Saturday, May 2, 2009

She Is Their Sister

When Margret died, a daughter vanished, leaving a huge hole in my life, leaving me drowning in sorrow. I can say it now without bursting into tears, "I have four daughters, three living, one died when she was 37."

When Margret died, my four living daughters became three. From their lives, the lives of these three, was ripped someone they grew up with, someone who had influenced, from the very beginning, who they grew up to be. She was the first one, and she loved her little sisters. They loved her right back.

Their loss is no less than my own. Just different. They were close to Margret, closer in some ways than I was. I know C was terribly upset, and found some comfort in a book. The book she read, and recommended, is:

The Empty Room
Surviving the Loss of a Brother or Sister at Any Age
by Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn

I read it, and found it fascinating. I found comfort, too.

I read how, before World War I, a Victorian widow or widower wore mourning clothes, or possibly a locket with a bit of hair from the person for whom they grieved, for a year or longer. Neimeyer* and Attig** have a theory that is "an enhanced version of what the Victorians used to believe: We have a continuing relationship with the dead. The premise that moving on means letting go is wrong." (TER p.145)

YAY! I can move on, and still have Margret with me, if not at breakfast every day, at least in my mind, my memories, who I am.

This next passage moved me profoundly. Reading it felt rather like throwing back a set of dark, heavy drapes to let sunlight stream through the window.

"Until you resolve the core issue of what you're going to do with the love you still have for this person, there will be a huge reluctance to move on and engage with the world," said Attig. "The world is there, waiting for you to engage with it again. Why not bring the person with you and appreciate how different you are for having known him? Why not make some difference in your other relationships with other things in the world, in part because of having known him? Why not do that in appreciation of the continuing contribution he's making to your life?" (TER p 146)

My daughters influenced one another as they grew up. They loved one another. They argued with each other. When someone outside the family threatened one of them, they stood united. I don't know what they would be like if Margret never was. I don't know what I would be like.

Recently I had an attack of the What Ifs. What If I had been more biddable when the pediatrician said I should send Margret to an institution? When he said "Don't get attached" suppose I had listened? I would have known there was another sister. I would have known that I relinquished my responsibility to my first child. I suspect that Margret's life would have been a lot shorter, probably a lot less happy. I believe I did the right thing, keeping my child. I believe my life, the lives of her sisters, and the lives of the people she touched, even briefly, are richer; me for having raised her, her sisters for having grown up with her, all those others for having met her.

When Margret was an infant, I had a dream in which she was a walking child, looking like a typical four year old, dressed in a cute outfit of shiny red satin, a long sleeved jacket and shorts just below the knee, with a round cap of the same material. She sang, over and over, a string of nonsense syllables, in a high sweet voice I can hear in my mind's ear to this day, and beckoned, indicating that I should follow her up a flight of stairs. When we reached the top, she pushed open a pair of casement windows, and gestured that I should look out. There before us lay a new, wide, colorful world. I could see bright orange tile roofs, and tree canopies in dark and medium green. There were walls of pink or yellow, cream or blue, pastel green or aqua.

Prophetic? Nah, just vivid and unforgettable.

Margret was not a saint. She had flaws. She could drive me crazy. She could drive her sisters crazy. But I am pleased to think the world a better place for having had Margret in it.

*Robert Neimeyer, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Memphis and editor of the journal Death Studio

**Thomas Attig, Ph.D., a philosopher whose specialty is the theory that we continue relationships with those we have lost. (TER p 140-1)


Helen said...

I am still learning from the relationship I had with my sister and from my reflections on it. Thanks for putting this out there, Mom. I am pleased to see you have another handle to hold onto. Have a great life!


Merle said...

You are such an inspiration -- wish I had your gift of expressing myself.

Sounds like you raise Margret in a typical family -- from united we stand right to the squabbles.


Remember to smile -- it's contagious