eye.
Interesting, that at a younger age, the loss of a loved has less impact rather than more: we get older, we should be seasoned professionals at this, but instead, the loss hits so much harder than expected.

My mother died six years ago at the age of 86. I can confirm that it was much closer to me than many years before, in the 90s, when my father died. I was in my early 20s then and I accepted his death much more quickly than my mother's. I think it has to do with the fact that as you get older, death becomes more real to you and confronting it can trigger greater resistance.

And this:

My mother is so much a part of me and I often hear her words when I am in situations where I remember her comments.

Lori is on a soundtrack in the background of my mind, like a radio commentator. I be like "What about Julie? What about our grandma and (et al)?" Why arent they part of the Greek chorus throughout my day, and my dreams at night?

As for "strong moments" that gave me peace and inner strength: I'll keep thinking on that and trying to remember any such moments.

Thanks again!

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I am so so sorry for your loss, I know what it is like to lose a sister and how you let a part of yourself go with her. But you also get to carry her with you, the depth of your grief is a reflection of the love you both had for one another. Sending you love @carolkean xxxxx

Thank you, and thank you, @rhondak!

Thank you so much. :) One lesson learned: rely less on text messages and pick up the phone and HEAR THE VOICE of your loved ones while you can. Record them, too. We cannot hang onto everything, but looking back, I would have saved more stuff.... I have one very old voice mail from Lori that I never want to erase.

Such a powerful piece, Carol. My heart and my prayers are with you.