The Grim Reaper Knocks Thrice

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It had to have been a mistake. It was my sister who belonged in the group home, not me. But here I was , other patients milling about, and I was one of them.  I had dreaded this as a child, the thought that my freedom could be taken away, or worse that I would lose my faculties or my sense of reason. The first fear was drummed into me from a young awareness of the cold war and from having a father who had nearly escaped life in Maoist China. I used to think, “I could have been born in China. I could have been a communist. I could have been in a prison camp. I could have been killed for having been a baby girl.” Generally, these thoughts made me grateful. The second fear came from watching my mother and my sister during their worst moments. In my mother’s case it was when she suffered her “breakdowns.” My sister’s low points were more dramatic. I have a collection of memories featuring her staggering across the living room, high on drugs, while my anxious, pajama clad parents called 911. Consequently, I never touched drugs or alcohol. “Keep your wits about you,” I counseled myself. 

How did I end up here? 

I was being interviewed for intake. Lydia was nice enough. You could tell she cared what happened to us.

“ Now then, everything seems to be in order. Do you need anything from home? Or is there anyone you would like to call?”…………

“No.” I was bewildered. “Thank you.” 

Then you can join your sister for group. “

I looked up and there she was. She looked happy. Happy to see me. Happy that little sister was here, and   that she was not alone.

 “Let’s make this a family thing” I could see this thought clearly displayed on her face. 

Inwardly I was cringing, but what choice did I have? None. It had been taken from me.

I started to think, 

“So this is what my life has become.”

Opening my eyes, I found that I was in my own bed, in my own home, and it had all been a dream.

My sister wasn’t always repulsive to me. Far from it, I desperately wanted to be just like her. She was the older princess of the family, with long, sheet like black hair and exotic features inherited from my mother’s side of the family. She could draw beautifully. Her passion was horses and I remember admiring sketchbook after sketchbook of horses, jumping , grazing, leaping over fences. I remember one night, I must have been six and she 13, when we sat on her bed and made tin foil lanterns. She patiently showed me how to make the pattern I desired, and then poke it carefully with a sewing needle. When you held it to the light, it looked like a mini constellation.  Hers was in a pattern of Pegasus , the horse with wings. It was magnificent. God, I worshipped her. She was quiet. She was smart, always on the honor roll.

I remember her helping mom dress me for my First Holy Communion. Mom made my dress of delicate white eyelet, and I wore white patent Mary Janes. I think she let me wear stockings for the first time. I complained that my feet hurt.

“You have to suffer to be beautiful, “ they both teased me.

I looked at both of them in awe. I wanted to be like them so much it hurt.

We were both presented with rosaries for the occasion. Each in its own petite leather purse with a holy picture inside of the Virgin Mary, hers was pale blue crystal in a white leather case, mine a ballerina pink in burgundy. I hated pink. Maybe I hated pink from that exact moment, simply because pink was something my sister did not have.  For years I perversely coveted her rosary, her clothes and her friends, her room and  her very self. I would have much rather been her than young scrawny me,  down to the last detail.

When she did grace me with time to play together, I was in heaven. We played school, she was the teacher, I was the student. We played Mission Impossible. Silly putty made the perfect substitute for plastic explosives, so that no room was off limits to us. We simply placed the putty on the doorknob and BOOM – instant access. We were quite happy in our imagined world of secret missions and exploits to save the day. We tied each other up with invisible bonds and then each of us would take turns getting rescued by the other.

Seven years older than me, my sister was always an entire phase of life ahead. Her bumps in the road became my warnings.

“Don’t take that route, the road’s out.”  was the signal when she ended up in the hospital with a drug overdose.  As a result I never so much as drank wine until I was forty. As we got older, I would not give up the idea that I could still rescue my beloved sister from drugs until well into adulthood when I had children of my own. Maybe it was the exhaustion . You try and you try. I know the Chinese are famous for perseverance; they built the Great Wall , after all. But then again,  I am only half Chinese, and was raised in the land of boundless opportunity and instant gratification.

Dad was always getting offered promotions attached to relocations. When we moved, yet again, this time to Texas, my sister seemed devastated. Truth is, I never really knew what was happening to her. She was a quiet, Madonna like beauty, a creature different from myself, who graced me with her playtime, and rebuffed me as she discovered dating, and ultimately , LSD.

So now, she is dying. She won’t admit it, doesn’t want to look at it, but the reality is that she has end stage lung cancer that she refused treatment for and now it’s too late to do anything but seek comfort care. She didn’t tell anyone in the family she was sick. Meanwhile, the lung tumor grew unchecked so that it cracked her ribs and is now in her hip and in her lymph nodes. We found her on the floor in her apartment after Hurricane Sandy and she couldn’t get up. From her hospital bed, with labored breaths, she told me she doesn’t want to move to a facility to be closer to me.

Why should I turn my life upside down just so I can be ten minutes away from you people?  I want to stay in control of my life. Besides, I don’t want to put you through the same thing you just went through with mom and dad. 

Well guess what, sis, I am going through it, and it bloody hell doesn’t matter in the least where you are, because even when your  craziness got to be so much that I tried to shut you out, here you are, in my heart, reminding me that I love you. You are my big sister after all.  And here we go again. Image

Images: study of William Blake’s Ancient of Days, china marker
Ancient of Days reinterpreted with God as a Woman, oil on panel

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About reneetamara

Writing about death, mental illness, spirituality, art and perfume. Because beauty feeds the soul, and love is beyond what we think.

2 responses to “The Grim Reaper Knocks Thrice”

  1. Garce says :

    Wow. The art is nice too. These things are happening around you all at the same time. The tragedy of your sister, as given here, is not only that she is dying but there is a unique quality of despair one does not see in your parents.

    Its odd to think, as a child you probably would have guessed you would be the loser of the bunch, but of all your family you have turned out the most fortunate.

    Its good we don;t know the future. Maybe it would terrify us.

    Garce

    • reneetamara says :

      Hi Garce
      Yes the despair I am sure has a lot to do with her being so young – just 57. It must feel like facing a brick wall that you just never saw coming. I mean, she’s still grieving too.

      Tim said something to me tonight. He is of the mind that when a person approaches their end of life, whether it is apparent to onlookers or not, there is a process , an internal completion that allows the person to see the meaning of their time here. I like to think that is true, although I do think there is much a person can do to prepare for death.

      As far as being the most fortunate one of my family or not , I don’t really think on those comparative terms, I suppose i see my family more as a cohesive unit. I can say that if I could be in the state of peace my dad had reached when he passed, I might be happy to call it a day.

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