Anniversaries melt our hearts – pooling at our Feet.
I’ve had a hard time with missing my sister today. It’s as if the annual anniversary has melted my heart and puddles at my feet. A dam I didn’t even know existed over these past months has broken – swoosh, swoosh and more tears.
I stand precariously close to the edge of the tempting river of self-pity, resisting immersion only by knowing that to enter would mean a dangerous and an un-foretold ride on whitewater rapids of grief; without surety of finding an exit point along the banks measured by calendar or emotions, or even spiritual rope thrown by friend or God.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t stare longingly at the mesmerizing water route downstream and away from where I stand, and dream about what it might feel like to let go, totally; to give into this lump in my throat, the pain in my tummy, and these intermittent flashes and feelings of Trudy’s fingers in mine while they were still warm with her life.
What I want to do is call Trudy.
I want to call upon the big sister that was always in my world from the day I took my first breath, to her last. I try to carve out others to fit this role, but they don’t know the history or the lines to read, or the places to laugh without words or the ingredients to Mom’s fruitcake that we always talk about baking but never do. They don’t know to call me when White Christmas (or was it Holiday Inn?) comes on so we can get on the same channel, receivers to ears, and watch our favorite scenes together. (Trudy always had to remind me which movie I meant when I talked about the Sisters song.) And they don’t know the magic words that could always put me back together again.
Its not easy; living in a world where before there was always a big sister. I grew up knowing there was always at least one firewall between self-sufficiency (when it wasn’t enough) and complete insanity (when I couldn’t make sense of the world), and maybe, when I’m honest, between being a child and adulthood where there’s hard choices and tasks, and grown-up responsibilities.
There were years when I struggled to break free from my sister’s re-occurring insistence in telling me what she thought was best for me, or refusal to see me; to updating her files as to the woman I was and was becoming. At the extremes she would pull out lines that hurt the most, like, “I don’t know you anymore”, or, “I was so jealous of you when they brought you home in that cute little pink sweater”, or in later years, “you’ll never know how frightened we were (Mom and Dad implied) when you were in your first marriage. We knew something was wrong”.
But, as in many families, beyond all the rather typical misunderstandings and dysfunctions, it was Trudy and I who counted on each other when Mom and Dad were arguing into the night; when hearts were broken, when parents or loved ones were sick or dying, or as artists needing to connect with someone who understands the need to dream.
We called each other when friends disappointed us, when aging parents about drove us up the walls with stubbornness or later, Alzheimer’s; when we couldn’t remember that ingredient or were afraid of forgetting Grandma’s hearth, or the number of silver butter knives in Uncle Earl’s pocket that Christmas – gifts just for us, quietly slipped to us as we put the bulky winter coats on Dad’s bed in the brown, downstairs office/bedroom in our farmhouse.
Or when we had a new idea for our writing, or painting, or cooking, or needed to flush out frustrations and find a plan on how to encourage and help and love a dear friend. Or to share an incredibly sweet, perfect passage in the Bible, or pertinent insights of understanding designed just for us from one of Trudy’s favorite books by Gene Stratton-Porter or Marianne Williams, or from a poem written by one of her students.
It’s only natural then, that now, in this horrid grief just this side of madness, I only want to call my big sister. The very root of my grief is also the only comfort I can see. Or at least, this is how it feels as another big drop of saltiness falls into the river.
Did I tell you some of the last words we said to one another? Did I already tell you this? Is it too personal to tell or too soon?
“Trud, you go on ahead and be there, then I’ll come join you later,” I said into the phone with surprising strength and normalcy and with absolute certainty. To which she responded, “Yes, Tres. It only makes sense; after all I came into this world first so I’ll go first. It’s ok Tres.” “I know, I know”, I said. “Thank you for being my sister”, my tears began to cloud my speech. “Thank you for being mine too Tres. You know, I got a brother out of all this too. I love you Les,” she added.
One last story before I try to end this sad sad tale.
When I was with Trudy in the hospital, just about a year ago, sitting beside her bed and waiting with her for the next pill, or shot, or doctor, or test, or result or decision, we would have comfortable long silences and then easy times to quietly talk and listen. Out of nowhere would come another favorite memory, or wish that we wanted to share with each other before it was too late, or a story from our past.
One I had forgotten, but Trudy recalled like it was just yesterday was our talking in our small, shared bed at the little house when we were young – very, very young. “We talked all the time”, she said, “and don’t you remember Tres, don’t you remember how we would argue about who was going to go first?” And I did remember our arguing; each of us insisting that we would go first because we could not imagine a world, or at least the little house, without the other.
So how do you unwind the path to the edge of this river and walk it back to the present and life and joy? Here’s a start; a suggestion from someone who heard I was hurting: I’m sorry you’re missing Trudy so much. You should put your work off today and do something that she enjoyed, in her honor.
Trudy loved to cook, to paint, to read, to write and to watch old movies; to talk to people on the phone (she loved that!), to be with people (she loved people!), to teach, to learn, to drive anywhere, to play tennis and run when she could, and to sit in the park. She loved God and she loved me.
It always comes back to that doesn’t it? Always, always I wind myself around to feeling her love again. Love is eternal. I can not say that often enough and it is as true for me today, now that I have indulgently written about me and my sister, as it was the moment I first felt her love from the other side of the little house.
So yes, I am going to the store to buy ingredients for a dessert I am making for people who are coming this evening. And then, when I get home and get this made, I may write less and paint more. And watch old black and white movies on TCM.
I’m not sure who I was writing to this morning, but it helped to make “this call”.