rose

first day of schoolit 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.

27 comments:

  1.   rose by cancer.MEDtrials.info (Pingback), 22. January 2008, 15:53
     

    […] article continues at Chrystie brought to you by cancer.medtrials.info and medtrials.info […]

     
  2. Rachel, 22. January 2008, 15:55

    Oh, Chrystie, I’m so sorry for your loss.

     
  3. Max, 22. January 2008, 16:17

    I’m so sorry to hear about this – I feel like I too am feeling strength from her struggle – thank you for sharing.

     
  4. Psychology » Blog Archive » rose (Pingback), 22. January 2008, 16:32
     

    […] Kristi Gustafson – style fashion dating blog – On the Edge – timesunion.com — Albany NY wrote an interesting post today on roseHere’s a quick excerpt…just after, she completed a second masters in counseling psychology, again overcoming great physical odds in order to attend courses and… […]

     
  5. Marilyn, 22. January 2008, 18:43

    What a beautiful and moving tribute!

     
  6. Helene, 22. January 2008, 20:20

    Chrystie,

    Your writing makes me aspire to be a ‘Rose’. What a beautiful sister & special relationship. You’re so right, you’ll always carry her with you and be warmed by her amazing spirit. So sorry to hear about your loss.

    Helene

     
  7. Meredith, 22. January 2008, 21:00

    I am so sorry for your loss, Chrystie. It is such a powerful thing not to let illness define your life and it sounds like your sister’s life was so much more full of love and passion than many people who live 100 years.

     
  8. DU, 22. January 2008, 21:46

    Thank you for sharing this, CRH.

     
  9. MP, 22. January 2008, 23:22

    No words now other than: Time for us to have dinner, even if we just sit and eat. Or just sit. Thanks for this post.

     
  10. Katie Clark, 23. January 2008, 11:38

    I’m so sorry. I hope I never have to go to my sister’s funeral.

     
  11. Clayton, 23. January 2008, 17:52

    Beautiful

     
  12. Meg, 23. January 2008, 19:42

    What a lovely way to celebrate Rose. I am so sorry to hear about your loss. May your memories and sharing them bring some comfort.

     
  13. JanieH, 23. January 2008, 19:54

    This is a beautiful and inspirational tribute — thanks so much for sharing Rose with us in this special way. I am sure that many will feel strengthened after reading this and so this too shall become a part of Rose’s incredible legacy. I am thinking of you, your siblings and the rest of your family during this healing period and wishing you continued strength as you adjust to your new reality. Hope we can catch up f2f soon.

     
  14. Chris Henry, 25. January 2008, 0:17

    My deepest sympathies on the loss of your sister. Aren’t sisters great? Wishing you and your family peace and comfort.

    Chris Henry, Kitsap Sun

     
  15. blg3, 25. January 2008, 11:45

    Rose is truly a pearl. I say “is” because her spirit is very much alive. In fact she permeates my atmosphere now as I sit here and read your beautiful words with tears in my eyes. peace.

     
  16. JP, 25. January 2008, 12:33

    huge love to you and all who carry Rose in their hearts

     
  17. Kurt, 25. January 2008, 15:42

    thanks for sharing this. she sounds like she was really, really special. I hope I live well enough that someone, somewhere can write a third as much of a remembrance about me after i’m gone.

     
  18. Jeff, 27. January 2008, 23:43

    Chill, you and Rose are an inspiration! Reading this reminds me of Lincoln’s quote, “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” It’s obvious that Rose understood and embraced these same words!

    Stauf.

     
  19. Laura C, 28. January 2008, 21:03

    Chrystie,
    Thanks for this beautiful tribute. You write so beautifully about what could be learned from Rose in life and now after her death.
    love,
    Laura

     
  20. Lori, 29. January 2008, 19:49

    Hi Christine (That is what I remember calling you when you looked just like you look in this picture!)

    I am not sure you remember me, but I wanted to write and tell you that I am so sorry for the loss of your sister, Rose. I cannot imagine the pain of losing a sibling. When I saw the pic of her face (sent by Wendy Tanner) I got a flash back of her as a small child.

    I went to Bible Baptist Church with you when I was a teen. It was a bittersweet time in my life. Please give your mom and other family members my hugs and tell them you are all in my thoughts.

    Lori (Graham) Atkinson
    Now in Middleburg, FL
    Write anytime…..

     
  21. Jena Tesse, 30. January 2008, 0:36

    My deepest condolences to you and your family. Rose was an icon at Wells College, and all of us were in awe of her strength and talent. I’m so glad that she was able to share both with so many people. The world is a much better place for her having been here.

     
  22. Deborah Nelson, 14. February 2008, 11:55

    So sorry for your loss. Rose fought a long battle; she was an amazingly strong and vibrant person. I will be sure and share her story with my 2 daughters. I wish our families could have been closer over the years. My prayers and sympathy go out to you and your family.

    -Deborah Nelson
    Denver, CO

     
  23. Katie, 14. February 2008, 17:29

    The picture on the top made me cry… it looks so much like one I have of my sister and I. God bless you for your courage and for your beautiful Rose. She sounds amazing. Sisters are so special, the love between them is forever.

     
  24. Tasha, 20. February 2008, 22:10

    So sorry for the loss of Rose. I was a student at SKHS and we shared a few friends. I also was diagnosed with breast cancer at 21. Very strange. I last saw Rose at the Harvard Exit. Its too bad that we didnt see each other more to talk about our experiences. I know she will be missed.

     
  25. Nancy White, 16. May 2008, 10:23

    Christie, thanks for your comment on my blog which led me back here, to this beautiful page that expresses so entirely the culture of love that can bloom amongst all of us. I’m sure Rose is proud of you in every way, wherever her spirit now lives.

     
  26. Marybelle Calhoun, 29. May 2008, 15:49

    Hi Chrystie. I also knew you as Christine at BBC in Port Orchard. I recognized the “ready for school” pictures right away. We were so sorry to hear about Rose. After reading about her life experiences, we see that she lived her life to the fullest. I doubt that many of us can say we have accomplished as much as she did, even those of us who have lived for 70 + years. Anyway, our deepest sympathy for the loss of your sister Rose. Our prayers are with you at this time. You were always such great kids & we loved you. Marybelle Calhoun

     
  27. Heidi Lindner, 4. July 2008, 20:03

    I got the newsletter from Cottey yesterday . . . I’m so sorry for the loss of your sister. Thinking of Rose I can’t help but smile. Did Rose ever tell you about the time she accidentally flooded Reeves Hall? We were on the third floor and the water reached the basement! I’m so pleased I got to be her friend–to laugh and sing with her. She was joy personified.

    Heidi Legler Lindner
    Wisconsin