I didn’t expect the death of Osama bin Laden to bring up so many feelings, bring back so many memories, of my sister’s death. After all, there was little to connect them. My sister did not die on 9/11/2001. But the feelings came, and the reflections on her death and my grief.
Reading Robert Klitzman’s “My Sister, My Grief,” an op-ed piece in The New York Times, brought those feelings into even deeper focus.
Klitzman’s sister Karen was killed while working at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Like Klitzman, my experience of grief was, in part, deeply physical, something that surprised me as well as my physician. And like Klitzman and his family, my family and I have spent more time together since her death, remembering Jenny and enjoying and appreciating each other. Yes, life goes on, and the palpable absence of a loved one becomes a part of one’s daily life.
Life goes on. But where does healing begin? What does it take to move on, to “get over,” to have closure?
…out of the blue, we learned that Osama bin Laden had died. We were surprised at the large numbers of phone calls and e-mails we received, asking how we felt. We phoned one another. How did we feel?
Decidedly mixed. “It’s anti-climactic,” one of my two surviving sisters said.
Anti-climactic. Yes. I remember the day the man who killed my sister was sentenced. There was such anticipation leading up to the day. And then, the day came, he was sentenced, and I felt…. What did I feel? I expected to feel something. Something like closure. But the experience was anti-climactic. Nothing happened. Except that he was sentenced. And the knowledge that he was going to jail.
I was glad, on some level, that he would have to face what he had done. That he would have to pay some consequence for his action.
Was I happy? No, I can’t say that I was. Relieved, perhaps, and glad to have a momentary respite from the anguish. But not happy. And reminded, once again, that nothing will bring my sister back.
Jenny was killed around 1:30 a.m., April 5, 2007. It would have been 10:30 p.m. April 4, my time. So tonight, at 10:30, I lit candles in Jenny’s memory and prepared for my meditation.
Sometimes, before I begin meditating, I turn to my Chinese oracle sticks and the book Kuan Yin: Myths and Prophecies of the Chinese Goddess of Compassion. Tonight was one of those nights. I chose at random one of the sticks, and came up with the number 15. I turned to poem 15, and what I read made me cry:
Into the Green
Thirsty and footsore, as you walk in the heat of the day
Sudden disasters come out of the sky, out of nowhere –
Like a bird whose nest has plummeted out of a tree
To find yourself in peace, go deep into the wilderness.
I think I’d been circling the wilderness for quite some time, but Jenny’s death propelled me head on into the vast emotional unknown. It’s been two years now, and I am only now beginning to feel like I’m finding my way out of the wilderness, not just changed, but fully transformed, and — perhaps for the first time ever — at peace.
I am struck by the realization that it is through coming to terms with Jenny’s death that I have only really started to learn how to live.
I love you, Jenny, and I miss you so very much.
I can’t say why I picked up a copy of Dark Angels: Lesbian Vampire Stories this evening. Inspired, I guess. I hadn’t looked at a copy — well, beyond looking at the spine or the cover — in so long. But something urged me not only to pick it up, but to actually open it and read what I had written so long ago.
It’s probably not that unusual for a writer to revisit her own work, even after many years. But this weekend is especially important. The anniversary of Jenny’s death is approaching — Sunday, April 5th, in fact — and I’ve chosen to spend the weekend on my own, remembering, reflecting, mourning, and also celebrating the amazing life of my dear departed sister.
But that wasn’t foremost in my mind when I picked up Dark Angels. Not at all. My thought, really, was to shelve the book. I’d picked up a used copy somewhere, as I do from time to time with the out-of-print editions, and thought to actually put it away. Instead, I opened it, and read about archetypal images of death as seen through the eyes (my eyes) of someone who had, at best, a metaphysical relationship to the phenomonenon.
I’ve commented on more than one occasion that it’s probably a good thing that I spent so much time comtemplating death before facing an intimate, tragic, and untimely loss. Honestly, I’m not sure I could have handled it if I hadn’t had at least some preparation, even if only philosophical in nature.
But rereading the words I wrote some 15 years ago is striking, especially so when the anniversary of Jenny’s death is so near. Reading it also brings Forry to mind. Especially this passage:
The followers of Kali believe that it is essential to face the terror of death as well as the beauty of life. What if, when we look death in the eye, we see not the horrorific figure of death that we are taught to expect, but the beauty of death when it comes to us in its natural form?
After losing Jenny so unexpectedly and so tragically, it was an incredibly healing experience to spend time with Forry in his final days. Forry lived a long, satisfying, and fulfulling life, and was ready to leave this world on his own terms. There was something inherently peaceful about seeing, knowing, and understanding that he was ready to go, and that I was there to show him my love and support and to help him in any way that I could. I couldn’t have anticipated how deeply being with him during this time would move me, how much it would help to heal me, and help me move on from an experience of deeply felt grief and back into my life fully lived.
His death, and the fact that I was able to spend so much time with him, was his final gift to me.
Jenny and Forry. My angels. I love you both very much.
What can one do? Go home, love your children, try not to bicker, eat well, walk in the rain, feel the sun on your face and laugh loud and often, as much as possible, and especially at yourself. Because the only antidote to death is not poetry, or drama, or miracle drugs, or a roomful of technical expertise and good intentions. The antidote to death is life.
Theresa Brown, “Perhaps Death Is Proud; More Reason to Savor Life,”
The New York Times
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
— Kahlil Gibran