My sister-in-law died this past weekend.
About nine months ago she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. Metastasized. Several parts of her body. No real shock after a long life of poor diet, hard partying, and Marlboro Lights. Decades in California, she came back to the East Coast at the end, and alternated living with her Dad/my father-in-law in NY, and my mother-in-law near us here on Cape. She had returned to a nursing home in NY with constant care and proximity to medical attention. My wife got the call Saturday morning.
Death is always sobering. It’s a Neglected Stranger in our culture too, I think. Gore-ified or sentimentalized on screen, it’s avoided in IRL conversation. Even the religious people I know don’t do death very well.
I’ve been told I’m moving into that stage of life when funerals become more common than weddings. Which may be true but is still a bit shit, TBH. This passing is even more off-key because of the long-standing distance in the relationship. It feels more like a hole of what should have been than a loss of what was.
It’s not that we didn’t get along; even after 40 years with her sister, I didn’t know her. Not really.
She wasn’t angry or wounded in any overt way – she came off as disinterested. As if she were too busy or didn’t want/care/need other people. Things were civil but sparse. It was nothing personal either; she had made a point to distance herself herself from everyone in her family. Separated from her husband, on the other side of the country, no real friends or community to speak of. Just work and beer and cigarettes and books.* Frankly, I’m not even sure she ‘battled’ her cancer; she seemed to just go along with it. There’s no funeral, no wake, no memorial, no will… just a phone call, a box of personal effects, and cremation arrangements.
I keep expecting grief at her passing, a celebration of her life. The stuff I’ve seen and done before. And that may be happening on some level – this is a daughter, a sister, a wife, a friend, a human being here.
To be fair too, I think there was more conversations in the last nine months than the previous nine years. So that’s light years beyond the earlier default setting. She spent time with her mom, her dad, my wife/her sister, an old friend these past few months.
But still I have the image in my head of turning off the light in a hotel room on my way out the door; I spent time there, it’s kinda familiar, but there’s no connection. And that feels weird. Wrong, somehow.
It makes me ask about my own life and death. About my connections. And if that’s even a thing anyone can really know.
Which is full circle back to the sobering effect of death. Not the Ice Bucket Challenge kind, but the long-term, deep and wide roots. The ‘live for your eulogy, not your resume’ kind.
Which is where I end, sitting here with no honest, definite answer. Just hoping and praying, and trying to keep moving forward.
Have a good day. Love someone.
*Yes, that may sound perfect to some people. But it’s not, not really.
4 Replies to “Connections”
It occurs to me that the things we like to do (“work and beer and cigarettes and books”) are good in addition to our relationships, not meant to take the place of our relationships. I like a lot of those things, too, but the relationships have to come first. I love to write, but if I put writing before Linda, sooner or later I won’t have Linda. When I put her first, she supports my writing, which is preferred. I love sharing my struggles and successes with her. The writing would be lonely without her, and is enriched because of her. (Think of THE PRESTIGE, where the pursuit of fame and fortune above all else came at the cost of the magician’s love relationships, and nearly cost Alfred Borden his daughter at the very end.)
Hi Johne. Thanks for weighing in.
I agree. Like lots of things, I know that in my head. My concern is what I actually *do.
Welp… guess I’m figuring this out as I go along.
Have a good one.
‘The Prestige’ was good, wasn’t it?
Nod. We’re studying it this semester in the Story Grid Guild.
Experiencing someone else death is one thing, different if the relationship was close or distant , maybe. Experiencing your own dying is another, and often not done well, although my experience as a Hospice doctor gives me hope. I think your sister-in-law and my daughter actually went with the flow pretty well, and did have the benefit of maybe 7 months of improved physical condition. So, much as I would have liked to have a closer relationship and a more emotional tie in, she followed a quite usual pattern of dying with some decent resignation, finally even offering seldom seen and heart warming smiles and not grasping for more life. I never understood how a daughter or 2 kids could physically “ surround” their loved one at “passing” ( I intentionally use the word death).Some people with a “ new life” belief do “ pass over” , some may not. But all of us die.
You, personally, are able to convey your experience of Leslie’s dying and death to the rest of us, through your skill in writing and we are grateful for that. How will we fare near the end of life? Right now it’s an intellectual prediction. Time will tell. But hopefully we learn from others experience to shift our path, for our own benefit ( at the end of life) and for the benefit of those we care for who survive us.