I awoke to this view this morning and felt the weight of the fog. I used to struggle with September; there were too many sad anniversaries that created a brain fog and heavy heart. My dear friend Ginny, an amazing man named Dawson, and my beloved sister Corrinne all died in September. My sister died first and Gin and Daws died a year later, changing me forever.
I have been thinking a lot about seasons as I watch the leaves change colour and the temperatures soar in revolt. Summer is not leaving without a protest. That year was definitely a winter year, with no hope of spring. This year feels like fall to me–a constant letting go of more than enough. I have stood naked, baring everything several times since 2015 arrived. I anxiously await the arrival of spring in my life.
Tomorrow marks the anniversary of my sister’s sudden death, snatched away much too soon at the age of 26. Even after 23 years, the whole event is still surreal to me. The early morning call that jolted us awake, the terrifying suspicion that she would not make it through the day, the pacing in the chapel at the hospital while ranting at God, the ticking of the clock as the doctors tried to save her, and the final goodbye. None of that has ever gone away. Scenes, like photographs, are stuck in my head: my first sight of her at the hospital, the anointing by a priest who did not understand the power of the sacrament, friends who stopped in to say a rosary for us, and the final, excruciating bedside moment. Other moments are gone, vanished as if the weight of them would crush me: what had she said to me before she slipped into the coma? What was the exact time of her death? How did we each react as the doctors delivered the news of the diagnosis and prognosis?
That experience would create a new me. I morphed into someone who was defined by grief, as twelve other people would die in the next twelve months. I walked around as if I was in a fog. I could not think straight and I certainly could not feel much of anything. When I think in terms of the Ignatian prayer Take and Receive, everything I knew and loved was being torn from clenched fists. I loved my sister dearly and losing her to such a vile disease as meningitis was horrible. I have come a long way in these two decades as I now face my own health challenges.
I have had to let go of so much and just when I think I cannot release much more, something new arises and begs to differ. I am watching with great interest the trees change their appearance and let go of their leaves. Some flutter to the ground easily; others are tenacious and hang on to the bitter end; a few never learn to release with grace all of their leaves. Being ill is a game-changer. I needed to decide how I would let go of my leaves, I suppose. I am definitely a fighter so the leaves stayed put for a time. I came through a difficult procedure and an invasive surgery with a determined spirit. I was surrounded by good folks who supported me.
I have been frustrated at times because as a single person I have had to give up more privacy and independence than others. I have clung to the leaves at times, angry that I had to let more and more of them fall. For the first time in my life, I have yearned to have a spouse who I could snuggle up beside and weep, held safely in his arms. I suspect this is really the only relationship that allows for a full release of emotion, though there is the added burden to the well spouse. I am not naive enough to think that every marriage survives a life-threatening illness or that all spouses are capable of being present. Not everyone can collect a bag full of leaves as they fall from the tree with patience and openness. I am grateful that God has held me through it all.
The chemotherapy treatments are already wearing me down and I am only one-third of the way through them. I am not as strong as I thought but I let the leaves fall to the ground and let the sadness ripple through me. I am strong on so many levels but so much is out of control. Those darn wind storms keep ripping leaves off without my consent!
This year seems like the anniversary of deaths of my September loved ones is more poignant. I have had to face death squarely in the eye this year. I have been well aware that I have lived twice as long as my sister and that has been a gift that I have not squandered. The Take and Receive prayer is offered much more freely than it was 23 years ago. I understand more fully that a long life or short does not matter–it is what you do with that life in service to God that counts. I am working now on the sickness and health part of the Principle and Foundation of the Exercises. How do I serve when I have barely enough energy some days to move from the couch? Some days I cannot even write a blog post.
My sister had a beautiful life and was embarking on an adventure that would surely lead to great joy at the time of her unexpected death. Her passing enhanced my already firm life choice to go after blessings and to be a blessing. On this foggy September morning, I know that I cannot predict my future, but I also am aware that I want to live as fully as I can as I watch the leaves drop from my branches. I have plans for my spring. I just need to get through the fall and winter of my life right now. I know I can and pray for added grace to let the leaves slip away so that new life can return.
What season of life are you in?
What leaves need to fall gracefully from your tree?
You decorate the trees with brilliant colour
that lives for only a brief moment in time
before slipping away to allow for new growth
May I let go with grace
and receive with joy.