Musings & Meditations

Reflections on “My Sister, My Grief”

Posted in Family by Pam Keesey on May 4, 2011

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?

Klitzman writes:

…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.

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Broken Hearted

Posted in Family, Garden, Spirituality by Pam Keesey on April 6, 2009

Spent a quiet weekend remembering Jenny and Gus, remembering all of the good times, and appreciating how far I’ve come since their deaths. It was our first really gorgeous spring day yesterday, and spent a wonderful day out enjoying the sunshine. I went to the farmers’ market, and picked up a few things. Then I headed to the nursery to pick up a few plants for the garden.

It was such a wonderful day to dig in the dirt, to turn the soil, and plant seedlings. There’s so much more work to do in the yard, but it seems less insurmountable than it has these last few years.

Having had such a peaceful weekend, and such a lovely day, I was surprised by the dream I had last night.

I was in Norrie’s house. Jenny had disappeared again, as she used to do so often in her 20s. Not run away or anything like that. She’d be busily involved in whatever caught her fancy, and not call, get her phone cut off, and perhaps move to a new apartment, and then suddenly we wouldn’t know where she was. That’s when my mom would call and ask me to “find” Jenny. And off I’d go to her favorite haunts, asking her friends to tell her to call her mother.

In this dream, it was much the same situation, but for some reason I’d gone to Norrie’s and we were going to look for Jenny together. Norrie’s house was flooding — which it has just recently, with all the precipitation in North Dakota. I don’t know if it was a reflection of current events, or a symbol of some kind. The image of being overcome with water is so full of meaning on its own.

We took some pipes to a house down the street, and it was there we found Jenny. Suddenly, my perspective changed. I went from standing and walking to a reclining position, as though I were lying in a hospital bed with my head and shoulders slightly raised. And Jenny turned to look at me and stared at me intently with a look of grave concern on her face. I remember that look from when she’d come to see me in the hospital after being rushed to the emergency room — fear, love, concern, all rolled into one.

She came close, talking to me, saying words I don’t entirely remember until she said, quite clearly, “Are you broken-hearted?”

I felt the emotion swell up inside me, and I awoke with tears in my eyes. I didn’t feel sad at all, but suprised, and comforted by her presence.

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Into the Green

Posted in Family, Philosophy, Spirituality by Pam Keesey on April 4, 2009

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.

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Dark Angels

Posted in Family, Friends, Relationships, Spirituality by Pam Keesey on April 3, 2009

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.

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The Antidote to Death is Life

Posted in Spirituality by Pam Keesey on September 8, 2008

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

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