Monday, September 27, 2010

Dinah Washington & Max Richter-This bitter earth - On the nature of dayl...

a trying time

I have not told many people where I live that my sister died.  I can't stand constant reminders.  I have to remain functional, and if I'm constantly being reminded, functioning may not happen.

I just flew back home after her funeral (if indeed this is home, but that's another post).  It is proving difficult for me to return to "normal."

Many people showed up for the wake and funeral.  My sister's 2 daughters who live there in Boston are very well supported. And why wouldn't they be?  They're young, attractive, smart and successful.  One is married to a great guy and the other is in a committed relationship, and beyond that, they have a wide circle of friends, some of whom traveled hundreds of miles to attend the funeral.

Although I didn't really dwell on it much, I was shocked whenever anyone came up to me to say they were sorry for my loss.  I am so accustomed to handling everything alone, and besides, I felt that my sister's daughters trumped her sister.  I considered myself insignificant, as usual.  So when I was acknowledged, I was...well....baffled, thinking that the person speaking to me must be daft.

My sister's third daughter lives in Vertaizon, France with her fantastic French husband and 3 young bilingual children, and they all attended the funeral.  Even that daughter had friends attending from other states, even though she's been living all over the globe during her adult life.

My sister is much older than I, and I grew up with her daughters.  The way things worked out, I was almost like another daughter of hers, especially once our mother died.

The funeral was unusual, led by nobody in particular since she had not been religious.  I spoke about her values, as expressed in her many emails to me, and the significance of hummingbirds for my sister and I over the past summer.  I talked about the 2 female hummingbirds which we had referred to as "the sisters" and I described the one last acrobatic air show they performed for me the day my sister died.  The people at the funeral seemed very touched by the hummingbirds story.

It was sad on many levels.  The experience made me realize how isolated I've been.  Boston is fairly close to where we all grew up in New York, so many people drove up from there.  I wish I didn't have to live so far away where my job is located.  Once The Child came into my life, the friends I thought I had kind of slipped away, since I was no longer foot loose and fancy free.  The Child has friends at school, so thank heavens he's not as isolated as I am. 

When it came time for me to leave, the niece's husband from France and the niece's husband from Boston fought over who'd drive me to the airport!  My sister must have somehow made that happen, because she always knew I felt alone.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

my sister

I started feeling weird yesterday afternoon, for no apparent reason.  It seemed as though my world had changed somehow.  The Child had 3 friends for an overnight, so there was plenty of chaos to distract me from this odd feeling.  When I went to bed I couldn't read the way I normally do.  I just sat there thinking, planning to read but never getting to it, and then finally drifting off.

I was awakened by the phone call, the one I never wanted.  My sister has passed away.

It's funny how you're still expected to function.  You still have to take the dog out, even though the world you're taking him out in has suddenly transformed.  You still have to be the adult in charge of 4 early adolescent boys, even though you're in shock.  You still have to drive to Tim Horton's for the promised donuts, even though you no longer have a sister.

A block from my house on the way to Tim Horton's, it started to hit me just how much things had changed.  I remembered that one of my sister's first jobs was waitressing at Dunkin' Donuts.   I sobbed, unable to see the road I was driving on, as I recalled how much she liked coffee, and how she was such a popular waitress because of her winning personality.  I realized that everything I do now is going to remind me of my sister in some way.  The very act of driving my car set off the memory of the bond we shared in disliking driving.  (She had taken the bold step of quitting driving years ago, which is possible in a city like Boston.) 

Why is it that I thought she'd live forever despite the cancer that took her over?

During the last months of her life, we had become closer than we'd ever been before.  Even after she became bedridden, I wrote her emails daily which were printed out for her to read.

My last visit to Boston to see her was last month.  It was a chaotic visit in which I had to do a lot of busywork like installing software on her computer and scanning old photos for her and tracking down oxicodone from Dana Farber Cancer Hospital.  I didn't have any time to just sit there and talk, with her responding by writing since her voice was taken by the cancer.  The night before I left, we did the unthinkable: she got herself all dolled up and I took her to a concert.  (She hadn't been leaving her apartment at all.)  I was scared to death that she was going to fall or faint or something traumatic.  But she loved it.

When I left Boston the next morning, she came to her door and stood there, watching me leave.  That bothered me a lot, because it wasn't her style, especially in her weakened state.  I was afraid that she thought it was the last time she was ever going to see me.

I was told that she asked, by mouthing the words, if I was there shortly before she died.  I wish I had been.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"The sisters"

The hummingbirds are still here, as evidenced by the above photo taken today. But not for long; soon they'll embark on their annual journey to South America for the winter.  These days, whenever I see one I am more aware of the fleeting nature of their time here, and of life in general.  In fact, I associate them with my sister who also loves hummingbirds. 

My sister loves hummingbirds so much that she asked a quilter to make her this quilt, which hangs over her bed:

I wish I could claim that I made that quilt for her, but I lack the talent required for such an endeavor. Since I happen to know several people who collect quilts and one who is an antique quilt dealer, I've seen an inordinate number of quilts in my lifetime.  None have impressed me like this one.

This summer, two female hummingbirds have been dominating my feeders.  I refer to them as "the sisters."  They seem inseparable, and share acrobatic ability. They remind me of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels the way they synchronize their flight patterns.  And sometimes they dovetail, as if performing an air ballet.  Whenever a third hummer joins them, the two sisters fly in tandem with the third weaving in and out of their pattern. 

When my sister was still mobile enough to be able to get to her computer, I sent her photos of "the sisters" regularly.  She loved them, and I have used our mutual interest in hummingbirds to try to cheer her up this past summer, as her health declined dramatically.  Since the end of August she has been unable to get out of bed, and the person who prints out her emails for her asked me to stop sending photos because they were impractical to print.  (I know I still have the option of getting prints made and mailing them to her, but I'm spoiled by the luxury of being able to share the thrill with her instantaneously.)

I still send my sister at least one email each day, which someone prints for her to read.  I describe the antics of "the sisters" knowing that she has seen enough photos of them to be able to imagine the sights.  I have told her that I don't want them to leave.  I am sure the symbolism is not lost on her.


Monday, September 06, 2010

Was this my business?

I live in an area where loose dogs are an ever-present problem.  I moved into this house on the park when The Child was 4 years old, and one of the first events that occurred here was for a large dog to run onto my property and scare the bejesus out of The Child.  Later that summer, The Child, who was bending over to observe a snake in the grass, was bitten on the back of his leg by an off leash dog.  Not long after that, our first dog, a loving little Chihuahua named Chiwee, was killed right in front of our house by another dog.

It's no surprise, then, that I have a problem with off-leash dogs who are not being controlled by their owners.  It bothers me to no end that this city lacks a leash law, and for a while I tried to fight city hall on that issue.  I got nowhere fast, because the dog owners are a very passionate, vocal and well-organized group.  (Mind you, I am a dog owner myself, but I believe that dog owners are responsible for controlling their dogs to the extent that other people can freely enjoy the park and their own residential property.)

A few days ago from inside my house I heard a loud ruckus in the park.  I heard screaming and barking, and I figured there had been yet another incident involving out of control dogs.  I ran outside, and sure enough, I found out that a 4 year old girl had been jumped on by a large Boxer.  I know enough about dogs to know that the Boxer is not a vicious breed, but the fact remained that the dog had terrified the girl and her female caretakers.  A verbal fight was in progress when I arrived on the scene.

There were 2 adult female dog owners and 3 large off leash dogs.  The dog owners were laughing at the upset child and women, which I thought a very strange response.  I jumped in to defend the women with the 4-year-old.  We were all screaming.  I told the women with the child to call the police and asked the owners to stay put until the authorities arrived.  Of course they began walking away very quickly.

Fortunately, the 4-year-old was with 3 adult women, so I advised 2 of them to follow the dog owners, and they kept in touch with us by cell phone so that we could guide the police.  The police called animal control, and the dog owners were dealt with effectively, which is highly unusual since offending dog owners usually escape before they can be caught.  Even though there is no leash law, it is not lawful for dogs to jump on people they don't know, and it turned out that the dogs were unlicensed as well.  The dogs remain with their owners, but maybe, just maybe, they'll think of other people next time they venture out to the park.

If the story ended there, I suppose it would be fairly clear that I acted responsibly and reasonably.  But it didn't.  I made a sign to post at the entrance to the park right outside of my house. The sign refereed to the state revised code which requires that dog owners be in control of their dogs at all times, with the leash being the most effective tool to achieve that end. I listed the offenses which had occurred in the park which were examples of dogs NOT being controlled. The sign was businesslike and unemotional, and looked as if it might have been official, posted by the city or the parks department.

From inside my house I could see people standing in front of the sign of it to read it.  The next day, I was sitting on my patio reading the newspaper when 2 women arrived at the park entrance and started setting up obedience training equipment so that they could work with their dogs.  I didn't particularly want to hear their conversation, but I did.  The women started reading my sign, and then began laughing.  One remarked to the other, "Dogs killing other dogs!" while they both had a good laugh.

I sat there fuming, no longer able to focus on my newspaper.  Finally I marched over to where the women were rehearsing their dog moves, and said, "Excuse me, but I overheard you laughing at the sign over there.  I happen to have owned a dog who was killed by another dog, right here in the park, in front of my house, and I don't understand why you consider that to be funny."

The women obviously were uncomfortable with confrontation and they ignored me as if they couldn't hear me.  So I repeated it, louder.  They continued to ignore me, while I became more exasperated and ended up telling them that I didn't understand them.  (I had already told them that the sign didn't apply to them, since they were clearly taking steps to control their dogs.)  It was pointless; I walked away.

It was then that I decided that the dog fight wasn't worth fighting anymore.  I didn't feel right about being so aggressive, and even though the dog owners who laughed at the Boxer scaring the heck out of a group of people were caught, there are dozens of dog owners who think nothing of letting their dogs ruin the park experience for other people. I have spent years trying to convince dog owners that they are being inconsiderate.  The primary result is nothing but a rise in my own blood pressure. I give up. And I wonder if it was really my business in the first place.