The Presence in her Absence

Most of the time I see my sister in waking moments. But on September 30, 2014, I was getting ready for work when the dream I had the night before rushed into my awareness. It was one of the most vivid dreams I have ever had, and although it is rare for me to remember even pieces of a dream, I recalled this one in its entirety.

I had wandered off the streets of downtown Nashville into a sparsely occupied coffee shop. I sat down at a small table to the right of the door and wondered what to order. When the door opened again, I looked up and in she walked. Her bell bottom jeans brushed softly against the wooden floorboards. She was wearing a loose-fitting plaid shirt, untucked at the waist. The long dark brown hair that hung limply from her head was tucked back behind the ears. Her face was troubled. I stared for several seconds. A double-take later, I realized I was looking at my sister, circa 1977. “You cannot be here,” I thought, “you’re dead!” She did not look in my direction as she sat down at the large table next to mine. Her back was to me.

More people trickled in. I did not recognize any of them, but I somehow knew they were friends of hers from college days. They filled up the empty seats around the table she had chosen, and soon an animated conversation about life and God ensued. I was mesmerized by her presence and could not take my eyes off of her. I sat, watched, and listened, resisting the urge to get up and join the group. I wanted to interrupt, to tell her how much I miss her. But I had the distinct impression that she would not have heard me anyway.

The veracity of the New Testament was the subject of the discussion. Of all people, my sister was patiently explaining the texts regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection. The young man sitting nearest her commented, “You don’t really believe that stuff, do you?” She replied in a calm voice, “Of course I do.” I got the sense from her statement that she was talking about something more definitive than faith or belief, something more like knowing. It dawned on me that now she sees and knows clearly, even as she has always been seen and known. For her, there are no doubts or uncertainties, only truth and love – oh, so much love.

I wanted nothing more than to stay there in that room, watching her, listening to her voice. Having a dream like that helps heal the scar of loss. Waking from a dream like that leaves a brand new one.

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Sunset on New Year’s Eve, 2014.

On the drive home that night, I thought again about the movie, What Dreams May Come and Robin Williams’s dip in paint. My sister adored color. I have known since the day she left this world that she sees it now like never before. That sunset gave me a little preview. She has painted lots more sunsets for me since then – each of them a creative masterpiece. I know that one day we will swim in them together.

One time at the beach, I asked her to draw the ocean for me. She did it, but then kept insisting she had not gotten the waves or the light quite right. I always thought that the waves and the light in her beach drawing had been perfect, but in this life, my sister had never been able to appreciate her own brilliance. The splash of color across that twilit sky on New Year’s Eve told a different story, a story of artistic abandon transcending the need to get things ‘just right’.

~ ~ ~

For many years I have had a vision of a house sitting on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the ocean. A garden stretches out in front of it, filled with every kind of flower. Now that she is gone, I can see her there, tending to the plants, anticipating my arrival. I should have known all along it was her garden.

Tattoo March 3 2016
Second star on the right and straight on ’til morning. – Peter Pan

Hawks still visit me from time to time. Her way of watching over me, I suppose. Love you bunches & bunches and tons & tons, Ditty.

~ Your Little Sis

Because, blindsided.

I did what I promised her I wouldn’t.

But, please, let me explain…

On December 1st every year, one of our local radio stations begins playing Christmas tunes. The same 10 songs over and over again for 25 straight days (at least, that’s how it seems to me)! Every once-in-awhile I push the button to see what comes out … if I hear Jingle Bells or Let it Snow one more time, I think I’ll go home and stuff myself with fruitcake until I push my body into a diabetic coma. To save myself from Christmas Song Burnout (this is a real and documented condition, trust me), I wait until Christmas week to begin listening to Christmas songs in earnest. There are a couple of songs I downloaded for free from NoiseTrade last year that I hadn’t really listened to yet, so I was looking forward to some fresh tunes. On December 22, in my car on my way to work, I plugged in the i-pod, selected Christmas genre, and hit shuffle. “Could’ve Been Summer” was the second song to come out of my speakers.

Car Radio (1)

Friday, December 19 was the first anniversary of my sister’s death. I had talked to my parents the day before. They planned to take my other siblings plus my sister’s husband out for dinner to all be together. I lived a few states away at the time, so was unable to join them. Friday evening I saw on FB some comments begun by my Mom’s post about the difficulty of the day. It occurred to me then that, for me, Friday had not been a more difficult day than the previous 364 days had been.

Despite the dull, continuous ache, I was doing pretty well. Yes, I felt sad whenever I thought about calling you (every day, half a dozen times), but on December 22, that song opened my grief like a fresh floodgate that had been screaming to break. The entire last week we spent together came flooding back in, totally uninvited. The memory of you saying my name felt like a tender punch in the gut. Through the tears I kept thinking, “I’m sorry. I told you I wouldn’t remember you that way, but I can’t help it.” So I let myself remember – all of it.

Then I made myself remember other things. Christmas things. How you adored Christmas. You didn’t always make the gifts you gave, but you always made the packages look so inviting. Your gifts were the ones everyone wanted (and did not want) to open. The wrapping was always too lovely to tear through. The decorations in your home were tasteful and stylish and different every year. You understood the beauty of nature over the glare of commercial glitter and always managed to incorporate the beauty of the outdoors into your boxes and bows, wreaths and mantlepieces. Everything you ever did was a work of art, with you the most beautiful one of them all.

It occurred to me on Sunday to remind Mom that she may have missed the funeral, but she had been there when you went home. She was able to whisper encouragement and hold your hand and say goodbye in that agonizing moment. I’m so glad for that. Though I could not be there to say the final goodbye, I am thankful for the week I was given the month before – every painful, horrible, gut-wrenching, sweet, precious, lovely moment of that unforgettable week. I am thankful for the many years we had together – the phone calls, the holidays, the Birthdays, the anniversaries, moushie jokes, Mah-Nuh, Mah-Nuh, all the love and sweat and tears and joy. I remember it all. I remember you. And even though it “Could Have Been Summer” when you left, I doubt that would have made this Christmas any easier.

Kisses, kisses, kisses, HUG!

LOVE you, Ditty-Boo – bunches and bunches and tons and tons!

– Your Little Sis

Season for Remembering

It is the first week of November and I am finally getting around to pulling out my winter clothes and putting all that is summer away. It seems kind of late in the year for that, but then, I am always thankful when the warmer weather hangs around a bit longer. No complaints here.

One of the items in my winter clothes box was the down vest I took from my sister’s closet last Christmas. I debated keeping it since it wouldn’t zip up at the time. Well, technically it zipped, but it was quite tight. A couple of months ago, I lost 10 pounds. Lo and behold, the vest fits me now! 

Today I laid the vest on the couch as I was getting ready to go to work. Within five minutes Ian found his way onto it. Only two days since it came out of the box and already my cat has reclaimed it. The suitcase it covered last winter has long been emptied and put away, but Ian managed to find his way back to the warmth of it. A bit surprising, actually, since he rarely climbs onto the couch to begin with. For him that vest is probably just a warm spot to cozy-up on, but I cannot help but wonder if my connection to her – my grief – is somehow being communicated to him through this piece of clothing. 

Ian kneaded the vest before settling into its folds, and I spent a few moments trying to imagine what my sister would say if she saw it. Of my three felines, Ian is both the most fearful and the most affectionate. My sister dealt with fear and anxiety a lot, and I would have to say that of all my family – including me – she loved the deepest. No, my sister wasn’t perfect, but she always strove to embrace others fully – flaws and all. A whole lot like my cat.

I hated removing Ian from the vest, but truth be told, I need it. Three weeks from yesterday marks the anniversary of the last week I spent with my sister. I am not sure that I will ever believe that time heals all wounds. Somehow time does have the power to diminish the pain. The empty space left in my heart by my sister’s absence is certainly still there. It always will be. I step into it often now. I talk to her there, like I used to. I may not be able to hear her respond, but I always feel her smile.

This month marks the beginning of a season to remember, yet the whole of the end of 2013 was a nightmare I would like to forget. On the cusp of the anniversary of those dark days, I am reminded to go further back in my memories to ponder the good and the bad, to the plethora of shared experiences with my sister. Maybe instead of a season of grief, this winter will turn into one of thanksgiving for the blessing of 50 years with her in my life. If I’m lucky, I’ll remember to appreciate the loved ones who remain, while they’re still with me. Maybe that’s what memories of the ones we lose are really for.

The windy fall has brought the neighborhood hawks out in droves. I see one almost every day now. And whether it’s her visiting me or not is irrelevant. They remind me of her, just like the vest. So, Ian, while I won’t give it over to you completely, I am willing to share. You can enjoy its warmth and the interesting fabric against your kneading paws. I will remember the one who wore it for a time, because in the end, I don’t need the vest, just the comfort it brings. A whole lot like my cat.

Wind Surfing and Wedding Crashing

September 27, 2014, three Saturdays before my eldest daughter’s wedding, I sat on my side porch enjoying breakfast and a hot cup of black coffee, while pondering my very long to-do list. It was a windy morning, windier than usual, and looking up, I saw a hawk soaring just above my head. With no need to flap its wings, the hawk simply glided back and forth between the gusty currents. I could almost feel the bird’s joy at its ability to float effortlessly, borne up by a greater power than itself, wings stretched out full-width, relaxed and at peace. I knew it was her. Ever since she flew back from VA with me this past summer, I know she’s always flying now – doing what she was too afraid to do before. The fear has left her entirely.

The hawk’s wings finally started beating as it veered off to my right to join three companions who I named my now-dead cousins. The four of them had such fun! A couple of days later I told my parents the story, that she visited me on Saturday as a hawk. Mom’s response: “I can’t believe you said that. The other day a hawk landed on the bush in front of our kitchen window and just sat there. I told your Dad, ‘Look, she’s here.'” I was not surprised.

I started thinking about how much I would miss her come wedding day, especially her ability to put together amazing decorations for the event. It occurred to me, then, that had she lived, she would not have been able to design or assemble decorations for, attend, or – even if she could come – enjoy, my daughter’s wedding. After seeing the hawk, I felt certain she would be there celebrating with us – whole and fully alive, truly herself.

I thought, Well, Dit, I would save you a seat, but I know you’ll be too busy soaring. Enjoy the view!

It also came to me that this is how she would fill out the RSVP card:

RSVP Dit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As it turns out, wedding day was overcast and drizzly. We were forced to move the  ceremony inside. There was just enough rain to keep me from looking for her overhead the few times I walked back and forth from the cottage to the venue.

But I missed her. I missed watching her arrange the table decorations as only she could. You should have seen the elegance and grace her decorations brought to my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary! I missed seeing her smile, and hearing her chat and laugh with the guests (she laughed often, and it was contagious), and cutting her big eyes over at me to communicate some inside joke only I would understand. I missed quipping back and forth with her about inane things as we always did. Most of all, I missed watching her dance. She would have been first on the floor and last to leave, and perhaps she was, unseen by those who love and miss her so much.

She would have loved this moment from the rehearsal:

And while I had no tangible sense of her presence at the wedding, I believe somehow she was there …

… guiding my daughter’s hands to braid her sister’s hair

Rachel Wedding Braid

 

 

 

… helping me dress the Bride for her big day

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… crying with me when the Bride’s father choked up in the middle of his toast

 

 

 

 

 

… laughing with us at the song her nieces and nephew shared

… smiling knowingly at me when two young bridesmaids made eyes at my handsome, 15-yr. old son

IMG_1104… and so many more moments!

Ditty, words are not enough to express how much it hurt not having you there. Can you feel the pain in my heart or taste my tears? I have to say, I was proud of myself this weekend. I managed to put aside the grief until after the festivities were over. I truly enjoyed my daughter’s wedding, just as you would have wanted me to. But the ‘putting aside’ was a conscious effort made necessary by memories and thoughts of you in that environment, that at times, threatened to overwhelm. I am glad that I did not see you flying about overhead – it would have meant you were not inside with us, and that would have truly broken my heart. Instead, my heart is full and whole, knowing you walked through such a special day with us.

 

 I love you bunches and bunches and tons and tons,

kisses-HUG

 

 

 

Your li’l Sis,

C