Thursday, December 30, 2010


Jake asked to be tucked in last night. He doesn't ask to be tucked in anymore. Jeanine went in and then I went in a little later.

What's up?

Nothin', his legs twitched.

You thinking about Aunt Cathy?


He stayed quiet a long time. I rubbed his back. Waited.

I'm trying to remember her happy. Like this summer.

She was happy this summer, I said.

He was quiet again. I stayed and rubbed his back for a long time. He fell asleep finally. I sat and watched him breathe. Still so little.

Grief shatters and first you pick up the big pieces. Then you sweep up the fine dust, seemingly small, surprised by how easily you still bleed.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Airbags Equal Death

I'm in Ogunquit, now. I needed some alone time, where I could close my eyes and let my mind race to wherever it wanted to. It's freezing up here and I moved the overstuffed chair and stool right next to the fire.

My jeans are hot, as if just ironed, right on that edge of too hot. Perfect.

I'm writing my sister's memorial. We are going to have some kind of service, somewhere on the 8th. I know it's the 8th. But that's it so far.

I keep thinking of different stories to tell. Each snippet is a piece of her, a demonstration of who she was. One story, sticks out to me today. Made me laugh again.

It was sometime in the late 80's, just after airbags were required in all cars. My sister and I got into her new, toyota mini truck, and I noticed the steering wheel was tipped up as far as it could go, an odd mix of a bus style wheel in this little truck.

"Why do you have the wheel like that?" I asked. I asked because, I knew what the answer was.

"Oh, there are so many deaths due to airbags going off the wrong way, breaking people's ribs, crushing lungs, or both... no way I'm having that sucker go off in my stomach." She said what I suspected. It was the rage in the tabloid media at the time.

"Um..." I leaned over and pointed out the trajectory of the airbag now, planting my finger in the middle of her forehead. "Better it blow your head off?"

Her chin dropped. She clicked the wheel down to a normal position before turning to me and saying loudly in a goofy voice, "DUHHHHHH."

That was my sister. Afraid of disease, airborne pest bites (flies, mosquitoes, gnats, hornets, bees, killer bees) which would bring on ever worse disease, elevators, airplanes, bridges, heights, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, other drivers (as she couldn't possible cause an accident), anything and everything, always to the extreme.

Now, you may think I'm picking on my sister and I am. If she were here, sitting with me? She'd add a few more that I had forgotten, even more extreme, and be laughing. She knew she was afraid of death. She knew her fears sometime won and sometime? The free trip to Florida on the airplane was doable after all. Not easy- but doable.

I know it was her needing to be seen. Heard. Taken care of. She'd say no way, not getting on a plane. And I would coax her, and promise to sit with her- we all would. She would fill up on the attention and do it, facing a real fear but not quite as paralyzing as she described it to be.

Seeing the wheel tilted up, I knew. Part of me knew it was a chance to point out the hilarious obvious she missed, beat her to the first playful poke. Part of me, always a little sad. From time to time, I'd ask her, seriously, Why? Why are you so afraid all the time? And she'd shrug and say she didn't know but it wasn't easy. She tried to rid herself of them but one would shift into another.

She tried desperately to keep the scared, little girl quiet, resulting in her becoming that scared, little girl.

The story tells how while she was the big sister? I was the big sister. Except when she sat on me, then I was the flat sister.

See, I have to make you laugh because she would have wanted everyone to laugh, too.

And then she would point out that airbags really are dangerous...

Ah, one of many moments I have going through my head today.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Dear Cathy

Dear Cathy,

I've spent the last few days in complete shock that you are gone. What is up with that? I knew you were sick, but this dying thing was a little too extreme. And after all the years that I sat and listened to your fears of some horrible thing that would happen to you- a elevator crash, plane crash, airbag explosion, SARS, Swine, anthrax... let's face it, pretty much everything in the world you thought would kill you.

Now you are dead. I guess I was wrong. Not about the elevators, though. C'mon. That was nuts.

I want to call you. I want to talk to you about all the shit that's been thrown in my face since you died. How you said I was horrible to you. Really? I know better and so did you. Why? Why did you say those things? So our brother would take you in? He would have taken you in no matter what. Sure, he hates me. But you didn't have to go there to be accepted.

I get telling your lawyer I was holding out- any time you could wrangle a few extra bucks out of your trust, you did. Whatever it took. But I would have helped you craft the letters. Always did before.

I was there, Cathy. This summer? You said to me you wanted me to treat you like I would want to be treated. I said then, that's the problem! I like to be left alone. I like my alone time, privacy and rarely want anyone to do anything for me. You were the opposite. We worked that out- you could have yelled at me again. We would have worked it out again, as we did so many times over the years.

I found some of your writing today. You wrote, "for all the dreaming that my family were dead and all was mine, I missed them. I really missed them. But I never felt that way about my sister. She was always there for me. We had our fights and disagreements. But we were always there to help, to hold, whatever was needed."

Yeah, Cathy. We were that to each other. I knew all the men, the pain, the user friends. Why at the end did you shut me out? Did you think I would be mad?

I wasn't. I could never stay made at you. I could never say no.

I did what I could. Offered to buy you the house behind us only to have you say you didn't like how it smelled. Offered to hire help only to have you say you didn't like strangers. Whatever I offered, wasn't what you wanted. You wanted to be cared for 24/7. And I have three kids, and yes, you knew the kids would always always come first. Always.

All the people who called you here, offered to take you out to dinner, to come visit and you always said no. My friends cared about you. They wanted to spend time with you.

You made people laugh. It was a gift. But you wouldn't take it in- why? Why did you choose isolation? Sure, the house behind us was old and overpriced but you would have been steps away.

I know. You wanted care all the time. Even if you lived with me? I had a job, the kids went to school, there were hours of driving each day, school events, practices, appointments... my life is busy. I've worked hard to create a community. I love busy.

It wasn't black or white. It was all a murky gray. I know I didn't do what you needed me to. I tried. I know you eyed something that was better for you and headed to it.

I supported you, Cathy. I knew. I knew it was for the best. I also knew it wouldn't be perfect, and you started complaining after being there a week. I told you to chill out. They were adjusting. Even though we had our moments? As you wrote, we were always there to help, to hold. We always talked to each other. All the time.

Remember how pissed that made Mom? Ha! She took a lot from us but couldn't take that away.

Remember when you called me last year, scared, sick, in Savannah? I came down on the first plane, Cathy. I kept coming down until I convinced you to come back with me. We sat there for ten days and grieved your beautiful home, what you wanted for so long.

I went to every doctor's appointment until you didn't want me to anymore. I know. I was always freakishly optimistic. I couldn't stand the thought of losing you. All those trips to the emergency room and how we laughed... oh my. You'd tell me you were fine and I knew you weren't. I'd have to drag you down there.

We'd make lists of things you wanted to do before you died. We'd talk about how you wanted to find true love. We'd talk about the jerk moaning in the room next door and could we get some drugs to shut him the fuck up?

I'm sorry I didn't hold you enough. I'm sorry you felt you needed to push me away to go to the next place. I knew Boston wasn't your home. It's mine. And just as we were so different- hello? pork rinds? really? ew. Okay, I'll eat half a bag but ew. No, I will not buy Riunite and add a sugar cube to it- I believe that will land me in hell. I'm sorry I could not find stevia in the raw. Are you kidding me? a sponge for the counters and a sponge for dishes? You lived with cat piss all over your house for years and you're worried about sponges?

Ah... my seester. You really are a big shit. And yes, I am a little shit.

I miss you.

I love you.

I want to call you. Why are you gone? Please come back. I gotta tell you about Ben and his bronzer, Jake asking to shave and Zachary's, aka Sully, fit about having his picture taken. How Calvin, the kitten I got for you as you said you needed to hold a kitten one more time, was licking the shrimp I left unattended for thirty seconds.

I want to tell you how Zachary holds the cow pillow every night to his chest and Jake has been over to see the motorcycle. Hello? a motorcycle for a ten year old? Good thing you're dead or I'd kill you. Ben? Well, he keeps hugging me a lot.

Just came in and gave me another.

I miss you. I sat in that hospital with you and watched you breathe, waiting for you to sit up and tell a joke. To make a silly face or use one of your goofy voices. Come back. We aren't done, yet. No where close.

I love you. I know it was the last thing we said to each other. As we always did. I love you my seester. I love you, too my seester. Talk to you tomorrow.

It's tomorrow, Cathy. You're not here.

Oh my seester. My most wonderful seester. (You say, you are my favorite seester. I say, I am your ONLY seester. You say, aren't you lucky!)

I miss you.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Seester, Again

I was telling stories tonight.

I do love to tell stories.

For the last thirty years, my sister has made me laugh. All the things we shared, over time, if they were piled up, they'd reach the top of the World Trade Center towers.

Ah, but they are gone, too.

When I was little, before my parents divorced, I would sneak into her bed. My parents would be fighting, horrible fights, and I'd crawl into her bed. She would talk to me about... anything and everything. The dishes would break downstairs, my mother yelling (my father never raised his voice), and she would talk to me.

A few years later, after my parents divorced, on Christmas Eve, I swore I heard the piano playing. I scampered into my sister's room. She told me it was the Madonna. A ceramic statue a good friend of my mother had made. I was terrified and stayed glued to her for the rest of the night.

In reality, it was probably the cat walking across the piano keys. They all teased me for years about my fear and my absolute belief in my sister's word that it was the Madonna. My mother, in good humor, gave me the statue. I still have it. And every Christmas Eve, I wait to hear it play the piano.

Thanks to my sister, I actually have a piano. She was waiting for the Madonna to strike this year.

As we grew older, there was a real tension in my family. My sister was toxic. My mother hated her, always upset with her, and to be close was a big giant naughty.

The final fight they had, when she kicked my sister out of the house at 17 years old, I remember wishing she would go. I had enough of the constant battle. I watched my mother rip a shirt off her because it was "inappropriate," a hippy, thin, embroidered shirt. They fought all the time. I wanted my sister gone.

And then she was. I have always felt terrible for that.

Of course, as soon as my sister left, I ran after her. She moved in with my father and insisted he move to Fairport. They had a half a house, by the brick oven pizza place. I would go over and smoke cigarettes with my friends. Oh, we could be bad there. She was the coolest older sister on the face of the earth.

I looked up to her.

My mother hated that.

Cathy never went to college. She went to hair cutting school- hated it. Worked at an answering service- hated it. Went to real estate school- loved it until it required actual work. She worked at the Parks department for a while, hated it, and then she caught the entrepreneurial bug. There was a second hand clothes store. There was a spa. There was a Harley Davidson shop. There was a tee shirt printing business.

And about a thousand other ideas that went through her head.

Over the years, I probably read about 15 different business plans. I listened to many more ideas but actual plans? 15. Maybe 20.

She wanted a million dollars and she wanted it easy.

I was always there to listen.

When I was in college, she came to visit me once. After a day, she got so sick from her anxiety, she had to leave. I was only four hours from our home, but she couldn't take it.

It was, I knew, just the way my sister was. Still, I looked up to her. She was the ultimate bad girl.

She lived with a pair of strippers. No, really, she did. I remember going to her house and her saying they were "dancers." My mother called them prostitutes. I guess they were something bad, because I loved going over. The women were nice to me- I was the little sister. Homely, totally butch, I was enthralled with their ... um... confidence.

And there was my sister, completely overweight, with her frizzy 1970's hair and pink rimmed glasses. Still the coolest in my book.

One Christmas eve, when I was in college, we both decided to drink stingers. Stingers are brandy and creme de menthe. Probably the most disgusting drink ever invented. We got hammered. My mother was so pissed. It was her job to get hammered and there was my sister and I, laughing, being bad.

It was so much fun.

She had many boyfriends over the years, all pretty nasty. One she married. I remember my mother buying me a dress and shoes for the wedding. Yes, I wore a dress to my sister's wedding. We laughed about that, too.

She only stayed married a few years. The guy was a jerk, and after he spent one too many nights at the strip club, she left him. We talked and talked and talked on the phone. Men came and went but I was always there, always.

Eventually, she became addicted to a new form of communication. It was AOL. Online, we would chat for hours. She met a new guy, after the one who burned his penis on the grill, who promised her adventure.

Oh, my sister was ready for adventure.

They traveled the country, and ended up in Tombstone Arizona. She suddenly loved motorcycles, because he did. She opened a Harley shop in Tombstone, the Hawg Corral. It didn't work out, nor did the guy. He ended up arrested for being involved in a child pornography ring. She swore she never knew what he was doing.

I believed her. I always did.

Different men, different times, would introduce her to something new, and something she was completely in love with. She wanted to be loved so desperately. She was obese and thought she had to give herself away to be loved.

But I loved her.

My mother hated how much we were attached to each other. Once, a friend of my mother asked how often we talked- we didn't want to admit it was almost daily. We weren't suppose to do that.

We did, though. Always laughing. Always dreaming.

I can't believe she's gone.

One minute, she was here, getting ready to do a stem cell transplant. The next? She moved to Rochester. There, they weren't sure it was the right thing to do. Understandably, they wanted to do more tests. She was a curious case, with a difficult diagnosis.

Sicker and sicker, she was relieved she didn't have to start chemo right away. But her body betrayed her, festering a horrible infection. She became septic, and lost her mind. When they finally went in for an emergency surgery on Saturday night, they found the flesh eating bacteria all over her body. They removed as much as they could. She never woke up from that surgery.

There has been some debate about whether or not I took good enough care of her. Maybe I didn't. Maybe I did. The reality is, when she left for Rochester? I knew she was going to die. I knew I had to let go.

We removed her from the life support on Monday. She died peacefully on Tuesday. When no one was in the room, I told her stories. I relived all the times we had together. I told her to let go. She had been through enough pain.

Some say I wasn't there for my sister. I will admit I took care of my kids first. I did.

But I loved my sister. And she loved me. No one can ever take that away.

I can't believe she's gone.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Seester

My sister, my most wonderful seester, who I loved so much, died this morning at 10:30am, with me holding one hand, stroking her head, and my sister in law holding her other.

It's a long story, as everything with my sister always was. I am exhausted an cannot tell it now.

Just know, because it makes my heart calm, that she was not alone.

Thursday, December 09, 2010


This is for the lesbian, gays and bisexuals. Watch and learn.

Sunday, December 05, 2010


Simple. It's the mantra running through my head. Over and over. All I want is simple. A clean house, fewer things, fewer responsibilities. To turn the focus to relationships instead of the pile of bills on my desk.

My sister, the queen of stuff, has been getting rid of things left and right. Donating, tossing, whatever it takes to get rid of the truckloads of things she's gathered in her lifetime. Mind you, my sister at one point could have been on the television program about hoarders.

Easily. Now, not much remains of the former empire of gadgets, knick-knacks, and my personal favorite, some-day-I-will-fix-its.

I always feel this way when I'm in Downeast. I love the rhythm and quiet of no stuff. The shelves are lined with books. There is just enough kitchen gear to be able to cook most things. People laugh at me when I say I want to try and live an entire year there, to write about going back to another century.

I'm quite serious. I wouldn't do that to my kids. Unfortunately, the book has been written. "Drinking the Rain," by Alix Shulman. Fabulous book.

And it would get a tad cold in the winter.

Simple. While I was in Lisbon, the word kept bouncing around my psyche. Streets used for centuries upon centuries, a winding catacomb of houses and alleys still used a thousand years after being built.

A thousand years.

People make due with fewer choices of products, foodstuffs, clothes... it is what it is.

The Christmas commercial season ringing out calls for credit cards, glittering gift wraps and piles of packages. Makes me more than a little nutty on a good day, without this need to simplify.

I'm jealous of my sister's ability to shed a layer of unnecessary weight. For me, perhaps I need to focus on the emotional side of simplicity. Maybe this year of illness and death, of sadness and worry, has been a signpost for me. I could keep spinning in despair or I could choose a different direction.

Maybe I do have the ability, as my sister does. Just looks a little different.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Christmas List

My kids keep asking me what I want for Christmas. Over and over. So... here's my list:

I want peace and quiet for a day. No fighting, no wrestling, no sassy back talk. A mother's dream. I'm not looking for peace on earth, I know that's too much to ask for, but a single day. In my house.

I want a gas mask to get through the high cologne days in the car when I can't open the window all the way.

I want Obama to bring the troops home. Now. Not in 2014, which is the new date quietly being discussed by the administration.

I want my house clean. No clutter anywhere, everything neatly put away, and someone else to clean the kitty litter once in a while. Okay, maybe just once would be nice.

I want someone else to clean my office, file all the paperwork, and pay all the bills.

I want my wife to adore me again instead of boss me around.

I want Ben and Jeanine to stop fighting all the time about everything and anything.

I want the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell so we can focus on ending the wars.

I want someone to send me flowers for no reason at all except that they were thinking of me.

I want James Dobson to have a vision of hell and realize it's filled with people like him- not the gays.

I want my good friend to find a woman who is loving, kind and sweet. Someone who can take care of her, love her, because she deserves a break.

I want my sister to wake up and say, damn. I feel good today.

I want all politicians to have an electric collar that zaps them when they lie.

I want all babies to come home from the hospital with a warning tag: Will turn into adolescent.

I want my mother's voice in my head to take a nap, giving me a break from the constant yammering about how horrible I am.

I want another good friend to land the perfect job, one that feels great, pays great, and gives her the kudos she deserves.

Overall? I want to smile more, laugh more, kiss more, hug more, dance more, sing more. All things I realize it's up to me to give to myself.

Or a coffee mug I can take on the T with me in the morning. I'm really not that hard to shop for...

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Enough Already

I keep thinking about when I was first writing this blog and Walter said to me, Angela's Ashes, Sara. Let a baby live for once.

It was too bleak. I guess that is why I haven't written much lately. That and my class reads my blog. Holy shit, I can't screw up, use profanity, or blow my fucking grammar.

Oh well.

Tonight, I looked at my family and thought, we need to have some fun. Any kind of fun. Silly charades at the end of dinner or telephone at the table (which always ends with poop and pee- no matter what you started with). Something. Anything.

Enough already.

I want to go out on jet skis again with my kids. Or ride a zip line. Or just sit around a dinner table and laugh. I'm tired of being sad or worried. I want to soak up the sun.

The one saving grace for me this fall has been my class. They make me laugh, they make me go off tangent about Sarah Palin (although that did cost them an assignment), and they write beautiful pieces from their hearts. I love teaching. It keeps me from sitting in a constant state of angst.

My minions I call them- not out loud, mind you, but in my head. Will my minions get the assignment done? What shall I do if they haven't? I should buy them all a yellow shirt at the end of class.

They have given me so much. I am honored to have a chance to help them in any way. Pop culture reference, which will date my piece: I am not worthy. Yes, I am a teacher now.

With lousy grammar. Shhh. Don't tell my boss.

Now? It's time for some fun. We need to go somewhere over Christmas. My personal hardest time of the year, I want to be where it's warm, sunny and there is an ocean. I want stupid tropical drinks with umbrellas for lunch. I want to feel sand between my toes. I want to see beautiful things, hike or swim or snorkel to amazing places.

And I thought of my friend Nancy. See, when she wrote her letter, she was in Quito on her way to the Galapagos Islands.

Ah ha.

Passports up to date, plane fares cheap, the dollar at a great rate in Ecuador.

Okay, Nancy. I hear you. It's time for some fun.

Stay tuned.