Browsing Tag

sister

Binders, Family, Guest Posts, Relationships

It’s All Relative

June 2, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Candace Kearns Read

Kinship is a slippery thing.

One night during dinner, our son asked whether his teenage step-cousins once removed were in our family, and to my dismay my husband responded “Not really,” while I firmly stated “Yes.”

I had no doubt that my teenage step-cousins were my relatives, albeit by marriage, since they are the granddaughters of my grandmother’s third husband’s daughter Irene. But once the scrutiny of kin began, the quicksand of questions kept pulling me deeper. I began to wonder about my hodge-podge of step- and half-relatives, thousands of miles away. Did their removals by marriage and divided ancestry make them somehow less valid?

To me, family is an abstract. Family can consist of friends you’ve had since you were young, or people who’ve taken you in, such as my Aunt Irene, whom I have always called “Reen.” I spent all my Christmas, Easter and summer vacations in her sprawling North County San Diego home, until I went to live with her when I was twelve.  Technically, she is my mother’s step-sister, and there’s not a drop of blood between us, but we finish each other’s sentences, get each other’s jokes, and know how to heal each other’s wounds.

What I remember most about going to stay with Reen when I was a child is her unwavering devotion to my happiness. I experienced this in the form of Jack-in-the-Box French fries dipped in chocolate shakes, alfalfa sprouts growing on the kitchen counter, and long drives out to avocado orchards, where we would stop and “just grab a few.” I felt it all those times we’d watch old Shirley Temple movies in her king size bed when my uncle was away on business, opening thean immense box of crayons she gave me forat Christmas, and in her passionate whisper when it was time to say good-bye: “A bushel and a peck, and a hug around the neck.” Continue Reading…

Addiction, Binders, Family, Grief, Guest Posts

Consequence

April 22, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Chris J. Rice

 

Small bodies stared out a car window, helpless, listening to the drone of a voice, pitiless, and naïve, a horrible combination. Houses never furnished. Refrigerators full of liquor and doggie bags, steak slices, and baked Alaska, toddlers hidden behind beige drapes peeing on white carpet. Babies crying. Shit stains and Martini olives. Poodle yelps. Flash of ocean daylight. And remorse.

My Moody Sister died in a drug-induced coma. Dark hair matted with vomit. Fell asleep on a double bed in a Tulsa motel room beside her abusive boyfriend, and never woke up.

I jumped out of sleep to answer the phone.

“I’m calling to let you know,” my paternal aunt said. “Didn’t want you to hear it from none of them.”

Receiver to chest, I crouched down. Balanced on my heels, and rocked.

“Cancer,” my aunt said. “Had to have been. Just look at her obituary picture. Looks like it to me, like she died of cancer.”

I knew that wasn’t true. Got off the phone quick as I could and searched online for my sister’s obituary, head full of unanswerable questions. When did the drugs and drinking start? Was it because we had no real home? Why did she stay in Mama’s dark orbit so long past youth? Was it the only life she knew, or the only life she could imagine? Frantic and doubting, I searched until there she was in glowing bits, my Moody Sister.

Pixilated otherworldly eyes smiled above a brief paragraph.

She left behind three children, at least eight half siblings and survived by both her parents, was buried in an Ozark cemetery facing old Route 66. Her three children went to live with her last husband. Their names in her obituary were long jingly strings of karmic payback and wishful thinking: combinations of our Mama’s real first name alongside my sister’s absent father’s surname.

She didn’t meet her biological father until she was a grown woman.

Come from a childhood with no fixed address.

Identity, a combination of what you’ve done, what’s been done to you, flawed mosaic of who you are, and who others think you are. Not who you are inherently, but also who and where you came from, and what you were able to make of yourself.

Outcomes.

Origins.

Consequence.

She was Mama’s favorite child and most constant companion, always riding beside her in the front seat of the car as we traveled from town to town. Disregarding its isolation, she accepted the position of best loved, her dark head barely visible to the other kids crammed together in the backseat. When left behind with the rest of us she became inconsolable, running after the car, plopping herself on the sidewalk as Mama sped off. Sat there, cross-legged, head thrown back, mouth wide open and skyward, wailing with all her need, outdoors and out loud, for her Mama to come back home. My peaceful respite, lolling alone on the motel carpet unobserved with a new Nancy Drew, was her full-bodied pain.

The daughter in the front seat never learned to be alone; disconnection terrified her.

I ran away from all my family, especially my Moody Sister, putting real distance between us, and seldom looking back. Her unhappiness was of another order altogether from mine: unquenchable, indulgent, and seductively unhealthy, like too much syrup on an already too sweet dessert.

The last time I saw her, I drew her portrait. Pencils sharpened, I layered colored lines on a flat green page, porous and textured. Watched her bow her head slightly to the left, as she had done so often in our earliest days together, and recorded what I saw and what I knew to be true. Made art of our brutal detachment.

Long black bangs curled across a forehead into downcast blue eyes.

A heart-shaped face held sharp lips painted red.

Absence charged by a presence, deceptive and confounding. Continue Reading…

cancer, death, Guest Posts

Foxholy

April 9, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Janet Reich Elsbach.

“Smile, would you please?” said my sister as I came through the door to see if she needed any help. “Jesus loves you.”

There were a number of surprising elements to this interaction, beyond the fact that the room we now both occupied was the bathroom. For one, she might more reasonably have requested that I do a tap dance. My sister was dying of cancer, her beautiful athlete’s body wrecked and wracked, and we were just home from another two days in the hospital, where as usual she had questioned and refused 98% of what was on offer, where as usual the doctors and nurses had glared at me reproachfully behind her back, and where as usual I had done a non-stop theater-in-the-round cabaret of advocacy and placation for 48 hours. Maybe I had slept for two of those hours, and not in a row. So of all facial expressions, a smile seemed farthest from my reach.

For another thing, we’re Jews.

“He does, you know,” D. continued as I attended to her. “Don’t you know that?”

Once I became old enough to really put some muscle into talking back to her, some time in my teens or twenties, I pointed out that a large percentage of what she said to me (and to others, to be fair) ended with an audible or implied, “you don’t, do you?” As in, “do you know you’re supposed to put X on Y in that order, rotate your whatsits seasonally, never accept domestic yah-yah and ONLY buy organic hmm?” Here she would pause for a second to see if there was a flicker of agreement, then sigh or even snort a little when it failed to appear. “You don’t, do you?” Eventually the sniff or sigh could stand in for the four-word codicil. Sometimes I would say it for her.

Cancer had intensified her dissatisfaction with rubes and imbeciles in ways I mostly understood, as well as raised the stakes. As her prospects grew darker and her misery increased, so did the percentage of the population around her who could get nothing right. Since I frequently numbered among them, staying present and supportive was not easy, and with this new Jesus angle, she had managed, yet again, to sling a curve ball that could completely undo me. Having a front-row seat at an epic struggle with mortality, even if it is not your own, can inspire a person to feel around in their toolbox for some connection to a higher power. Over the 18 months of her illness, I hadn’t come up with much.

We aren’t especially Jewish, even though we are Jews. I majored in anthropology, so it’s easy for me to put it that I am culturally Jewish, just not spiritually. Meaning the cuisine, the mannerisms, the sensibility: yes. I like the food well enough and the rest I couldn’t shake if I tried. Bred in the bone. But whatever spirituality I possess, I don’t tune into it on that channel.

When I was little, we were high-holy-day Jews. We had a seder at Passover, and some excellent little hamentaschen from William Greenberg’s on Third Avenue at Purim. A menorah was lit at Chanukah, but the house saw a little Christmas action, too. Barring a funeral, wedding or someone else’s mitzvah (bar or bat), the only time we went to temple was on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur; on all these occasions everyone around me knew the prayers in Hebrew and I did not.

Our house was generally a mood tinder-box at the holidays, our parents reverential one moment and irritated the next, apparently with us for not taking it seriously enough. I liked to please them, but I didn’t have much to invest since my sisters and I had never gone to religious school. So I would feel guilty and anxious, as well as excluded and confused, and all in all it was not a pleasant base from which to grow a faith. For a long time I connected my not feeling Jewish to this history, and I bet my parents did, too.

Finally I asked my mother why they never sent us to Hebrew school, if their faith was strong enough to twist and bind them with what had seemed like anger when I was smaller than they were, but I now recognized as guilt. By then I was in college, and they had become more obviously and contentedly Jewish: studying, actively identifying as Jewish philanthropists, lighting Sabbath candles, and I had become more confused about where the faith I felt was rooted. I could tell I had some but I also knew it wasn’t found, or fueled, in a building or book that I had yet encountered.

“We didn’t want to force it on you,” she said. “We had taken a big leap getting a place in the country, and at the time I felt more sure that getting out of the city would be good for you three than I did about Hebrew school. And we couldn’t do both.” I scoffed a little when she told me this, but now that I am a parent I can see completely how a person could arrive at that kind of inconclusive conclusion as the rush of life came at them. Punt! I can’t say that I’ve done much better myself, for my own three.

Around this time I was in the habit of spending a weekend in New Orleans every spring, at Jazz Fest, with D. One of the notable features of that densely packed weekend is the stream of little parades, the congregation of here or there decked out in team colors, waving flags and belting out gospel songs at the top of their impressive and collective lungs. “You kind of need Jesus for that,” I remember saying to her. Judaism, Buddhism, anything else I could think of—none of these other belief systems really loaned themselves to this kind of ecstatic, toe-tapping spectacle of testament. It was enviable, to me—that pure devotion and utter certainty and frank enjoyment that characterized their faith. Jesus had a plan, and come what may, that was the raft they set sail on and clung to in a tempest. It seemed as comforting and appealing as it was out of reach.

I was amazed that my sister had found that raft. Both my sisters had certainly gravitated more resolutely towards Judaism over the years than I had, and I’d had many occasions to wonder how it had all skipped me as they both spoke knowledgeably and comfortably about things that felt utterly foreign, even alienating to me. D.’s son even had his bar mitzvah, a first (and only) in our family for generations. And I also knew that D. was pretty open, as a seeker. Around her house you could find a little altar to Ganesh and a portrait of Lakshmi as well as a mezuzah, some Buddhist prayer beads, giant crystals from Arizona and an Islamic knot. But Jesus, now. That was new. Continue Reading…

Eating Disorders/Healing, Grief, Guest Posts

Down The Rabbit Hole Into Paris: Healing After The Death of My Sister.

November 29, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black

 

By Kate Sutton.

I was sleep deprived, having not slept a wink on the plane. It had been an eight hour red eye and although I had tried too sleep, I couldn’t. Thoughts racing through my head. Love, loss, anniversaries. It was all painfully there. A huge hole in my heart that didn’t want to heal.

Part of me hadn’t wanted to go to Paris. But, as I stepped off that plane and breathed in the French air, I was struck with the sudden sense of freedom. It came as a shock. It was a feeling I hadn’t expected.

The last two months had been a calamity of vomiting, drinking, vomiting, drugs, binging, vomiting, blacking out and more bingeing and purging. All in an attempt to forget the emotional pain I was in, which was only made more brutally aware, as I approached the first anniversary of my sister’s death.  Continue Reading…

And So It Is, Grief, Guest Posts

Grief Averted in Paris.

October 20, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-blackBy Jennifer Simpson.

I was lounging in bed listening to “Morning Edition” on my local public radio station. It was April 15. Tax day. But I wasn’t worried about that–I’d filed an extension. And I wasn’t awake enough yet to remember that it was the anniversary of my father’s death eight years earlier, though I’d remembered it in the days before.

When the phone rang I let the machine pick up. I hadn’t had coffee, but the message Joe left was more of a jolt than even the strongest espresso could have offered.

“Hi Jenn, this is Joe. [pause] Everything’s okay [pause] but I just need to update you on a situation about your sister.”

Debby has known Joe and his partner Mike since the 80s when they were in training together to become flight attendants. I’d spent the occasional Thanksgiving with them, shared countless dinners out, and celebrated a couple of monumental birthdays: Debby’s 40th, and more recently, Debby’s 50th.

His voice sounded calm, but Joe never calls me, so I knew something was wrong.

Potentially very wrong. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing, loss

Air Hunger

December 4, 2013

By Angela Giles Patel

 

They always begin the same way: a sudden flash of heat is followed by a cascade of electricity that deftly makes its way through my body in a quick, cruel wave. As soon as it hits my collarbone, I feel my face begin to flush and immediately put my hand to my throat, a quick reflex to try to cool my neck, a strangely protective measure. Then the chill begins. I focus on breathing. I keep my hand at my neck. If I can feel a pulse beneath my skin, I am still ok.

The first attack occurred on May 29th, 2001, exactly thirty days after my sister died, twenty-four days after she was buried, seventeen days after I returned to the east coast, seven days after I went back to work and four hours into my workday. The official diagnosis for what I experienced was ‘air hunger.’ But I didn’t feel a hunger for anything. There was no sense of lacking something or of needing anything. I wasn’t hungry, I was being invaded. I was being overrun. Something was winding through me that I couldn’t control.

Until that moment, I honestly thought I had crossed through the worst of the pain.

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My sister had died unexpectedly.

She was twenty-eight.

We buried her next to my father.

You can never prepare for hurt, and heartbreak can happen in small degrees or with a bang; when a part of my common history was lost, it was an explosion. After the initial shock, after the effort of the funeral, after the sharp edge of grief softened a bit, I tried to settle into the unkind quiet that followed. I didn’t understand that the quiet was white noise, masking a scream that hadn’t stopped.

Those first seven days back at work were hard. I kept hearing the same tidy phrases — ‘Life moves on.’ ‘It gets easier over time.’ ‘You must be relieved she didn’t suffer.’ I thanked people for their kindness. I answered questions about how my mom was doing and told them how I was doing. I was tired of being asked if I was ok. I was tired of saying that I was. The bathroom was my sanctuary. The locked stall door gave me a place to regain composure. Rather than talking to people about what had happened, I wanted to say

“Please stop telling me you are sorry for my loss.”

“Please don’t tell me I will eventually feel better.”

“Stop asking for details.”

or simply

“Go away.”

Being gracious hurts.

But on that day I was forced into an understanding that I was nowhere near the boundaries of my grief and the topography before me was vast and shadowy.

I was at my desk, drinking coffee, and something in me gave way. I suddenly felt hot, then cold. My hands and feet felt frozen and heavy. A ripple of painful energy cascaded through my body. Then came an electric stab. An icy steel thread was rising from my core. Snaking its way through capillaries, veins, and arteries, it moved until both ends were straddling my chest where they began twisting together in a vicious double helix. Breathing felt unnatural. I was aware of a strange sensation in my fingertips. The back of my neck bristled. It seemed as though ice crystals were forming under my skin.

Objects around me that were familiar and clear just moments earlier took on muted tones. I had the impression that I was not fully present, that I was disengaging from my perceptions. I could see a dark cloud moving in at the edges of my peripheral vision. I was being closed off from the world and sealed in an unfamiliar place.

All of this happened in less than a minute and no one had noticed. I have only a hazy recollection of pushing my chair back and telling whoever was closest that I didn’t feel well, that I was going to my doctor’s office down the street. Insisting I could make it on my own, I stood up and headed to the elevator. I didn’t think to take anything with me.

As I left the building, my mind raced to determine what this experience was, to catalogue the sensations. I couldn’t, I had no frame of reference. The jolts of electricity kept coming and they were so painful that I would hold my breath. I had no idea what was happening to me. I was convinced this was how my sister felt just before she collapsed, so I knew I had to keep moving. For two blocks I moved, one foot in front of the other, determined to make it to the doctor’s office.

Step.

“This is not my day to die.”

Step.

“This is not my day to die.”

Step.

I had hit some unforeseen capacity for hurt. I was being redone by my own heartache. I was being refined by grief. Teeming with fear and an undeniable dread, each step forced me to acknowledge that I was now different.

The two blocks felt like two miles. I remember the hollow sound of my heels on the pavement and the satin lining of my skirt swooshing against my legs as I walked. I never wore that suit again.

Once inside the office, I held onto the counter, repeating to the registration attendant that I was not well. That I knew something was not right. That I had to be seen. I refused to move and they finally relented. I was escorted upstairs, placed in an evaluation room and told to wait.

I sat on the examination table and wrapped the fingers of my right hand over the edge just to have something of substance to hold. My left hand was keeping the plastic oxygen mask over my nose and mouth as I tried to take in steady and even breaths. I was asked a number of questions. My answers sounded muffled through the mask.

The doctor finished her assessment and told me that I was suffering from ‘air hunger.’ She said someone more experienced with ‘this type of thing’ was waiting for me upstairs in ‘Behavioral Health.’ I quickly realized that ‘air hunger’ was a phrase designed to calm, that ‘this type of thing’ was meant to make what I was feeling seem normal, and that ‘behavioral health’ was another way to say I was far more broken than I knew. And I was.

I was so broken that the person I had been before my sister died didn’t exist anymore. For a month I had tried to cope by doing a crude imitation of myself. I was just going through the motions and acting enough like my old self that I thought people might stop asking how I was. I couldn’t answer that question. I had no idea.

I assumed that if I faked it long enough, the fake part would become real and I would be ok. If I could slip into old routines, I could become my old self. At the time, I didn’t know that the dull ache and constant feeling of nausea that began the night my mother called to tell me my sister collapsed and died was just the beginning. I was emotionally altered. I was psychologically altered. I was physiologically altered. While the world moved on, parts of me were now fixed in the singular moment when I lost more than I ever comprehended having.

I had been rattled to the core.

I still am.

The attacks continue.

I cannot predict when they will occur.

I should be more used to them now, but every time they start, I come back to the same astonishing realization: warm blood really can feel like it is running cold. This unnerving sensation puts me more on edge. I am here but not here. When they begin, I become my own shadow again, cast long and dark by a hot sun, looking for definition at the edges, and all I can do is try to be focused and composed until it fades.

I was told later that I have acute general anxiety disorder, brought on by the trauma of my sister’s death. This diagnosis feels as clinical as the initial assessment felt trite. But I like unintentional elegance of ‘air hunger.’ From the moment she died, I did have a hunger. I hungered for my sister. I hungered for time to wind itself backwards. I hungered to relive moments that were insignificant when they happened, but had become tinged with regret.  I hungered to fill the hole inside me. I still do.

ap 2

Angela Giles Patel has had her work appear in The Healing Muse as well as on The Nervous Breakdown and The Manifest-Station. She tweets as @domesticmuse, and when inspired updates her blog, Air Hunger. She lives in Massachusetts where she conquers the world, one day at a time.  She is one of the editors of The Manifest-Station.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for May 25th cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for May 25th cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Guest Posts, healing, loss, love, Uncategorized

The Night Before My Sister Died.

September 25, 2013

THE NIGHT BEFORE THE DAY MY SISTER DIED by Denise Barry.

*

I dreamed of my sister the night before the day she died.

She and I stood facing each other, just a few feet apart, and I remember thinking, “Wow, she hasn’t looked me directly in the eyes in such a long time.”

Darlene and I had grown apart over the years, but I still felt closer to her than anyone else in my family.  She was my big sister, my best friend and, whether she had liked it or not, my protector growing up, so there was no way I could not feel close to her, no matter what.

As I studied her face I found it interesting that she looked younger and more radiant than the last time I had seen her.  She’d been looking tired and run-down lately and I’d been concerned.  I wanted to tell her that, but the look in her eyes kept me quiet. She had something to say.

For a long time she didn’t say anything, but her eyes never left mine.  Not even when her hand shot up to clutch at her throat.  Not even when she said the only words she would say; “Oh my god Denise, it hurts so much!”

In real life, when I see someone in pain I go into panic mode. But not here.  The only thought I had was that Darlene was the only one in my family who never called me by my nickname.  To everyone else I was “Dee”, but Darlene knew me before the short version of my name stuck (thanks to our little sister) and for some reason I felt comforted by this.

Besides, even though I noticed a hint of fear and sadness in her eyes, on a deeper level I recognized acceptance.  Whatever was going on here, she seemed okay with it and if she was okay with it, so was I.

Until the phone rang the next morning.

It was our little sister calling to tell me that Darlene was in the hospital. She was having emergency surgery for the aortic aneurysm she had, which had burst the night before.

Forgetting all about the dream, I went into auto-panic.  Fear came crashing into my body in gigantic waves, one after the other, until I thought I would drown in it.

“This can’t be happening,” I thought.  “What if she dies?  She can’t die!  They have to fix her!”

On the way to the hospital I decided she was going to be fine so I went ahead and made plans for her recovery.  “After the surgery she’ll be good as new”, I assured myself, “and I’ll go to her house every day and take care of her, and we’ll be closer than ever before.”

But she wasn’t fine.

And there would be no recovery.

At Darlene’s funeral, I turned into a parasite, latching on to anyone she had known and sucking them dry of information about her life—the one I hadn’t been a part of for way too long.  I desperately needed to know that she had been happy and that her short life had not been wasted.  But it didn’t matter what anyone said because it was never enough and I crawled away hungry for more.

When I learned that Darlene’s best friend had been with her the night she was rushed to the hospital I cornered her and began my interrogation; “Missy, tell me everything that happened that night, everything!”  I shouted maniacally.

Instead of running away, she nodded her head sadly.  She understood.

“Well, Darlene and I were playing cards and I was making her laugh and then all of a sudden she grabbed her throat and said, Somethings wrong. I feel funny, and she told me to stop making her laugh because it hurt when she did.”

Icy shock ran through me as my dream rushed back.  This was no coincidence, I was sure of that.  The realization of this slowly settled into the void my sister’s death had left in me, and for the first time the questions fell away.

I knew Darlene had come to say goodbye to me and to plant the seed of a promise; we will always be connected, no matter what.

head shot Denise

Denise Barry is an inspirational writer and author.  Her children’s picture book What Does the Tooth Fairy Do with Our Teeth? is available now on Amazon!  To learn more about Denise, visit her at www.denisebarry.net

Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. She has been featured on Good Morning America, NY Magazine, Oprah.com. Her writing has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, and more. Jen leads her signature Manifestation Retreats & Workshops all over the world. The next retreat is to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day/New Years. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: Seattle, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Miami, Tucson & The Berkshires (guest speaker Canyon Ranch.) She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

 

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Pre-order their book (which I am in!!): http://www.SimpleReminders.info
Subscribe for more: http://www.bryantmcgill.net