it has only been a few weeks since i last wrote. still, i opened my computer this morning and you wouldn’t believe the dust. as i type the number keys are still covered; i moved the screen away from the light so that i wouldn’t see the dust there. getting up and finding something to clean seemed like it might distract me from my impulse to get online and type something. i figure it’s a good feeling and it’s coming at about the right time.
‘feel this’ my sister Rose says to me one day in the fall of 1998, pointing to the top of her right breast. i’ll never forget the sheer terror of that moment. ‘you need to have that checked out,’ i say to her, ‘that’s not right’. turns out it wasn’t. within the month rose was diagnosed with moderately differentiated, infiltrating, adenocarcinoma, a fancy word for a relentless and chaotic form of breast cancer. she was 21; i was 24.over the next ten years Rose traveled to something like fifteen countries, often times against great physical odds, like lungs so filled with fluid that she must be wheeled from international terminal to cab and then to hospital. in addition to travel, she completed a master of fine arts in performance art and performed in international festivals on three continents. she saved skin, blood, teeth, nails, and all manner of hospital attire, documentation, and gadgets for use in her powerful performances about body, self, and illness. just after, she completed a second masters in counseling psychology, again overcoming great physical odds in order to attend courses and defend her final thesis. two years ago she fell in love and married; making future plans for work, marriage, and family life. under the gravest duress and the most challenging of circumstance, she made her plans and kept her spirit.
meanwhile, she was also my loyal friend and dedicated supporter. she witnessed and encouraged every aspect of my personal and professional life. ‘i’m so proud of you,’ she would proclaim at my accomplishments great and small, maybe not realizing that i was borrowing from her strength; taking her will to live as my inspiration for much smaller feats. eventually my terror subsided into fear and the fear into grief and even acceptance. i still hoped, we all hoped, but somewhere i knew our fates were sealed.
when I asked Rose a few days before she died if there was anything in particular she wished she could have done she said ‘well, everything, everything else.’ and there was so much more that she didn’t have time for: rose wanted kids and more godchildren; she joked that she wanted to know what it was going to be like to be an executive’s wife and ‘filthy rich’; she wanted to create and document more performance art and would open a combination art/therapy space to be named ‘alchemy studios’. there were countries she had never been to; entire ways of being and thinking she’d never know. ‘will you get married?’ she asks, re-framing the loss as ours and not just hers, ‘have kids?’ i watched my sister live and love more than many of us will choose to do or allow over much longer lifetimes; her life was indeed extraordinary, but she also lived for her relationship to others as well as for her own experiences. i watched her die with the same courage for self and audacity for love; watched her insist even in her last days and hours on a deliberate, grounded, and self-aware but decidedly generous path.
i literally have no memory without attachment to her as a presence and force in my life; at first this made it impossible to imagine my own life without her. but i’ve realized over these ten years that even though she’ll be physically gone, the memory i’ll keep of her intense care and support for me, i am quite sure, will be enough for my lifetime, however long. i will miss her, and i’m sorting out now what exactly is meant by ‘my lifetime beyond hers,’ but i think it’s going to be ok – and i’ll probably be back to work and libraryland over the next month or so.
much love and thanks to all who have already extended their thoughts and support for our loss. (dearest alane, the poem ‘gone’ was especially poignant and perfectly timed. dearest libraryman, the johnny cash rendition of ‘flesh and blood’ took my breath away. dearest blg3, your note of support was so beautiful, heartfelt and very much appreciated. dearest ben and rvn, my family believes you two may have entered the ‘no flaw’ zone. dearest kendra and anna, mmmm pasta. dearest dave, thank you for your dreams. dearest all of wj, i have no idea what i would have done without that laundry service. and the list goes on and on…) i am grateful to have such great family, friends and colleagues. thank you all.