When I drive down Route 229, down the hill and into the valley, cows on the left, flattened cornfield on the right, sycamore trees like ghosts against the sleeping winter limbs of maples, elms, walnuts ahead, I think of you, reciting my list of gratitude. When I coast down this hill, my grief swirls in cold cigarette smoke around my shoulders.
Would you be surprised by how often I think of you? Maybe not, since you are always there when I summon you—when in my head, I say, I love you, I miss your hugs, where are you, are you happy, I see you tilt your head. Those are the things I think and I picture your smile, your sympathetic frown and furrowed brow, your laugh. When I summon you, you are always here.
This grieving just never leaves me, sister.
I can’t bear the thought of never seeing you again, and so I make up a place beyond this world where you are dancing and I am writing and we are sitting in your kitchen or a café, smoking cigarettes and worrying about money and laughing anyway. Because that’s what we do.
This grieving has hovered around me for seven years.
What have I done in that time? Not much. A little bit of writing. I have claimed more garden space in the backyard, adding to the small rectangular plot I saved for you in between the birch trees. The lavender grew scraggly so I took it out, replaced with lemon drops and false indigo. In the new ground, I planted hyssop and black-eyed Susan for you. This weekend, I pulled back the wet leaves to see that all survived the winter.
I found a storage place for all your books and furniture. The paintings are in the basement and I fret about their condition. Last year, I finally took your iconic clothes—the long thin jackets you wore over black slips—to Goodwill. Each year, I distance myself a little more from the physical traces of your life. Not that I want to let go of all memories. Just that I can’t move without bumping into you – the dresser you inherited from mom, the table you painted with dancing Martha Graham, her right wrist to her forehead in angst, her left holding the blue skirt, kicked up like a great fan. The glass shards you glued on to the edges of the table break off now and then.
Isadora Duncan had said,
You were once wild here. Don’t let them tame you.”
Our hearts broke so close in time, just three months apart. I had pain in my back. You had pain in your jaw. I was awake when my heart stopped. When yours stopped, it woke you up, pulled you to the bathroom—not to save yourself, but to die on the floor. On the floor.
When you died, I promised I would make my life meaningful, as if I owed you. As if God took you first on purpose, left me behind to do the cardio therapy, the two-mile walks, the Lipitor and aspirin doses every day. God left me to do those things but it was to you I owed my better self. I volunteered to help build houses, clean parks, led petitions to protect unions, gave time to the local Dems. I tried to justify my existence, and crashed and burned when I realized it would never be enough. It would not bring you back.
This grieving hovers and slices into my sentences, splitting fragments all around me. At least now I can speak of your death. At least now I can get through the day. Still, I feel a tear in my heart, a death of muscle tissue, a scar that marks your place in my life.
I hear you whisper a low chant, “You were once wild here. Don’t let them tame you.”
*Correction: Dancer Isadora Duncan was misidentified in the painting. The dancer in the painting on the table is the equally revolutionary Martha Graham. The quote is correctly attributed to Duncan.
Such a beautiful memorial for your sister. It is definitely hard to move on from the death of a loved one. Time doesn’t diminish that loss.
Thanks so much for reading and commenting. True, time doesn’t diminish loss…only makes it more tolerable.
The best ode to love and loss I’ve read in a long time. You tell it how it is – thank-you.
Thanks so much for your generous words, Jill. Much appreciated.
I love you, Meg.
Awww, I love you too, Arden. Thanks so much for reading.
Oh, my. This is beautiful and heart-wrenching.
Thanks so much, Ashley.
Gorgeous remembrance of your sister. And while it cannot bring her back, it is enough, the way you have lived since your broken hearts. It is good and she is proud. Love you, Meg!
You are so kind and lovely to read my weepy stuff, Lisa. Hugs, big sloppy hugs to you.
Thank you for putting this out there. I’m about to lose my sister any day now (cancer) and I don’t know how to do this. How to move through each day After it happens. Maybe a garden is a good place to start. Through tears, thank you.
Oh, Lynn. I’m so sorry to hear this. I wish I had wisdom to share but the only thing I’ve got is this: breathe. Let yourself cry as much as you need. Hold her hand while you can. My sincere sympathy. Please post again and let me know how you’re doing. xoxo
Meg, I just read your Commencement for the Class of 2016, and something you said brought me back here.
“It is the smaller moment, the one you must consciously tell yourself to remember, of which I speak. The discreet, barely surfaced moment that is your treasure.”
I’ve been thinking along these lines often lately, but unable to articulate to myself. You did it right there.
My sister is gone now. Seven weeks ago. It’s the smaller moments that carry me. The purple couch I made her buy when she redecorated after the divorce, which she loved, and no one wants. Her dog’s puppies that she let me name when I was 10, and we both cried every single time one was adopted. The emergency brownies we ate after a rough day while she was at UConn and I was in high school. The hot, sweaty, summer afternoons we spent, lost, in half-wild greenhouses, stalking the best garden gems. The time we drove to Cole’s farm for fresh corn on the cob in her old Comet, blasting Billy Joel’s “My Life” on the actual radio.
She left such a big hole here. My parents are in their 80’s, so I’m doing everything. It is so hard for my mom. She skipped church – !!! – last weekend and stayed home to watch the Preakness instead. She usually goes three times a week, so I hope that’s OK..? My dad cries every time we talk. (My brothers concur on their advise – “stop calling him so much.” Idiots.)
I did what you said. I held her hand. I also listened. With my heart. And I brought the magnolia branches when they were about to bloom, I saw her recognize the branches. That moment of recognition, barely surfaced, is such a treasure.
Ah, Laura. I’ve been thinking about you since I read this comment in the middle of the night the night before last. I’m so sorry to hear about your sister but also glad to know that you were by her side. Your comment here is written with such love and angst that comes with loss and living through loss. I wish I could hold your hand! Please be kind to yourself and try not to do everything for everyone else. Grieving is a long, hard thing and demands rest. Be well. xoxo
Oh, sweet Meg. I feel this in the deepest part of my heart. You so beautifully and gently paint a picture of your grief, raw yet poetic, with gentle but vivid brush strokes. And you are too harsh with yourself – you have done so much, brought so much love into others’ lives (kitties especially!) that you musn’t feel you’ve failed anyone in any way. Ever. xo
Thank you, dear Silver. The whole survivor guilt thing is so powerful, even if it was a tangential survival. I am grateful to be here and to have your friendship. xoxo
Love you xo
Grief sucks, but I still hold on to mine because it’s all I have left. Beautifully written, sadly felt.
Thank you for sharing, my friend. I’m sorry you still have grieving too. On the other hand, I do believe these experiences make our lives richer because we know the depths of sorrow enhance dramatically the joyfulness.
‘I can’t move without bumping into you.’ This line spoke to me so very much. It’s so heartbreakingly true. Hugs, Meg. More hugs.
Thanks for the reading and hugs, Shailaja. You are a kind soul.
Grief is so transformative. At first we are crushed under its weight, but as time goes by “At least now I can get through the day.” we become strong enough to carry that grief that will never go away. Your opening paragraph is beautiful and haunting and I felt your grief with every word.
Ah, yes, the transformation is real, Ellen. Appreciate your kind words and reading.
I loved this even though it hurt to read. It hurt because of how clearly and beautifully you spoke of grief, longing, and the struggle to make sense of it, what to do after loss.
It has taken a lot of years for me to dig this deep into the grief, I’ll admit. Many thanks for reading and commenting, Katie.
You made me cry! This is beautiful but I’m so very sorry for your loss <3
Sorry I made you cry, Stacie! You know what’s weird? This is the first time I’ve written something and cried. I cried pretty much the whole way through writing. Never happened before. Thanks for your friendship and kindness. <3
Meg, your post is so beautiful, it made me cry. My sister is going through a rough spot with her health lately and it’s breaking my heart. I still remember this one time I dreamt that my sister was dead and I cried all day even though it was just a dream. It must be so hard for you to deal with the fact that your sister is no longer here. Virtual Hugs!
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This left me breathless.