I had a whole blog post written for today. I’d worked so hard on it and was all energized to share. But then I found out on Thursday that my youngest sister died. All the enthusiasm I had for my post disappeared. Instead, I would like to take a moment and think about the losses we have been experiencing lately. There’s been a lot. Maybe in the grand scheme of those numbers and issues, my sister doesn’t add much to the total, but if I’ve learned anything in life, each death has meaning.
My sister was the youngest daughter of my father’s third marriage. He had nine children in total. Six girls and three boys. We don’t refer to each other as half-siblings, though. So she was my youngest sister. She evoked a mixed set of feelings in people. She was loved. She was also a person in pain and psychic distress, living with bipolar and addiction. This is a tough combination, each a beast in their own right. She was also a sister, a wife, a mother of two beautiful boys, was a special education teacher, and had a huge warm smile. She had energy and life alongside great darkness and pain.
Because I was from the second marriage and didn’t get along with my father, I didn’t see my sisters grow up firsthand. We lived in the same state for a few years, but they were little and don’t remember much. They moved to the south at the end of my freshman year of high school; she was maybe in kindergarten. You can count on two hands the number of times we’ve seen each other in person since then. We emailed and texted often and spoke on the phone a lot. She often called at low moments. I didn’t mind.
At this point, I think we believe there’s a pill for everything. Like all those commercials tell us. If you just take enough vitamin c or find the right combo of meds, everything is curable. But it’s not always that simple. I have pancreatitis, which causes me to have diabetes. I have two meds to help me control it. But also must be strict about what I eat, sleep enough, exercise, control my stress level, monitor my sugars, and get enough sunshine. There is a lot in managing any health issue. Mental or physical. If you’re lucky, it’s easy. But for many, it’s a massive chunk of your life managing your wellness. It can be burdensome.
I was already numb and on overdrive from 2020. The call from my older sister showed me how deadened I am at this point. Even now, as I write this, I know my fingers are moving, but I don’t feel the keys. I do feel a hole in my heart. I knew this day was a reality and had since she was in high school and stayed with me for a week. I also had hope, which may make me stupid or naïve. But I clung to it, wanting the best life for her. Everyone deserves a chance at a good life. I know her most enormous pride and joy were her boys. People may wonder why she didn’t fight harder for them. I don’t have an answer. In my heart, I think she fought harder than we could know.
My sister danced on the fringes of death for most of her life. Wresting both bipolar and addiction at once, I don’t know how anyone survives it. I’ve learned from friends over the years and working with people in recovery that many don’t. Guilt, shame, anger, regret, and shock seem to be the common themes for the loved ones left behind. If you don’t know much about it, Anne Hathaway did a gut-wrenching portrayal of someone with bipolar for Amazon’s Modern Love.
The weight of 2020 is crushing my soul. I’m reading Anthony Doerr’s Four Seasons In Rome, his memoir about his year of living in Rome for a fellowship in 2004. While he was there, he learned about the earthquakes that hit Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand. He watched the numbers mount up as the day passed. Then the tsunami raised the death toll to one hundred thousand, a number we reached for deaths in the US linked to COVID before the end of May. About that number, he said, “A hundred thousand. Half the population of Boise. Is that everybody I know? Everybody I’ve ever met? Even one hundred thousand is too big to fully understand.” That toll continued to rise, as has ours and not only from COVID. Each death is a life and a story.
Today though, the tinny ringing in my ears from that toll has left me wooden and flat. In time I hope that feeling will work it’s way back to my limbs and face and allow me to reach that hole in my heart left by the loss of Whit.
The image at the top was taken after I found out about my sister. I went to work in my gardens, something that always makes me feel good, but was mainly tired and agitated. I found this little salamander in the garden as I was turning the soil. I don’t usually find these little guys in there. I was careful to move him to the side for his safety, but he stayed with me through the morning as I worked. I felt her belonged with this piece.