sleepy head

This is a story my mother told. When we were little, my sister and I lived with our parents in a small house near Ithaca, NY. We each had a bedroom downstairs. Our parents had their bedroom upstairs. We were not allowed up there, because the stairwell came to the middle of a hall and there was no railing at all. They were afraid that we would fall down.

I am three years older. I’m not sure I was always a good sister.

One weekend morning, my parents were lying in bed in their room, quite early. Suddenly a very round three year old face popped up at the end of the bed, with a wicked gleam, and spoke:

“Boodie with a yellow bill
hopped upon my windowsill
cocked his shining eye and said
“Ain’t you shamed, you sleepy head?”

And then my sister raced out of the room and down the stairs.

My mother said that when they got over their stunned laughter, they came downstairs to talk to us. I had coached my sister until she could recite perfectly, aside from the missing r. I think we got a mild scolding about the safety of the stairs, but since they were still laughing, I don’t think we took it seriously.

previously published on everything2.com, a slightly different version

mother, maiden and crone

When Beth is dying in Little Women, she says that it is like the tide going out….. sometimes I miss my sister so much. I am trying to make sense of the third stage, the stage after mother. With my daughter in college, I am living alone for the first time in 28 years. And I don’t have my sister or my mother or my grandmother to accompany me.

I took the title from one of my sister’s essays: An early promotion to crone. Here: http://e2grundoon.blogspot.com/2007/08/early-promotion-to-crone.html

I want to discuss my sister’s essay with her …. I can’t, except in dreams.

mother, maiden and crone

small child in my heart
baby cuddled warm
safe and loved
small girl dancing
sing run shout

woman seen and heard
woman silenced dressed undressed
woman learning searching writing
woman held and loved
woman gravid bearing carrying
woman feeding raising nurturing

crone quiet watching
white haired dismissed old
unseen unknown ignored
laughing playing dancing
crone alone
sing run shout
dancing

music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JiP9WH0zN0Y

On death and feelings

When my mother was dying of cancer, she did not want us to cry.

So we didn’t. We had her at home in hospice for nearly six weeks and we did not cry. Almost.

My sister called me. “I started crying today, at the kitchen table.” My mother was in another room in the hospital bed. “Everyone left. No one stayed with me. Everyone left.”

I didn’t cry but when people called to say how were things, I couldn’t speak. I sat there with the phone, silent. Because what I wanted to say was my truth and I knew very well that that was not what they were calling to hear. So I did not speak.

After my mother died, time passed. I felt…. many things, but the strongest one was “I wish my mother had let me cry.” We did what she wanted. But I wanted to cry.

My sister got cancer and fought it ferociously. She refused hospice until the last week. I flew down three times in the last two months.

Six days before she died, her friend and I were helping her. “I’m sad!” said my sister.

“Don’t be sad.” said the friend.

“It’s ok to be sad.” I said. “What are you sad about?”

My sister started crying: “I won’t be at my daughter’s high school graduation! I won’t see her get ready for prom! I don’t want to leave her!”

“You won’t leave her.” I said. “You will be there. Not in this form.” I meant it absolutely.

“I want to stay!” she said.

“I know.” I said. “I am so sorry.”

With my sister, I did not do what she wanted. I thought of my mother and that I wished she had let me cry. With my sister, I tried to listen to what she wanted and listen to what I wanted. I tried to be honest with her. She even got mad!

But… I watched her go in the cancer bubble. Where fewer and fewer people were being honest. They were afraid. They did what she wanted. They wanted her to be happy. And she tried so hard….

When I had arrived for the last visit with my sister, she was sitting with my cousin. I hugged her. She was not speaking much. I asked if she would like me to sing something and she nodded. I started singing “I gave my love a cherry”, a sweet lullaby. My sister shook her head, angry and fierce. I studied her. “How about Samuel Hall?” I said. My sister smiled and nodded. I started singing “My name is Samuel Hall.” It is about a man who is going to the gallows for killing someone and he is entirely unrepentant and angry. My cousin looked at me, startled. “I haven’t thought of that song in years,” he said. We both sang it to my sister. “To the gallows I must go, with my friends all down below, damn your eyes, damn your eyes.” That was the right song, angry, resisting, raging. “Hope to see you all in hell, hope to hell you sizzle well, damn your eyes, damn your eyes.”

I flew back to work three days before my sister died. I am told that she was scared when she died. “I said, don’t be scared.” said a friend.

Why not? I thought. Why can’t the dying be scared, be anxious, be angry? Why are we afraid to let them? I would have said, Why are you scared? And I would have said, I am scared too. And sad. And angry.

I told my counselor once that my husband was on the couch, angry, and I had to leave the room.

“Why?” she said.

“I am afraid.” I said.

“Why?” she said.

“I am afraid he’s angry at me.” I said.

“So what?” she said.

I thought, so what? “I want to fix him. I want him to not be angry.” Even if it isn’t at me.

“Why can’t you stay in the room?” she said.

I practiced. I stayed in the room. He was angry, grumpy, acting out. It’s not my anger. I don’t have to fix it. It may be just or unjust. Does it really matter? It is his anger not mine. I can stay present.

A friend said that his friend was dying leaving small children. “He was so angry that almost all his friends stopped visiting.”

A man and his sister are not speaking four years after their father died because they disagreed so strongly about how his lung cancer should be treated.

An elderly woman in the hospital agrees to go home for care with her son when he is present and with her daughter when she is present. When neither is present she will not make a decision.

A woman says to me that she is angry that hospice didn’t tell her which drug to give at the end to keep her friend from being anxious.

I hope that we learn to stay present for the dying and for the living. For all of the “negative” emotions. I see most of my hospice patients want LESS medicine rather than more. As their kidneys fail, the medicines last longer. They do not want to be asleep. They may cry. They may be angry. They may be unreasonable. Why should they be reasonable or nice or peaceful?

We want most to be loved entirely. Even when we are sad or whiney or angry or anxious. Who wants to be left alone when they are afraid? I hope we all learn to stay present.

And when we were alone, in that last three days, my sister said “I’m bad!” I said, “You are not bad. You’ve done some really bad things.” She said, “I’m sorry.” I said, “I love you anyway.” And she lit up like a buddhist monk, like an angel. And we both cried and I am so glad I was there.

Art at Quimper Family Medicine

I change the art at clinic, these for the summer. We had four reproductions up before, of alchemy paintings from the 1400-1600s. I thought they were creepy but also interesting and beautiful.

The painting on the left is by my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway, of my sister, Christine Robbins Ottaway. On the right is an oil by an artist that I don’t know. It looks like my father. I inherited art, but I keep finding beautiful pieces. At least I can display a little and rotate them with the seasons…

 

 

 

Break your own rules

If I say “Food fight.” you may think of Animal House.

I think of my mother.

I am in high school in Alexandria, Virginia. My sister is three years younger. We are in the kitchen, it is hot. 99 degrees F and 98 percent humidity and the back door is open. We do not have air conditioning. We are eating watermelon. The old kind: with seeds.

My mother holds up a seed, pinched between her fingers, looking wicked.

My eyes narrow. “If you shoot that, you started it.” …. not in the house, is the unspoken rule that echoes.

She shoots it at me.

We all three start pinching the slick black watermelon pits at each other, laughing like hyenas. In a large kitchen with open shelves and dishes placed on all the shelves, often nested. It devolves into small chunks of watermelon, hurled at each other. No rinds, because of the open shelves. At last we all run out of pits and watermelon and stopped

There is silence while we survey the very impressive mess. There are watermelon seeds everywhere. And the floor is pretty wet.

Watermelon is STICKY.

We laugh more and start cleaning up. I leave for work or school or something.

Later my mother says, “I washed the floor three times before it stopped feeling sticky. And I kept finding watermelon seeds in the dishes on the shelves for the next two years.”

And: “It was worth it.”

The photograph is of my mother in high school.

R is for ridiculous

Ridiculous. Silly. I can’t do S for silly because another of the 7 sins starts with S.

My sister and I could be so silly together. I bought the ridiculous Dr. Suess Christmas hat one year. On Christmas morning my sister wore it and then played with a Sesame Street style puppet. A monster puppet, where you could put different arms and eyebrows and eyes on for different moods. She and the puppet had a discussion about which arms the puppet would wear! And then she put all the velcro monster parts on her cashmere sweater! Ridiculous!

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malene's photo chris and silly hat chris - Copy (2)

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I

The last photograph is my sister with her daughter, being goofy and ridiculous. My sister died in 2012 of cancer…. I hope she gets to continue to be goofy sometimes on the next plane of existence and I miss being ridiculous with her!

M is for mourn

M is for mourn. We mourn for losses. Mourning is part of being human and we have to give grief room and space. How can we love and feel intimacy without also feeling grief and mourning?

M

I wrote a poem the day my sister died. I had flown home four days before, after seeing her in hospice, 7 years of cancer. I flew home the day before her birthday. My birthday is three days after hers. She died the day after my birthday. It has now been four years.

An apology, a love note and a remembrance

I step outside into a fine mist rain.

I am enfolded in cloud.

The dog still wants to be walked.
The cats want their treats.
The bunny rattles her cage.
The fish will want feeding at the usual time.

My heart lies stunned in my chest.
The dog does not pull.
I walk measured.
He waits.

The rain comes harder.

I hope that where you are, is joy.

The crows harsh caws comfort me.
I answer.
They watch from the tree tops as we circle.

I am enshrouded in cloud.

We are back to the house.

I try to remember.
I have the birds.
I have the trees.

We go in.

first published on everything2.com with other poems for her here: http://everything2.com/title/An+apology%252C+a+love+note+and+a+remembrance

I don’t know who took the photograph. Probably my grandparents.