Brave

dolores

My sister, the year I was born.

I felt too tethered to the earth last week. I walked through each day with a sense that something was coming, or maybe more like something was happening but I didn’t know what. It was like that time I had a dream about the woman who adopted my cat. I only met her once but we became Facebook friends so that we could see pictures of Moo-Moo. I had a dream that her friends were stuck in a basement with a raging fire above them and they were screaming her name. The next morning, I saw on Facebook that she lost 5 of her friends in a fire.

Sometimes, the veil that separates us from our spiritual roots is thin and last week I wanted to experience that. I wanted a physical manifestation of an undefined emotion. I wanted to see something that expressed my restlessness.

On Thursday evening, after reading several posts about the impending fall season and not being able to take another day of 100 degree heat, it finally rained. Not just a gentle rain to temper the dust but a torrential downpour complete with lightning. Ah, finally. I exhaled and relaxed.

Then my phone rang and I knew. Hardly anyone ever calls me and never at 7:30 in the evening. The caller ID showed my mom’s face but when I answered it was my sister and she was crying. I waited for what seemed like eternity to hear who had died. Long enough for me to pray that it wasn’t my mom, but equally unwilling to hear anyone else’s name.

Punky. My sister, 12 years my senior with a childhood nickname that she could never shake, had died. She suffered from emphysema and COPD and had been in and out of the hospital several times in the last 6 months. She was terrified of not being able to breathe and now she’d never have to worry about taking another breath.

As I drove to the hospital in the rain, lightning flashed before me in an otherwise pitch black night. Talk about a physical manifestation of an emotion. I was both terrified and resigned and I prayed to get there in one piece.

Last November, my grandpa on my father’s side died and our family gathered around him. This time, it was my sister from a different father and a different family gathering around her. It was eerily similar except that by the time I got there, I couldn’t feel her presence in the room. It was like she saw the light and said, “I’m outta here. See you on the flip!” I can’t think of anyone who deserved a quick trip home more than Punky.

It is tricky to be a heart-teller. It can be hard to write about my truths when they overlap another’s. No one’s story is completely their own and I often struggle with how much to share. But some details can’t be left out because they help to paint a picture that gets to the heart of why we’re here on earth.

My sister’s name is Dolores and she didn’t particularly like the nickname Punky, although it fit her personality. But the sicker she became the more I saw her as Dolores. Saying that she had a tough life doesn’t do her journey justice. My mom was 15 when she had her and while they could sometimes be like magnets repelling each other, theirs was one of the deepest loves I’ve ever seen. My sister never felt or experienced anything superficially. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia in her late 20’s but started to have delusions as early as age 9. She struggled with substance abuse and brought five children into an unpredictable world. She did her best but sometimes, her very best broke hearts.

If there is one word that describes my sister best it is hopeful. It was hope that caused her to believe that she could parent her children and it was hope for their futures that allowed her to terminate her parental rights when she realized that she couldn’t. It was hope that led to the birth of yet another child after that with the same result. She was a woman who puzzled us with her contradictions. Big heart, big anger. Big love, big fear. She was like that Billy Joel songshe never gives out and she never gives in, she just changes her mind

She told us that she loved us every single time. She never let that go unspoken. She also never hesitated to kick us out of her hospital room when our presence got to be too much for her or when she thought we should be somewhere else. Even on a ventilator, she pointed to the clock because she was afraid my mom would miss her bus home. She told me more than once, “Don’t you need to get home to your kids?” I remember being grateful for being at her bedside when she was intubated and unconscious because I was able to hold her hand as long as I wanted and she couldn’t send me home.

My grief is raw and these words are incomplete. When I think of the challenges she faced in life and the price she paid for her disease and her often poor judgment, I am amazed at her bravery in the face of adversity. She never gave up. She was always hopeful. She didn’t know any other way to be and I’m so proud of her.

A highlighted verse from my sister's Bible.

A highlighted verse from my sister’s Bible.

 

54 Comments on “Brave

  1. Oh Karen. Your name popped up with your post in my email today and I felt and thought about how much I love your writing and that I have been so self-absorbed that I missed your last post. So I waited until I got into the school pickup line. And I just read this. I am so so sorry for your loss and am incredibly moved by your words. Your writing makes its way deep inside to a core that I cannot always access on my own. Blessings to you and your family, and love through all your connections.

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  2. Thank you for sharing your sister with us. You completely fulfilled your role as a heart teller and your sis would have loved your tribute to her. Wrapping you and yours with love and hugs. Wish I could say more…xo

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  3. Oh, Karen. I hold you tenderly in my heart as you experience the loss of your sister. She sounds like a beautiful soul who blessed the earth with her presence. Hugs, Brenda

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  4. These words are so powerful, so true and yet so, so kind. I’m sorry for your loss and my prayers are with your sister and my hugs are with you. Hang tough. mourn well, grieve peacefully.

    Sherry

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  5. This was some powerful writing and heart telling, Karen. I’m very sorry for your loss and honored you shared this touching tribute here. May your sister be in peace. It sounds like she is.

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  6. Oh, Karen, my heart has been stilled by this post. Thank you for sharing so openly and for the brilliance of this:

    “It is tricky to be a heart-teller. It can be hard to write about my truths when they overlap another’s. No one’s story is completely their own and I often struggle with how much to share. But some details can’t be left out because they help to paint a picture that gets to the heart of why we’re here on earth.”

    Blessings to Dolores, those she loved and the many who loved her.
    And blessings to you, dear friend, for lifting up her life and memory in a way only you could.

    With heart,
    Dani

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  7. This is it, this is what you feel. That incredible feeling of unwelcome lightness when a part of you, so close to your soul leaves you physically. I lost my childhood mate to cancer this March. and there were times when I felt things happen to me, unexplainable things, maybe it was because I’d over think about her passing away all of the time. but there it was, those feelings. As if they were some kind of an re-assurance from her, to get on with life. It felt strangely liberating 🙂 Lovely post.

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  8. Beautiful, Karen, and a touching tribute.

    “Sometimes, the veil that separates us from our spiritual roots is thin…”
    Sigh. Yes, it is.

    You said you did not feel her presence in the room, that she must have seen the “light” and took off. …well, what if she was the “light”ning on the way to the hospital? Maybe she went out in a flash bang of turbulent beautiful light, and maybe she wanted you to see it. Maybe. Just one of those nudges.

    I imagine Delores had to work very hard to remain hopeful some days. Hope in the face of adversity is true bravery. It must run in your blood.

    So sorry for your family’s loss, all my love,
    Christy

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    • Oh Christy, I thought maybe it was sent by her but I never thought of it actually being her. That rings so true. You know I’m a Frozen freak (luckily I have kids so I have an excuse) and I keep thinking of the line on the pop version of Let It Go, “I know I left a life behind but I’m too relieved to grieve.” My husband and I were laughing last night at the thought of her doing a swan dive into God’s arms but knowing her love for all of us, especially her children, she’s going to send us nudges for as long as she can. I felt one today when I heard the song Landslide. And I’m feeling her in the amazing love and connection that everyone is sending me and my family through these comments. Thank you so much, my friend.

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  9. I’m so sorry for you loss. Your story has me in tears. Your sister reminds me of my mother. And your compassion and love for her – I’m a little bit at a loss for words. Thanks for channeling your tender grief in this post. The manifestation of your emotions in the lightening that followed you to your sister is truly moving. It sounds like she was a force to be reckoned with, the storm seems so fitting. Much love and thoughts of peace for you, your family and your sister.

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    • The storm was so, so fitting. After my grandpa died, I was greeted with an amazing sunrise and whenever I see one like it, I feel like it was sent from him. I have a feeling that storms are going to be my connection to my sister. Thank you so much for your kind words, and your thoughts of peace and love.

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  10. I’m new to your blog Karen – followed from Rutabaga’s. This is a beautiful memorial of your sister and a sad but poignant story. My condolances and all I can say is have faith. Punky is still there for you. And you for her. *Hug*

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  11. Dear Karen,
    Both of my sisters have passed, and I know all too well what you’re feeling. My sister Judy was like Punky in many ways — her own worst enemy with a self-destructive streak that ultimately claimed her.

    Do what you need to do to first feel and then heal, because both are vital. And know that sometimes a memory will bring a laugh followed immediately by a sob and tears.

    Be good to yourself and know that healing and getting on with life doesn’t ever mean forgetting.

    Peace.

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  12. Reblogged this on The Mercenary Researcher and commented:
    I want to share this on behalf of my dear friend. But also because I briefly knew Punky when I was just 15 years old, and saw with my own eyes how someone’s life can spiral out of control yet they still try to hold-on. Living with mental illness in a time when resources were more scarce and stigma was strong. She grew up too soon and left this earth too soon, and at times for her, it was not soon enough. I hope she finally finds some peace. She showed love in the best way she knew how and that is how she should be remembered.

    Much love to you all
    Rutabaga

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  13. All I can do is cry – for you and your grief; for a mother that outlives her chiild, for Punky/Dolores struggling in a world that was so challenging for her, and hoping her family finds some peace and closure. Much love, as always ~

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  14. It sounds like you have met thin places in your time, Karen – places where the eternal world and our physical world meet and mingle. It’s a Celcit term, pre-dating Christian culture. Like that fire thing you dreamt of. Like the impending rains. And your sister who you lost. All felt and premonated in some way. You have some touchstone to the spiritual. Stay with it. I am sorry to hear about Dolores. You write so eloquently and swooningly. She would have loved it.

    Blessings,
    Paul

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    • Thank you Paul. I think she would have. I know that where she is now, she’s completely understood, accepted and loved. I feel so blessed to have had her in my life. She was my teacher in so many ways.

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  15. Bless you sweetie..
    Dolores sounds complicated and wonderful, much like most of us.
    I am so sorry for your loss.

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  16. Karen… I read your post, bowed my head over my keyboard and simply lost myself in prayer for you. And while I wish I could say God gave me words of healing I could pass on to you, it’s nothing more than wanting to let you know my heart is torn for you at this time. C.S. Lewis’ amazing book, A Grief Observed, helped me through some rough stretches. On one heavily underlined page is this, which I’ll pass onto you: “Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.”

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  17. Dolores would be honored if she could read this moving tribute to her (and, of course, she can read it). I have faith that she has finally found peace, and I am praying that you and your family find the same in adjusting to this loss. Love you, Karen!

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  18. Oh, Karen. I am so sorry for your loss. I feel – through your writing – that I know “Punky.” What a beautiful tribute. God bless you as you mourn. Sending you so many hugs –

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