My sister Christine Ottaway died in 2012 of breast cancer.
I took this photograph at Christmas in Alexandria, Virginia in the late 1970s. I am three years older and made her stuffed toys and puppets for years. The first one was a stuffed snake that I sewed by hand, of brown flowered fabric. My mother was very unconvinced about it, but Chris and I had both longed for the giant velvet snakes at the County Fair. We failed to win one. The snake I made her was only two feet long, but she loved it.
I made the puppet on the left and bought her the one on the right.
It’s lovely to still have the photographs and memories.
For the Ragtag Daily Prompt stable, because maybe love is the only stable thing in an unstable world.
The bones of the great blue heron are so light, that I think it is standing on the floating kelp beds. I’d wish my bones were that light, but that would be osteoporosis. Maybe I could come back as a heron.
The older we get, the more we learn which bridges to cross, which bridges to burn.
What shall I keep?
And shall I burn that bridge before I cross it
I did not know that was a bridge
I would burn
And I grieve as a I learn
But the sledgehammers and bombs
loosed by the family
have left a bridge
that is all but falling
Into an abyss.
It is stone and old.
It won’t burn, but it barely holds together.
One heavy rock, thrown in the middle
and it will fall
down down down.
What shall I keep?
What shall I let go?
I wonder what my parents think
Do they think at all
or do they let go with death
and let joy overcome them
in reunion with the Beloved.
I hope where they are is joy.
It is ok, loves.
It did not turn out well
but people make their choices.
I can’t rebuild the bridge alone
and on the other side they prepare
new IEDs to blow me up
if I attempt to rebuild
I keep my children away
from the web of triangulation
and so they are not attached to the land
nor do they play the family games.
I am so glad.
I am still attached to the land
and my dead.
Not the living but the dead.
My sister, my mother, my father
grandparents, uncles, aunt.
All the dead.
Forgive me, but I can’t keep the bridge
and I will let the land go.
My children and I will be dead
to those living.
We have family and friends
who are loving and not hating
and not cruel.
I still love my dead and even though the place reminds me of them, they are not there. They are in my heart. I keep them safe and let the bridge and the land go.
It’s about shacks on a lake in Ontario. My grandparents and family built the shacks and I’ve been going there since I was under a year old.
However, my sister died of cancer in 2012 and there was a horrific family battle over my niece. My mother had already died. My father died 13 months after my sister and left the same will as my mother. Unfortunately it was written when I was a minor. I cried when I read it because I was the only person named in it who was still alive. I knew what my father wanted, or remembered what he told me. A will is a will though. I took it to an attorney and followed her interpretation.
Then I was sued by family regarding the niece.
I knew what my father wanted but he had not done it. So I decided not to fight it and handed over half the estate. Because even though my father wanted me to watch over his granddaughter, he had not left me the tools. And she did not want me.
So back to the shacks. It’s the side of the family that brought in all the lawsuits. I have not felt welcomed there nor loved since my sister died.
Part of me is furious that I am being hunted out, unwelcomed, wants our grandparents to curse them.
The other part points out that I have already been hunted out, effectively. I stopped trying to take my children there because I couldn’t tell who in the family was “neutral” (basically not talking to me) or “gossiping” — the rumors re me trying to harm my niece were incredibly painful. I had to let her go.
After my father died I dream that I am issued a huge SUV, black. I am to go pick up three children. When I arrive, two are teens: my two. The third is a toddler. My niece is really the same age as my daughter, but not in the dream. In the dream, they tell me, “You can’t take the toddler. You don’t have a car seat.”
I say, “Can I go get one and come back?”
“No.” they say.
I say, “Please, can I borrow one? I didn’t know I needed it! I was issued the SUV!”
“No.” they say. “You can only take the two teens.
So I took the two teens and left, crying.
I woke up and thought: my father’s will is not my fault. I did the best I could. I followed an attorney’s advice and I tried to do what my father wished. I did not have the tools I needed.
Now my children and I may get an offer to buy our share of the land. My children are ready to be bought out.
I do not know if I am. I feel like this is the last connection with that side of my family, not only the living, but the dead. I love the land far more than the silent living and the cruel living. Why are families so cruel and why do they need enemies so badly? Gossip is a sin, truly, and hurts. Selling my share is saying goodbye to my sister, my mother, my father, my grandmother, my grandfather, my two uncles, my aunt. I don’t mind saying goodbye to the cruel living nearly as much as to my dead.
Qia wants help. She is scared of the monster, FEAR, the giant monster, but her father won’t listen. She sniffles and tries, but she can’t stop crying. She goes to her room, because her father has turned his back. Her mother is drawing. They are busy. They don’t like it when she is scared.
FEAR is enormous and pushes into the room with her. She cries harder in her room with the door closed. No one can hear her now except FEAR. FEAR is large and has horrible drippy teeth and too many arms and keeps swatting at her. Qia gives up and lets FEAR swat her. She sits on the bed with her knees up and puts her head on her arms.
FEAR rages around her room.
After a while Qia is tired of crying. She lifts her head off her arms.
FEAR is smaller. Still bigger than her father, bigger than her mother, but just standing and looking at her. FEAR looks tired too.
Qia pats the bed beside her. FEAR hesitates and looks scared. Qia waits. FEAR shuffles over and sits beside her on the bed.
The room is very quiet. Qia finds a scrap of tissue and blows her nose. She looks sideways at FEAR.
FEAR’s head is down and FEAR seems to be crying. Qia reaches out and takes FEAR’s paw. One of the paws. There are a lot.
FEAR holds her hand tightly and then leans against her. Qia wiggles over a bit more to give FEAR room. FEAR sighs and then snuggles down onto the bed, massive drippy toothy head in Qia’s lap.
Qia strokes FEAR’s fur. It is very soft and dark purple.
FEAR is the first monster that Qia makes friends with. There are many more.
I was thinking about this story even before the Ragtag Daily Prompt: bugbear.
Some diagnoses take months or even years. How can that be?
A patient comes to me with right shoulder pain. His pain is “out of proportion to the exam”. His shoulder exam does not fit with a rotator cuff tear, he has good range of motion, it is weird. I hospitalize him and ask orthopedics to see him.
The orthopedic surgeon agrees with me. It is not a musculoskeletal shoulder problem. We do xrays and labs. We do a chest xray as well as a shoulder xray because on the right side of the body, the recurrent laryngeal nerve goes down to the diaphragm and then returns to the shoulder and neck. So sometimes shoulder pain on the right is referred pain from a problem or tumor or pneumonia at the base of the lung.
His chest xray is normal.
We are having trouble controlling his pain even with morphine.
I call the general surgeon. My patient has some small lymph nodes in his supraclavicular spaces. We actually have lymph nodes all over, but many are hidden deep in muscles or under bone. We can feel them in the neck, the supraclavicular space, under each arm and in the groin.
The surgeon says there isn’t anything large enough to biopsy.
I call the oncologist in the next county. We are too small a rural hospital and do not have an oncologist at that time. I say, “I think he has cancer, but I can’t find it.” The oncologist listens to the story. He agrees. We do a chest and abdominal CT scan and some blood tests. The patient has had his colonoscopy. Nothing.
I send the patient to the oncologist’s bigger hospital. They can do some tests that I can’t. A bone scan and a PET scan.
The oncologist calls me. “I think you are right, but we can’t find it yet. Send him back when there is something to test.”
My patient goes home with pain medicine.
He then calls me every week or two. “It still hurts,” he says. “Please come in and let me do another exam,” I say. “No,” he says and hangs up. I am a Family Practice physician so his partner is also my patient. She comes in and rolls her eyes. “He complains, but he won’t come in!”
At last he shows up in the emergency room and now he has enlarged supraclavicular lymph nodes. The general surgeon biopsies them. It is an undifferentiated carcinoma. That means we don’t know where it is from. We don’t know the primary.
The oncologist says, “Send him down, so we can do the tests again.”
The patient is at home and refuses.
I call the oncologist back. “He’s refusing.”
“Oh.” says the oncologist. “Well, we can treat it with chemo blindly. We can try to figure out the primary and treat it more exactly. Or he can choose hospice.”
Ok, yes, three choices. I call and leave a message to go over the choices with him.
He comes up with a fourth choice: he refuses to talk to me at all.
I call his partner. “Yes,” she says, “He’s grumpy.”
“We are happy to help with whatever choice he makes.” I say.
“I’ll tell him.”
He continues to refuse to talk to me or the oncologist. Eventually he goes back to the emergency room and goes to hospice at the local nursing home.
I tell the oncologist. He comforts me. “Yes, sometimes we are pretty sure there is a cancer, but it has to get big enough to find.”
I am not comfortable with that but medicine is way more complex and messier than people realize. Sometimes it is really nice to have a patient with something where I know what it is AND it can be treated. Appendicitis. Gallstones. Strep throat.
But sometimes it is complicated and can take months or even years. Stay present and keep checking in.
The boat is returning to the water after work in our boatyard. Healed and seaworthy.
Refugees welcome - Flüchtlinge willkommen I am teaching German to refugees. Ich unterrichte geflüchtete Menschen in der deutschen Sprache. I am writing this blog in English and German because my friends speak English and German. Ich schreibe auf Deutsch und Englisch, weil meine Freunde Deutsch und Englisch sprechen.
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