On the morning of my 67th birthday, I realized that it was 50 years ago that I’d started Grade 13. And, for some reason that I can’t intellectualize, I found myself crying about that.
Was it because I haven’t achieved the goals I thought were so important to me when I was 17? At the time, I knew that I wanted to go to university and become a teacher. And I did accomplish those goals. I also thought that I had to be slim and svelte so that how I looked would map to what my culture at the time decreed was physically desirable. Well, that one I haven’t achieved. And I know now that if anyone is put out by my physical appearance that’s all about them and their issues and has nothing to do with me. I thought I had to have a boyfriend and get married and have a family. And I knew that I didn’t want to have children and felt that there must be something wrong with me because I felt that way. And I’ve never had a boyfriend. Oh I’ve had boy-slash-friends over my life but never a ‘boyfriend’ [how Amy Farah Fowler of me]. I wanted to be a good writer and a musician. And I know that I’ve accomplished those goals and continue to do so. And still there were tears.
I guess it was a day for introspection.
And I called one of my sisters that night. She has Parkinson Disease. And, as I sit here writing this, my heart is hurting for her. I have such memories of her as bright and energetic and passionate about life. I remember laughter. I remember cherry pit spitting contests. I remember sharing a bedroom for so many years. I remember when she sat me down and told me the facts of life. I remember great conversations about anything and everything.
And, that evening, I almost didn’t recognize her voice. It seems her illness has advanced quickly to such an extent that she now uses her walker most of the time and doesn’t really have the energy to manoeuvre it by herself. Her voice is getting very quiet and she’s now slurring her words a bit. And as I listened to her, I wanted to make her better. I wanted to find a way to lift this from her. And there’s nothing I can do but let her know that I love her and that I’ll help her in whatever way she needs when she asks. And that just doesn’t feel like enough. And I know that I’m grieving for my sister and for myself.
And then I talked to my other sister. She hasn’t seen our sister since 2011. Oh, they’ve spoken a few times on the phone and written a few emails to each other but they haven’t seen each other for so long.
I’m glad we spoke. It felt good to know that I wasn’t alone and to share how I was feeling. You see, our sister who is in the middle just seems older than my oldest sister and me. I’m 67 and my oldest sister is 71 and while our bodies are not young anymore, our spirits are. For both of us, our world is expanding. Maybe it might not look like we thought it would when we were teenagers and still it energizes us in ways which bring us joy.
Yet our sister, who will turn 70 this year, seems to be collapsing both physically and energetically. Each time I see her, she seems physically smaller. And her world revolves around just making it through the day. She has little beyond her living space. She used to belong to a choir which she enjoyed and she’s given that up. She used to tutor English and that’s gone from her life. She used to write and, together, we wrote music curricula for elementary teachers and she’s no longer interested in working on that. She hardly drives anymore and she was a good driver and so, unless her husband or someone else drives her, she rarely leaves her home. She was a great cook which is something she rarely does anymore. She loved exploring creating through crafts and doesn’t do that anymore. She has few friends who visit her and she doesn’t visit anyone on her own.
And my oldest sister asked me if I thought our sister was dying. And it feels so awful to think about that and it feels like my oldest sister is right. I wonder if our sister has just given up living. It feels like she’s enduring and waiting. I remember watching my father do that and I remember that my parents both died when they were 69 and that the onset and progress of their illnesses were quick [less than a year]. And I’ve realized that even though I can accept the possibility of what my oldest sister said, I’m not ready to lose my middle sister. So I know that I’m grieving for myself about that.
And I can’t do anything to change things for anyone else but me. That so flies in the face of who I AM. And I remember to breathe and know that it’s not for me to change things for anyone else.