Surprises and Adjustments in Life

Some things in life one simply cannot adequately prepare for.  We all know at some level that when we’re born, we will someday die.  It is an inevitable outcome of being born.  But when we lose someone very close to us, as I did in the loss of my older sister this past June, it came as a complete shock.  I knew for 1 1/2 years that she suffered with ovarian cancer.  I allowed myself to read the statistics, but somehow, I simply didn’t internalize the information.  I also spoke to women who had beat this disease, so I too knew that was possible.  However, when the end came, it shook me to the core.  I’m still having days of nonfunctioning grief induced pain. It continues to stagger me. I do find I’m improving, and beginning to think of happy memories with her.  Things we shared together that I’m quite sure were just between the two of us.  I am working on it, and I’ve found a great therapist who is helping me navigate between the boulders of grief.  Sometimes it’s simply a tsunami that crashes over me and leaves me gasping for breath.   Those have become fewer and further between, but I’ve no doubt that the triggers will  happen again and again.  I can only hope that they won’t be as staggering as they have been in the past.  I’m taking the word of those wonderful people who have shared with me that it does get better.  I know I’ll never forget and likely never fully recover, but I want to embrace the wonders of my life – my children and my grandchildren, friends, and family, and not focus on pain.  But I realize that it will always be there at least underneath.  I can have much greater emphathy with others who have experienced similar loss.

At the same time that my sister was enduring her illness, we were in the process of building a house.  This should be a wonderful experience, but it got so tied up in her time of sickness that it became hard for me to separate the two.  It’s a lovely house, but after two months, has yet to feel like home.  I think I’ll get there.  I know it takes time.  But if you look at stress level charts, you will see that moving is way up there.  Again, I do believe I’ll get there with time.  My sister never got to see this house.  At one point, I thought that might be good for me, but now  I’m not so sure.  I’m willing to suspend time to see how that works out.

The final icing on this huge cake was the announcement by my son that he’s moving to California to take a new job.  Living in South Carolina as we do, this came as a huge shock.  But I’ve reminded myself (after many tears) how important it is for each of us to try to live our dreams.  That is something I’ve always wanted for each of my  children.  My middle son went to live in Italy to finish undergraduate college and to work for a few years.  I missed him terribly, but had he not done that, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to visit Rome, Pompeii, Salerno, and the Isle of Capri.  I’ve since had the opportunity to make it back two other times, and I’m extremely grateful for those opportunities.  He has returned to Greenville with his extraordinary Italian wife and three beautiful children. I know a lot of great things can come out of this, and I do believe the shock is wearing off.

In the meantime, I’m tasked with finding my new role in this third phase of life. Most of my time on earth has been care taking other people.  Now, I must discover what is next, and what will work for me to make me happy in this era.  I love using my mind, but I find that using my hands may be greatly gratifying as well.  I enjoy talking politics, but have no desire to run for an office.  So I will continue to explore and see what feels good.  I also know I enjoy learning new things and ideas, so more classes are likely in the future for me.

I offer this to those of you dealing with similar issues.  If you’ve come up with ideas that help you, please share.  If you simply feel somewhat encouraged by knowing that others are struggling as well, do let me know.  We’ll make these changes.  I just can’t find the book that tells me how.  Perhaps together, we could write that.  What happens when the life you’ve lived for 62 years no longer fits?  Let’s find out.  Thank you for reading.

Also, I wrote a small book about the lessons I learned from my sister. If you’re interested in reading the book, you can locate it at



The Grief and Anger in Losing a Sister

The things that one learns while in the stages of grief are well defined by many grief counselors.  There are a ubiquitous number of books that describe these terrible stages.  Anger, denial, negotiation, acceptance, depression, ad nauseum.  These come in no particular order and simply because you’ve spent time in one stage doesn’t mean that you’re finished with it.  Nor is there any time limit to how long you experience a particular stage.  The human mind refuses to work like that.  You can go through all five in a manner of minutes, or you may find yourself stuck in one for hours and days at a time.  There is no rhyme or reason as to how these stages will pick you up, throw you down, wring you like a wet towel, and drop you on the ground with deep dread that it’s about to start all over again.

The anger and depression stages seem to be my major choices.  Acceptance is one that eludes me, as it did for twenty years after my father died.  I can get stuck and linger for years.  It’s not the healthiest way to do it.  But, I’ve gotten so good at it, I do hate to give it up.

Years ago, I read a lot of Kubler-Ross – “On Death and Dying.”  Perhaps I was preparing myself. Facing a death, Noel’s in my situation, brings out a side of me most people don’t like.  It’s my fighting side.  I don’t really care what others think when it comes to protecting my family, good southerner that I am.  I know that I would have made a pact with the devil to have her emerge healthy and to allow her to live into a vibrant old age.  I’d do it in a skinny minute. Gasp all you want.

But, I do know that isn’t an option.  There are so many who haven’t earned the breath she so well deserved, the healthy body that by rights should have been hers.  Those useless, self-absorbed people who do little or nothing for their neighbors.  It defies logic that a woman so giving is the one to get this horrendous disease we call ovarian cancer. It simply isn’t up to me as to who deserves a long life and who doesn’t, and thank god for that.

One thing that I’ve learned in this ordeal is that people say the most inane things. I know its very hard to know what to say.  Sometimes, all you can say is, “This totally sucks.”  If you aren’t that kind of speaker, try, “this is simply terrible and I’m so sorry.”  We really don’t want to hear that she’s in a better place and we’re definitely all happy that she’s no longer in pain but we want her HERE with US.

Also, please don’t ask me what I need (or anyone else struggling through this morass of hellish emotions.  Suggest something you can do.  I can barely remember to get up, breathe, and bathe.  Forget coming up with what I need.  Try offering a meal for a certain night, or offer to come over and water the flowers; drop off note cards that the grieving people can use later and include a book of stamps (dying can be expensive).  If there are children in the house, bring mac n cheese.  Offer to feed and wash the dog, or take him/her out for a walk.  Blow off the driveway, mow the lawn.  We would really appreciate it, but we can’t remember how to put the lid back on the toothpaste.  If you really feel that you need to do something for the person in grief, do it.  Gently, but with determination.  You’ve no idea how much it will be appreciated.  Those who are taking care of their sick loved one are doing all that they can there.  You can help, but be creative.  All my thoughts are tied up with her.  Whatever you do, trust me – it will be deeply appreciated.