Most of the people who read this blog will understand why I haven't written in over two months. The death of my sister has taken a tremendous toll on me, rendering me sleepless, unable to concentrate, sometimes barely able to function at all. The grieving still goes on as reality asserts itself day after new day: I will never again see her, hear her voice, see a message from her in my e-mail in-box. I won't be seeing a new-to-me music video that she loves and wants to share with me. No more stories about her "group therapy" sessions with her seven cats, or her latest babysitting stint with one of her grandchildren. I won't share any more memories with her about our childhood or young motherhood. She's not in the world any more, and that cold, hard fact is hard to accept. But accept it I must.
I didn't dress up for Linn's funeral. I'm sure many people found my jeans, turtleneck, sweater coat, and scuffed ankle boots inappropriate. The truth is that I just didn't have the energy to look in my closet and choose something more in keeping with the occasion from the bits and pieces of my inadequate wardrobe (I hate buying clothes). I was exhausted from sleeplessness and weeping. In that state, in the face of the enormous fact of her death, I didn't much care and I couldn't be bothered.
Her funeral was free of religion. She would not have liked a man of the cloth there, that's for certain. Instead, many people got up to speak about her. I wish I had recorded what each of them said, both laugh- and tear-inducing. Linn was definitely a person who made an impression, at least for most of her life. The speakers reminisced about so many characteristics of my sister: her sense of humor, her love of children, her resilience, her diving into life headfirst, her refusal to judge or to advise when advice was not sought.
Jim put a slide show together that ran continuously on his laptop, accompanied by a few songs: Roy Orbison's "In Dreams"; the Dixie Chicks' "I Believe in Love"; Jackson Browne's "For a Dancer": Tom Waits's "Take It with Me"; and Iris DeMent's "Let the Mystery Be."
Here is what I read:
If you've seen the slide show Jim put together, you've seen the photo of Linn and me when we were little kids. It was my birthday, and we had the big cake--for the birthday girl--and the little cake, for the non-birthday girl. Linn gave me this snapshot a couple of years ago, when she had come out of what she called "the zombie years" or "my fifteen years in a coma." On the back of the photo she wrote "Together Forever" and drew an infinity sign.
Forever didn't last very long, from my point of view. But Linn had a different way of seeing things. We had many a discussion about life and death. She was horrified when I explained to her that Albert Camus's essay "The Myth of Sisyphus" made sense to me and was actually a comfort at a time when I was searching for answers to the big questions. For those who don't know the myth, Sisyphus was condemned by the gods to spend eternity pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to have it roll down so that he had to push it up again, over and over. The crime of Sisyphus was that he captured and chained Death so that humans would not have to die. Camus thought that the fate of Sisyphus symbolized the fate of us humans. I won't go into the philosophical implications here, but trust me, it gave us hours of conversation.
Anyway, Linn always said that I identified with Sisyphus and she identified with the Phoenix, that legendary bird who rose from the ashes. (Recently Jim and I acquired a couple of kittens and Linn tried to get me to name them Sisyphus and Phoenix.) That's what Linn did--rose from the ashes again and again. So many times in her life she won against Death. For a long time she had sort of a living death, and when she miraculously woke up from it, I believe I was the first to notice, and I know I was ecstatic when I recognized that awakening. So when she gave me that photo, I actually wept for joy. My sister was back.
Linn also called herself the Bungee Cord girl--she might fall down, but she would snap back. And indeed she was resilient. She survived so much in her life. She had times of great despair, but in the end, her stubborn nature and her love for life and the people in it wouldn't let her succumb to despair. She loved, especially her sons and grandchildren, fiercely and wholly.
She told me she was a perennial--when this life was over, she would come back like perennial plants do. She felt bad for me that I was convinced that I'm an annual--this is the only life I'll ever have. She actually got angry with me for my agnosticism, because she believed in something greater, some sort of universal consciousness.
Her blog was called "Take Yourself Back!" because she felt that's what she'd had to do over and over. She didn't like the 12-step recovery plan, in which you have to submit to a higher power and actually acknowledge your helplessness. Screw that! For her, it was about reclaiming your power--taking yourself back from whatever had kidnapped you, whatever had erased your true self.
It is tragic to me that Linn could never fully believe that she was loved, or that she deserved to be loved. But that makes it all the more striking that she went on living as authentically and fully as she could, despite all misgivings.
Yes, it is an abrupt ending. Apparently that was all I could write ... Perhaps I should have said "despite all the moments of despair" or "despite all the times life knocked her down." And there was--and is--so much more I could have said about her. But this is what came to me when I sat down to write what I wanted to say as my eulogy. It may be that I'll have more to say, eventually, on this blog.
I also read this poem, one I wrote years ago, but which seems still appropriate:
For My Sister
The trees, the blue window
crackle with a scatter
of dry leaves. A gray dawn
would have been better
would have accommodated
familiar griefs. As it is, the sun
makes demands. All right then:
we will think not of separations
of the torn leaves
of the fall to earth, but rather
of the sparks
the fragmented sun.
each other, earth's axis, the sun.
We are aged by circle on circle.
Not only that. Opposing forces
pull us two ways.
We might fly outward in wild and brutal isolation.
We might fall unspectacularly, tugged by earth.
We manage a balancing act, hang on,
play one force against the other, all the while
Still, a warm web has been contrived,
a safety net of years
already survived, of old griefs
and rebirths ingeniously extracted
from the ash heaps. Our collective memory
spins a continuous thread, a thread
bright with colors of the phoenix:
not the gray sheen of pain
not the silver glitter of tears
not the black knot of despair
not the ragged leaden stone
on the heart. No,
the sun makes demands.
We will think of the warm web
catching the sun's sparks, shining
with rebelliously-spun threads,
in the face of dark forces.
It's hard to say goodbye. I'm still trying to say it.