I came to grief late in life, protected and coddled in my own death-free existence. Save for a poisoned rabbit and a disappeared gold fish, death avoided me for many years. There was certainly death hiding under the bed, the unspoken grief for my sister who was killed before I was born–but that grief was never truly mine. Not until my parents died, and recently my other sister Linda, have I gulped down the waves of grief that threatened to drown me. Like love and childbirth, I had no frame of reference for the intensity of the experience. Being immersed in these life changing circumstances, seems to be the only way to learn to navigate through–whether it’s an ecstatic journey or a mournful one.
Generally, I am a positive person! I swear I am. And a few weeks after the death of my sister this summer, I told myself I was ok. I could smile and laugh, go out with friends, enjoy visits from my son and his girlfriend, my stepson’s wedding. But, I could not play music. Picking up my guitar was something that could not be done. Playing it seemed incongruous to something that had settled in me–a darkness that I held close. I tried it once, but all the songs I sang came out in a minor key. The beats were all wrong.
Now, I’m headed out on a book tour for Replacement Child. It’s a dream come true for me, and I’m truly excited about it. But, of course, Linda should have been a part of the launch of this book. The story is her life as much as mine, and not having her here is painful every step of the way. I am toying with bringing her photo with me for my book events, just to have her with me in some physical way–but I’m afraid it would be too morbid for my audience. I may opt for wearing the last gift she gave me, a bracelet engraved with “Sister, Friendship, Love” and my initials.
Just when I think I’m doing fine, hurtling loss like an Olympic star, a certain song will come on the radio and knock me backward, push me from behind and hit me in the chest with brutal force. It could be one of Linda’s favorites like “Knockin’ on Heavens Door,” or a country song telling me “when you get the chance to sit it out or dance–dance.” When Linda couldn’t speak to me the last days she was alive and intubated, she knew that my stepson’s wedding was coming up and wrote on her pad “no matter what happens, dance at that wedding.”I did, and I’ll keep trying until I get the steps right, and the music comes back to me.