Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Taking Apart a Life

The funeral was on Sunday, July 6. A good number of people came, including about a dozen of Lora's "kids" from the school that she crossed for, along with their parents. It was heartbreaking to talk with each kid, but I made sure I did. I wanted them to know that this life isn't the end. It seemed to comfort them to think of Lora still at her corner, in spirit, looking out for them. I reminded them that she taught them how to cross a street safely and to remember that, it would keep them safe, just as she did.

Funerals are hard for family. Everyone wants to talk with you, to share a story, or just let you know that they are there. And you have to keep it together. This is not the time to close yourself off from others so you can grieve. But there were a couple times when I lost my composure. A dear friend of my dad's came. He had read the notice in the paper and didn't believe it at first. I happened to be in the lobby when he came through the door. I hadn't seen him in a few years and we had been good "buddies," of the kid and cop sort. He is older by about 15 years, and was just a great pal. I burst into tears when I saw him. He hugged me tight and we just stood there, me bawling my eyes out. Then the switch was flipped. Inside of 3 minutes we shared our news, about the circumstances of my sister's passing, and a complete surprise to him, the fact that I had gotten married. His comment created a little levity and helped lessen the intensity of emotion. That's a true friend, someone who can let you bawl like a baby, and yet make you laugh so to ease your pain.

Now the next hard part comes. Packing up and dismantling a life. First, the pets. To some of you, they are just animals. But to those who have pets, you know that they grieve too. My mom took the two teacup chihuahuas. They have always visited their "grandma" and even my mom's cat likes to play with them. But one of them really had a hard time, he snapped and growled at me whenever I came to the house. He hid in their crate and crawled under the blanket. After about 4 days, he finally came to sit near me as I was going through some papers. Not too close, but on the same loveseat. The black one always came to me, so he crawled in my lap. Later, I mentioned grandma and they both perked up, and seemed ready to ride. So, I took them for a visit. That broke the tension for the tan dog and he finally stopped growling. We visited grandma, then stopped at McDonalds for a hamburger - a treat my sister would give them. The next day, they went back to grandma's permanently. The transition was a bit smoother for them.

The cats are with me, but not without some drama. Cats don't travel as well. And they were just as tramatized as the dogs. She had three; a grey male cat, a very big white and brown male tabby, and a black and white tuxedo female. The two boys are about 9 years old, and the girl is just 6. I know because she is the daughter of my brown spotted girl and sister of my brown & white tabby boy. I'm hoping that they can become friendly so I can keep her. The two boys will have to be adopted out, together because they've been pals for all their lives. I hate to do that, but we can't keep five cats.

I'm worried about the little girl cat. She doesn't come out from under the chair unless I lift it up (to make sure she's okay) and as soon as I put it back down, under she goes. I can't tell if she's eating and drinking. I'm assuming she is, because she does still look good, eyes are clear, her fur is clean. She may just take longer to adjust. I hope so. It's been six days, and the boys came out on the second day.

Right now, we are in the process of sorting through Lora's belongings. Her death is still so recent, that it feels like we are violating her privacy. It breaks my heart to decide who will take what, and what to do with the leftovers. And her garden. She worked in that garden every year and its become a little Eden. Roses, daisys, all kinds of flowers. A vegetable garden that is just beginning to produce tomatoes and peppers. And she isn't here to take care of it. She loved her garden. My mom and I discussed which plants to take come autumn, after the growing season. I found pictures of her house and yard when she first moved in. She continued to take pictures through the years as the garden progressed. And now, someone will buy the house after probate (please consider your Will now!) and change everything to suit their needs.

We can only dig up a few of the plants before we sell, to keep Lora's garden alive in our own, but it isn't the same. Just as there will be holes in her garden, there are holes in our hearts. It just isn't the same........

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Personal Tragedy

My sister, Lora, died yesterday from complications of surgery. The anger and grief is unbelieveable, and overwhelming. I can't go into details about the surgery under the advice of our attorney, but that is a clue in and of itself.

My sister was a bit of an unconventional person too. But not in the same sense I am. She was more of the kind who did things to get attention rather than set a precedent. However, she was a loyal friend to many, a devoted mom to her beloved pets and a wonderful crossing guard for the kids at Fernwood. That was her best quality, her love of kids and animals.

One of the hardest things you have to do in the midst of grief and shock, is plan a funeral for someone who should have been here to help with our parents. Dad died less than 3 years ago. That grief is still working itself out. With a younger person, thinking about your own wishes for your memorial is not a top priority. Nor do you talk about it except in an abstract way, and only in passing. It is hard to decide what to do, what would she like, how does she want to be memorialized? Each of us has different ideas because we have different memories.

Just as important, is how her friends remember her. Family you are stuck with, you are born into a collection of people who share the same blood and you don't get a choice of who they are. But friends; friends are people we choose to be with, for many reasons. People you meet on this life's journey, can come or go without obligation. So when someone becomes a friend, it is a choice made mutally that fills a need for both people. Sometimes they last a lifetime, sometimes just because you work together, sometimes during the duration of a difficult time, sometimes just a few minutes while waiting for a bus. Sometimes friendships are forged in good times and reinforced during hard times, and other times fractured by hard times. Regardless, friends are precious because of the process of becoming, and staying, friends. It's something you both, hopefully, nuture and grow.

My sister has friends who love her, some for a long time, others more recent. All are devastated by her death. There is nothing worse, to me, than to have to tell her friends that she is gone. They don't understand, it is too incomprehensible that someone as full of life as Lora (Lori to her friends) will not be here anymore.

At the same time, her loss reminds me that life is unpredictable, fragile, and shorter than we want. So take this lesson to heart, live like today is the only day you get, love, laugh, and be sure to tell those you care about, that you love them. Don't wait because you think you have all the time in the world, or its hard to say those words. You don't, and everyone wants to know they are loved by someone. You would.

I love my sister. I miss her desperately and I want her back.