She took her last breath at 6:30am on September 6, 2020. She was my little sister. Funny how we do that, no matter how close to seniors’ stage we are – little sisters will always be little sisters to the older.
Reva was beautiful; exceptionally beautiful. She certainly had no problem turning heads and often invoking envy. She was smart, a doer and a dancer and she was funny too. She held our family sense of humor, honed in the history of pain and endurance, in doing whatever it took. She wouldn’t have recognized how that humor and ability to persist was ingrained through many generations reduced to survival.
She didn’t much talk about our Indigeneity; it was not something we consciously talked about. We just were and mostly, we tried to forget about it. Mostly we had associated every awful and humiliating moment of our childhood with it.
We went through the fostering system together, until the day I ran away from it and she aged out of it. Even then, we weren’t really free. We still had the weight of all we’d gone through before, during and even after. In our own ways, we decided the only path out was to pursue the model of success that was firmly impressed on us throughout those years. We only had to just work hard; very hard. We only had to have a nice home and maybe husbands and kids and maybe a car too. We only had to be respectable.
My journey with that empty misconception ended with several years of help to undo those generations of trauma. She sought help where she most felt at home. I don’t know how stable or even healing that was for her. I think it mostly hurt her, really. Yes, she was beautiful and smart and so, so complicated.
It wasn’t always easy to love her. I suppose they would say that about me too. I just like to think all that therapy gave me some measure of genuine peace she didn’t have. It’s in that, as a big sister that I find most painful. It’s not much different really, from all those earnest wishes for happiness and safety we have for our babies.
We achieved those goals to similar degrees. In the end, it was our children and homes that mattered most, but the ugly monster that was our childhood never really left her. She never quite found the combination that would allow her to be, to just be, in ease and in the ability to admit failure. That sometimes made her a pretty tough judge and not everyone was interested in hearing the verdicts. Sometimes other events hardened hearts indefinitely. It’s one of the most miserable of human experiences to simultaneously love someone so deeply while fighting the soulful wish to feel only indifference. Hopeless dreams.
Still, she held out her hands, arms and whatever resources available to help anyone she could. Generosity was hers too. Her heart would melt at the sight of impersonal suffering. She was a force and it was a good feeling if she was on your side.
As a sister, there was plenty of special too; the way we knew what the other was thinking by locking eyes. Breaking into gut-busting laughter over things only we could understand. It was an indescribable comfort to know she was there when I was scared. It was gut-wrenching when her pain became mine.
I hadn’t been talking to her for some time when her boy found her on the floor. She’d been rushed into surgery to remove the discovered brain tumor that they said was going to take her in a matter of months, and that’s when I got the call.
It doesn’t seem real; not then and not now. One moment often replays in my mind. It was when I arrived at her home and saw her sitting in the corner of her couch, so small and quiet and beautiful, even with all those metal staples down one side of her head. She didn’t say anything, but I felt it all. I felt her fatigue and confusion; I felt her fear.
I could only go to her and take her in my arms and tell her that I loved her. In only a moment, all those years of trying to figure out life and our issues were done. One single, damned moment. One single, holy moment.
We had her for eight and a half more months; somewhat short of the 24 they told us was possible. I think we just knew, this time the possible was not an achievable goal. We were back to survival mode, where the practicality of what had to be dealt with in undoing an entire lifetime was paramount.
Her sons and I packed up boxes and tried to plan as best as possible for her youngest son’s eventual move to his father’s and her older son’s grappling with the baggage of the past and the infuriating circumstances of the present. Broken hearts can’t be boxed.
We spent the last few weeks just talking until she lost most of the ability. Then she would mostly just look at us as we’d try to regale her with any stories of normalcy.
Two days before she passed, I obsessed over the thought that I needed a sign when she was on the other side. I asked her to please show me something purple. “I don’t know why I picked purple, but will you”? I pleaded. She nodded, yes. She knew why I picked purple, but she wasn’t able to tell me. I didn’t even remember until she was gone, her birthstone is an amethyst. Anyway, when she nodded, I knew she would.
Eight and a half months to live what matters and even if she couldn’t say it often, I know she loved us hard and no one as much as her sons and grandson. I know this is mainly what she thought about in that time and if she could have made everyone’s wishes come true then, she would have. She had so many dreams…
In the end, she lived up to that final promise to me and I know she will for others. I can promise that. Another thing you could always count on her for was, keeping her word.
A couple weeks after she passed, I went for a walk. It was late September and the leaves were turning color. The wind that rustled fallen leaves was distinctly cooler. I plodded on, lost in thought until I was stopped in my <insert whatever cliché>.
Even if they had noticed, it might not have made much of an impression on anyone else. It was unusual to me though, and it happened to be one of my favorite flowers; a Lupin, a flower that blooms in spring. Of course, it was purple.
I didn’t have a thought. Not that I recall. I do remember the way it felt. It was like my entire being was suddenly filled with warmth that I find hard to describe. I instantly and absolutely knew my little sister was home and she was safe. That was all I really needed to know since I first got that call, and of course, she knew that…
Healing is not for the faint of heart. It’s a contract built on a vow to harness and clutch only at ironclad strengths.
It’s quiet now; calmed are all those bouncing cells of thought and feeling that ricocheted through my panic borne in another round of ‘growth’.
I have been brought to this hushed place only by the grace of my Relations.
They, who took the suffocating lifetime of pain and lifted it to the skies – where our Ancestors tenderly pulled it into their own hearts.
Toward the centre of the Ancients where such things are cleansed; healed and rendered harmless.
To the place where all things are made sound again and holds a promise that surely
we’d all choose, if we knew.
This painlessness was not instant, oh God, not hardly. I wailed all through their processes.
They let me feel every piercing facet of what we’d endured, and then they mercifully
returned with understanding.
Every sting was an exposed hurt that hadn’t been acknowledged, sometimes for centuries.
Every prickle that scratched through my soul was a reminder to honor it and to turn toward where to offer it.
With every step in every ceremony they led me to, they walked me out of the darkness.
They didn’t need me to believe in them; they already knew I was too lost to know what to believe.
I only needed to follow what was offered, including the smallest fragments of feeling
that said – maybe.
I am a blank slate, as clean as the newborn, my future standing right in front of me, unseen.
I don’t know what to wish for anymore; I don’t know what my dreams are.
I only know I’ve been brought to this place, where every moment is a choice that I can feel only in my heart; a knowing that prompts me to accept it without even a clue as to why.
My canvas is a wide open space and I observe in wonder at what and at who is being placed onto it.
I don’t feel the immediate inserted images are the story, I only know that the reality, which traces to every soul that follows, is so much bigger than my pitiful imaginings.
They’ve taught me the reasons behind the hurt and soothing are far bigger in purpose; every healing moment is for every generation before me and all to follow.
It’s the only teaching I’ve ever been given that I know some day, will permanently alter everything.
It’s quiet now, and I know this is a gift – a treasure granted for maybe only
5 more minutes…
New sweet nothings real
All storms tempered by love’s grace
And, I win.
Fabulicious street art, thanks to the wonderful walking & eye spying work of Randall Willis of CreatedByRCW and So, What’s Your Story Randall’s photo posts are amazing views of art, wildlife and human wildlife… He has gifted me another batch of creativity challenge and for that, I’m thrilled to have the privilege of immersing in poetic thought for most of the summer. Hopefully.
Street Art, say hello to my little Haiku…
Chortles for healing
Yes, another truth cliché’
Eyes wide open; cured
Pain’s scales fully cleared
Nothing’s like smiling with you
Cleansing fiends away
“Stimuli response creature”
His faults “in stasis”
Ah, ha ha, behold
How sweet to laughably view…
Saps teach ogres words
Sadly, pulled below
Into sulphurous kisses
Repelled for solid grounding
Upscaled to real life
New knowledge; true tenderness
An exercise in summer re-discovery. A former summer’s draft of haikus met up with a friend’s last summer street art photography. Great fun matching up those thoughts to these illustrations of chance.
Outside of that, I’m guessing at this point in the year, many of us are in a need of some seasonal change. I’m definitely hungry for more sunny experiences in sunny destinations. I’ll bet you are too. Let’s get at ‘er, mon anges et amies!
He knows he’s always been loved
Held by an eternal ribbon of energy, binding lifetimes after lifetime
Until madness strikes, darkening, once again, all revelation
Hope became obscured by landmines of poisoned frivolities
Silly id dreams; a dance mix of Oedipus, Tantalus, Aristippus…
Every step an intriguing claim of elevation, all baseless; mocking Divinity’s design
The guileless taken unawares that soon their sky would become green
and the clouds will rain red and azure seas would boil brown
The world turned inside out within the haze of fear’s divisive fires
She sighed, can’t do dark
Only light truly sees light
You’ve always known that
You still felt my heart
in every distraction
Holy exceeds all
She takes his hand and holds it in her lap
She said, you were always my sun
and she joined all the spots on his hand with her lips
Her tracings on his hand reminded them of the beginning
when she first saw him and she connected all the dots
of a future begging to be mapped
Hope was their only highway
and desires assured everything was real
before meaninglessness ruined yet another lifetime…
…and then, Divinity promised another…
Life is pushy when it wants the best for you. Sometimes you have to give in & give up, a lot…
When this photo shoot was set up in the spring, I knew I wanted to wear the dress I’d hung in public the previous October 4th as requested by Metis artist, Jaime Black. Her ‘REDress Project’ is an art-based awareness campaign in tribute to missing and murdered Indigenous women. Red dresses represent these women. (See tree photo and background notes here)
I’d chosen to hang my dress under my beloved weeping willow tree. That seemed like a poignant statement in itself. At the time of that participation, I was soul surfing through a course of life-altering loss, trauma, and life and death events.
In a way, even that gorgeous tree experienced the same before it let loose its majestic beauty. I’d saved it years before from being brutally hacked at when my ex would attempt to eradicate the ‘strange weed’ growing in the middle of our yard. … I guess my point is, there was a whole lot of understanding under and within that tree.
So, when I met up with Nadya Kwandibens, a very skilled and renowned photographer who honored me with her talent, she suggested we head to a local park and search for more of a nature-based/natural background. When we arrived, she scanned the landscape and then she pointed and said, “There – head over there, I think we should get you under those trees” – the weeping willows.
Nope, she had no idea of my story, it was just how this particular circle would finish. It seemed like a good omen and I suppose it was. I have come through what I think is the greater part of those trials and I have gained new strengths and continue to build them.
From a time I was certain I couldn’t even breathe for another 5 minutes to standing up tall enough to see – that no matter how hard the testing, no matter how hard life knocks at me, I will keep getting up. I know that now, because even when there shouldn’t have been a way I could have, I somehow did.
Like my tree, I am still standing.
During a year of upheaval, reflection and even amazing rewards, a walk back to beginnings can help to return a sense of balance, to find an equilibrium that helps make life make sense again. I’ve been going back to some significant and poignant moments for me for that purpose. One of those periods was returning home after time spent in child foster care. This story was also published a few years ago, but for anyone who hasn’t seen it, maybe something in this will resonate for you too…
Sometimes old memories float up in need of
a little light…
A soul’s whisper to let it go.
I was 14 years old. My mother and I were living in an apartment on the 14th floor of a basic downtown high-rise. We were there because that’s where she was when I ran away from the last foster home I’d intended to live in.
I threatened to run away and never be found again if they made me go back to that home. The Department of Social Services, and my unprepared mother, gave in.
My mother had been struggling with escape from an abusive marriage, alcoholism, and no way to fully support her daughters. That’s how we ended up in foster care just after Christmas that year.
We were six girls, ages two to twelve years. I was twelve. They were my sisters, and because I was the oldest, they were also my beloved babies. There was no doubt that having already traversed a very rocky start together, we were a fiercely bonded ‘band of sisters’.
I was quite used to taking care of them, and the house as required, which it seemed was almost always. So, the demand to relinquish responsibility to the social workers who came to take us away or to the people who were to foster us was incomprehensible. It was shocking and infuriating and frustrating.
Many nights I’d lie awake planning our escape from that foster home and formulating the many ways I’d find our mom. I usually ended up crying myself to sleep immersed in the despondency of realizing how powerless I really was.
We were all together in that initial home, except the youngest who was instead taken to live with our father – another story for another time. I was eventually to move to two other homes within a year and a half. Only one sister was allowed to go with me; they gave me one day to choose between the four faces that pleaded to be taken. Despite everything that we’d already lived through to that point, it was then that I learned that a soul could feel fractured.
In short time, and with little choice, we adapted and carried on as kids are so able. Then two years later, suddenly we were all being taken to visit with our mom at her own new home. The visit went by as quickly as I’d dreaded. When it was time to say goodbye to her, it felt like the beginning of all the bad goodbyes again. I could not return to that pain; the next weekend I bolted for home, for her, for good.
So there I was, on the 14th floor in a small, sparse apartment, a temporary only child, but finally with my own mom. Life definitely took another turn in my day-to-day. I spent less time with my friends and more with my mother’s.
She had a friend on the 7th floor. Phyllis was one of those larger than life characters; a hard-drinking party girl, a queen bee who had great pride in being a full-time ‘player’. She seemed to take my mother under her wing. She was a louder than life distraction for a young woman bogged down with desperate problems.
Phyllis held court to an allotment of very proud and loud butch lesbians. They called themselves the girbols (girl boys, hard g). One of them was Margaret. She was pretty, a large woman, and very quiet. Though she liked to hang out with the crowd and indulged in the same drink and smoke, she alone remained quiet.
I came home from school one day, at the start of spring break, and went down to the gang. There was a brand new baby girl cuddled up in Margaret’s arms. I hadn’t even realized that she had been pregnant. The baby was so tiny and delicate, and wrapped in a pink blanket.
Spring Break began on a weekend and as on all weekends, it was time to get the girbol party started. I was immediately designated the girl baby’s guardian. I took baby, and all of her required possessions, up to my apartment.
The ‘weekend’ turned into nearly two weeks, during which I had full custody of baby night and day. It’s awesome, as in really awe-inspiring, how easily you fall in love with a child, even as a young girl, and you immediately wish to be everything it takes to nurture them to perfection.
She needed me for everything and I reveled in that. At night, I would wrap her next to me and listen to her breath and smell the top of her head until I drifted off in true peace. Every minute with her was another moment of reclaimed love. I was once again protector, friend, sister, mother. For awhile I was me again.
Spring break was over and I’d already missed two days of school, I had to go back. That morning, I reluctantly took her down to the 7th floor, gave her back to Margaret and left for school. When I came home, I dropped off my school things and grabbed one of her blankets to collect her. I sniffed her baby smell all the way to Phyllis’s apartment.
When I walked in, I saw Margaret sitting by the window, staring out with the curtains blowing around her. The girbol group was strangely quiet. I asked for the baby and no one said anything. I went to Margaret and asked. “Where’s the baby”? She wouldn’t answer, and then I saw her tears. I was instantly alarmed, even afraid that the baby had gone out the window.
“Where’s the baby Margaret”? I was ready to cry, but not sure why.
“They took her”, she said softly.
“Who took her”?
“Social Services. I phoned them today and they came to take her away”.
I know I asked her why, maybe a few times, but I don’t recall an answer. I doubt she gave one.
I turned from Margaret and I looked at everyone else. No one would look back at me; they kept their eyes on the floor or each other. I turned to Margaret again and watched her silently cry for a while. I walked to the door and quietly closed it behind me.
It was the last day I saw Margaret, or our baby. I went to sleep that night holding that baby blanket. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. Somehow, I knew in my heart then, that no matter how much I dreamed, I was never going to get my family, my ‘band of sisters’, back in the same way again.
And, we didn’t, not ever in the same way again.
When life knocks you onto your buttocks and it feels like you may never catch your breath or a break again, sometimes something really, really wonderful shows up.
Maybe it’s not the lotto win or the love of your life, but it gives you at least a few minutes of awesome respite. Real awe. Awe, as in the original intention of the term, reverential respect, astonishment, extra special wonder…
I know inspirations can be anything for anyone, but for me, a little gem I came across a couple of years ago was positively heavenly in its level of power and I have returned to bow at it’s rainbow-hued unicorn hooves as much as needed since.
It is the 2010 Kennedy Center’s honoring of Sir Paul McCartney. It is a masterpiece of musical powerhouses, but within that group of exceptional talent, Steven Tyler, heartbeat of Aerosmith, brought me to my feet especially.
Steven’s initial magnificent mix is in this first link: Steven Tyler 2010 Kennedy Center Honoring Paul McCartney
If you really, really want to treat yourself to a show that brought the President of the United States, the First Lady, Oprah, the Sir Paul McCartney and even Sir Stoic, Colin Powell to their feet in joyous glee, watch the whole portion of that tribute: 13 Minutes and 50 Seconds of Sublime
If this doesn’t have you up in mind, body or spirit, somebody better call the coroner. You have to be dead.
Friends, Ed & E called. They were concerned, curious mostly about the intensity and/or emotional topics on my recent posts, and because I’ve been missing in action.
I have been quieter in general, but to address some of their concern, I explained that I usually write about my or other’s experiences in the way they felt at the time of the occurrences. It gives the impression they all happened recently, but really they could have happened yesterday or thirty years ago.
I do mix them up because while they make the point that I want, it also protects people who may need shielding. I also just like to indulge in a little mystery for fun.
Admittedly, the events of late are not all related to that fun; they have been more unusually taxing. So yes, I’ve been more reserved in my activities and have expressed more personal poignancy in my posts.
I manage a rare disease within my daily routine. For the most part everything about me seems pretty normal, except for when this disease bounces my world into chaos.
To explain the beast in 10 words or less – it’s an inflammation-based disease of all kinds of irritation, but mainly it unpredictably interferes with organ function and defies prognosis. It’s a pick an organ, any organ to screw with when it’s bored or cranky, kind of bastard. I call these visits by it, the ‘big ones’.
Friends may observe it has pounced by my newly inhibited movement, or noticeable weight loss, or I might be hospitalized for months engaged in hand to hand combat with the Grim Reaper. Sometimes he’s content to just gnaw on a limb for a few weeks.
The moments in between these time-outs are the same as most – work, growing kids, growing me, up days, down days, and once in a while even surviving catastrophic days unrelated to my health.
This fall, previously written about on the loss of someone I loved, and the pain of a betrayal, played into that old myth that these sort of events come in threes.
So, in the midst of the hell, number three showed up, in the form of another scary, frustrating flare-up. It would take another post to detail it and I’d rather leave it at saying I acquired a painful syndrome that they say will take a couple of years to unwind. It also triggered a former crisis. Let the good times roll.
Of course, I’m scared. Yes it troubles me, and yes, I’ve cried. Navigating pain is tricky business & each of these events makes me feel just a little bit or a lot bit, lost at times. There is a real aura of alone because I am in some ways, the least of which is that I have never met anyone who has my disease.
Not that I wish for someone else to have it for company. It can stir up a weird head space though. I’ve actually envied cancer patients. They have so much support, myriad services and immediate sympathy. And ready understanding.
Once I walked out of a private ‘washroom for disabled’ and a woman waved her cane and loudly castigated me, “You should know this room is for the disabled!”
I’d used the privacy to deal with a temporary drainage bag attached into my belly. I only stared at her, feeling indignant embarrassment as I brushed past her. I wish I would have said something to puncture her presumptions and I still can’t believe I didn’t…
That experience was too new for me to think fast enough. Maybe. Probably, I was drugged. I’d later considered wearing a scarf to cover my hair – chemo hair-loss style – whenever I was struck by the big ones. I eventually got over that and earned another level of psyche strength; I definitely don’t feel obligated to always explain myself anymore.
Which leads me toward the point of this post. Well, it will somewhere down the line.
Hindsight is 20/20 when measuring growth through adversity, but when awesome reader/friends, Rebekah Ingram & Randall Willis, zinged me with some gorgeous insight, there was an intriguing moment of ‘aha’!
Their views pointed me to observing the growth & changes in me as they are occurring. Maybe we call it 10/10 forevision. This means I’m paying attention to what’s going on in my feelings, body & spirit now, during these trials, rather than surviving and processing later.
Along with mom & dad flying across the country to hug & assist me, I believe applying this new aspect could, in some ways, help me heal a little faster.
It’s another work in progress, but I look forward to seeing what’s being brought to me and through me with this new process. I’ll start in gratitude to these friends for sharing their caring hearts at just the right time.