Friday, October 28, 2016

The Season Of Mourning

 
   October is a difficult month for me. Even though I love the crisp fall mornings, the abundance of pumpkins, and the fact that my birthday is celebrated on the 15th, it's also a time that I'm reminded of the sister I lost.

     Cherie was the oldest of the four children in our family, and I was the youngest, but the six year gap in our ages never bothered her. My sister carted me around on her hip, let me play with her pet parakeets and snuck food into my room whenever I was banned from the dinner table for talking back to my parents. Those tiny care packages wrapped in paper napkins were offerings of love and sympathy from a sister who knew all too well the wrath of parental punishment.

     So much of my childhood was spent in my sister's room. We shared hours together cutting out patterns for Betsy McCall Paper Dolls, drawing Arabian horses on her giant sketch pad, and singing along to her Herman's Hermits albums. She taught me how to play Crazy Eights and War, and sometimes our marathon card games lasted long past my bedtime. Her room was my sanctuary; a peaceful place that smelled of sandalwood incense, leather, and fresh paint from her art set. Every inch of wall was covered with posters of Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, peace signs and slogans protesting the Vietnam War. At night, she'd turn on a black light that made the patterns on her psychedelic posters come alive in the eerie blue glow from the lamp. We told stories in the dark and dreamed of faraway places where mythical creatures lived. And in that dim blue light, we made promises to be there for one anther no matter what happened in the future.

     Our relationship evolved the way long term friendships do----with immeasurable trust and a strong sense of loyalty toward one another. We fought occasionally as all siblings do, but neither one of us carried a grudge. All it took was a joke or a funny face, and within minutes we'd be laughing over the absurdity of the argument. She understood me better than most, and never judged me for my failings. She always had my back and defended me at every turn. We often joked that we were the black sheep of the family----so different from our siblings and parents, but in truth, it's what bonded us from the beginning.


     Once we grew older, got married and had families, I didn't see Cherie as much. We were both caught up in work and raising our families with little time to visit one another. Her life was not an easy one; she went through two difficult divorces and ended up raising a son mostly by herself. Over the years she developed an eating disorder, along with several other health issues that appeared as a result of her obesity. I knew she was broken, but I didn't know how to fix her. I was battling my own eating disorder demons, and the painful reality of seeing myself in my sister's struggles was more than I could handle. I stood by helplessly as she spiraled downward into a vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting and emotional binge eating. It frustrated and frightened me to the point that I avoided her invitations to get together, especially if the outing involved food.

     Now I'm left with guilt and a deep sense of regret for turning away from the woman who was once my best friend. We knew each other so well, yet I ignored all the warning signs. It was too painful to acknowledge that my sister was slowly killing herself. She was lonely and unhappy, but I pretended not to see it because it was easier to live in denial. I blindly convinced myself that she would realize how much she had to live for, and that she'd seek professional help before spinning completely out of control.

     In 2009, Cherie succumbed to pneumonia during the early hours of Halloween. I hovered over her hospital bed when she was in a coma and prayed that she would open her eyes. Even during her final moments, I refused to believe that she would never wake up. I thought of all the things we needed to do together, and promised her that once she was well enough to leave the hospital, that I would take her up on her invitations to feed the hummingbirds at Butterfly World, sip margaritas at our favorite Mexican restaurant, bake cinnamon rolls together in her kitchen and do "movie nights" once a month to watch all the classics from her extensive video collection.

     Her heart gave out as I stood by her bed, and the shrill buzz from the hospital monitor after she passed away still haunts me to this day. The tears I shed were not from sorrow, but anger. Anger at her for giving up too soon, and anger at myself for not keeping my childhood promise to be there for her whenever she needed me.

     Although it has been seven years, the grief still lingers. Cherie was so many parts of me, and now that she's gone, it feels as if I've undergone a partial amputation of my heart. The wound will heal in time, but the scar it leaves behind will be a reminder of the gentle spirit that once graced my life with a love that only a sister can understand.

This fall as I watch the leaves turn to golden hues and scatter across the sky, I think of Cherie. And I will never, ever stop missing her.





40 comments:

  1. Beautiful tribute. I can't prove anything, but in my belief system, I believe those who have passed on have a "knowing," that they can now understand their life, and know they were dearly loved. I have to believe this as I lost my sister (six years older than me), seven years ago too. She was my soulmate. No one knew me like she did. She too was troubled and I too wanted to fix her before she died. It's taken me several years to know that she had her own journey and had to walk it by herself. I think of her everyday.

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    1. I'm so sorry for your loss, too. And thank you for sharing your beautiful perspective.

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  2. Very brave of you to share your own feelings of regret. We all have things we wish we would have done or said, but not everyone faces the finality of a premature death. My heart goes out to you, and to Em-Musing as you grieve these special ladies. As a woman of faith, I believe that the desires of our hearts are known and understood beyond this moment and place. I pray for spiritual comfort as you complete this month, and the many emotions it stirs.

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    1. Thank you, Seanna. I hope she knows how much I loved her.

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  3. May the meditations of your heart bring solace to your soul.

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  4. So hard when you did love someone so much, but are left wishing it was even more, or worse, enough. Grief just travels around the mind and body, it never leaves. But I wish you peace and luck and enough memories to keep it from hurting you. Em-Musing said something that I believe: there is a "knowing," that you might not understand, but which they need to leave on their terms. Good thoughts to you from me.

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    1. Thank you, Susan. I agree with Em-Musing, too. It brings me comfort.

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  5. Marcia, I lost my dear sister in October too! It was totally unexpected and not tied to her health problems. She was at a wedding...And I feel exactly the same way. I did not agree with some of her life choices and so sometimes I would not get together with her or return her calls. We can not feel guilty for these feelings. We loved them and they loved us and they knew they were loved even if we didn't do all the things we were "supposed" to. Hugs to you...and peace.

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    1. Thank you, Renee, and I'm so sorry for your loss as well. Hugs!

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  6. That really is a big loss. I always admire women who have sisters with whom they are close. Mine pretty much hates me. I know, strong word, strong situation. Still, I learn from these wonderful bonds, like the one you had. I am sorry you lost her....

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    1. Thank you, Carol. I'm sorry to hear that you and your sister don't get along. Hopefully that will change one day.

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  7. Such a tender, touching tribute, Marcia. For such a special woman. I'm so glad that many of your memories are happy. Cling to those. Write about those. They don't obliterate that unhappy memories, but they help.

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    1. Thanks, Diane. It really does help for me to write abut the loss. Almost cleansing, in a way....

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  8. Loss is always difficult to handle but when there are triggers such as time of year, it makes it even more painful. This time of year is especially hard for me for the same reasons. Somehow we get through and we deal with the pain and the guilt along with other emotions. We hope that it will get better, somehow easier, but I don't think it does. Talking about it is the best therapy and I am glad to see that is what you are doing.

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    1. Yes, I don't think this grief will ever leave. October will always be a reminder to me that my sister is gone. I'm sorry to hear that this time of year is difficult for you as well.

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  9. I'm so sorry for your loss, Marcia. How difficult to watch her struggle. Indeed, this time of year will always be for her and you and to remind you of how beautiful she made your childhood. This is a lovely tribute and beautifully written.

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    1. Thank you so much, Lisa. I felt helpless watching her go through it. At least now I know she is at peace.

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  10. Such a poignant post. My condolences for the loss of your beloved sister.

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  11. You've written about Cherie before, and your loss. You dug deeper this time. I hope that's part of a healing process.

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    1. Yes, I hope so, too. It's an ongoing process. I just wish it still didn't hurt as much.

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  12. "I knew she was broken, but I didn't know how to fix her."

    I understand, my dear.

    Sending you love, hugs, and support from Duluth.

    If you ever need to talk, I'm here. xxx

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    1. I know you feel the same. We have both lost our best friends. Thank you for all your love and support. Hugs to you, too. <3

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  13. Sisters and our relationships with them are so complex…nothing equals the bond you share, despite distance and differences. Thanks for sharing this. I'm sure it was tough to write. My sister's been gone a year and a half and losing her leaves me feeling very alone sometimes, even though I have a very supportive family. Maybe you understand this feeling too.

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    1. I certainly do, and I am so sorry for your loss!

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  14. I remember when you wrote about her once before and am so so very sorry for your loss, Marcia. Sending you so much love. You sharing about watching her become more and more miserable as she slowly damaged herself further is going to help people. I know it. xoxoxo

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    1. I pray that no one suffers the way my sister did. It was too hard to watch someone I loved so much destroying herself.

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  15. A beautiful post. It made me cry. I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. I believe keeping her memory alive is one of the best gifts you can give her.

    "Sisters are guardian angels of our hearts." Thomas Kincaid. I lost my sister earlier this year.

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    1. Thank you for sharing the beautiful quote, and I am so sorry to hear that you lost your sister, too. Hugs!

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  16. I don't think the grief will leave...anytime soon for the kind of bonding you had with her. So sorry for your loss...all I can offer you are hugs, Marcia. Take care.

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  17. I am so sorry for your loss. I've never had a sister, but last year I lost my oldest brother and it was so painful, still is. I don't think it ever goes away. Your story is so beautiful and a tribute to your sister.

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    1. Thank you Rena, and I am so sorry to hear that you lost your brother. Hugs!

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  18. A difficult post beautifully written. Every blessing.

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