It is now just over fifteen months since my eldest sister died in the early hours of Easter Sunday morning, 2014. A call came suddenly as I was pulling up in the car close to the park where I walk my dog, Jasper on Good Friday last year. It was my brother and I hear from him so rarely. The news was a shock, my eldest sister who had been living out her final 12 years in a care home for those living with acquired brain injury was in hospital on life support following a bout of pneumonia.
“Deb, we need to make a decision as a family whether to take her off life support, I think it is what Judy would have wanted.”
Shock, disbelief, then I bristled at this inwardly. Old pain surfaced as I thought “how the fuck would you know? You so rarely visited her.” On reflection this was my reaction at having to face painful news. Later that day I made the journey to the hospital to find my sister unconscious and having difficulty breathing.
My sisters four sons live away from here. The eldest was af that time living overseas in Singapore. The younger three live up north with their partners, an hour’s plane ride away. “We’ve called the boys”, my brother said. Huge heart leap, excitement at seeing them, when I see them so rarely mixed with such painful sadness to know the reason they would have to visit.
When my father died a month before my 23rd birthday I did not get to visit or say goodbye. I had had vaccinations the day before for an overseas trip and was feeling unwell after the injection. I received a call at work the next day to say he had passed earlier that morning following the performing of a tracheoctomy to help him breath. He had recently been operated on for stomach cancer and had experienced complications following the surgery. A few weeks later he was dead. No chance to say goodbye as he had been unconscious for a few days due to a reaction to a drug given to calm him down. I did not see his body. My brother handled all the details. That time is blur to me as it was such a shock and his death came hot upon the back of six years of trauma we had endured as a family.
Jude’s passing was different, an opportunity to be with her (even though she was unconscious), many hours alone sitting holding her hand knowing that soon the decision would be made and it would be time for the final good bye.
I was able to say how much I loved her, to ask her please not to leave, but also say “if it is your time Jude, its time to let go”.. time to cry (for the first time, to share the grief with my much loved nephews) two of whom stayed for a further week, time to talk over the traumatic years in which she was separated from them while her ex husband conducted an affair, to learn details of her psychosis, to share memories, pain and feelings.
Its a paradox to say this was a special time for me, it was a chance to finally share some grief. After my father died I left to go overseas and drank over a lot of the pain. I did not begin to truly process my father’s death until I was well in to sobriety and recovery some 12 years later. Some losses are just too huge to process at the time and we need support to grieve. This is something I have had to learn over many years of my body holding complicated, unresolved grief. A new loss triggers the old ones. My marriage ending also brought a revisitation of the pain felt once the protective masculine influence is gone.
I remember just following my father’s death how a little mouse came to visit and I was the one who had to take the steps to get rid of it. The same thing happened in the weeks after I had been informed my husband would be leaving me after returning from an overseas trip. I buried a little mouse body in the rose garden and remembered the weeks after my father’s death.
Luckily today was also an opportunity to share grief. My mother, my sister and I made our trip to the crematorium and the beautiful memorial garden there. My sister’s ashes had been sitting in the office for some time. My other sister was taken into hospital with depression on the day of my older sister’s funeral. A decision made by her sons (one that upset me deeply but that I now understand). A second hospitalisation took place this year between January and June, on the anniversaries of both my father’s death and Judith’s cerebral bleed. As a family the time was not right to lay my sister to rest yet. And it would be the women in the family doing it, in the absence of the masculine, an echo of both the death of my mother and father’s fathers at a very young age, an association made by all three of us today.
A lovely gentle man met us at the office of the crematorium. He walked with us to the garden where the plaque was laid for my sister, very close to the plaque for my Nana who died when I was overseas in 1987 two years following my father. How hard for my Mum. Three major losses.
I was the one chosen to place the box with Judith’s ashes in the earth. It felt so heavy and as usual I was the one in the active masculine role, I was the one who drove there, I was the one who thought to bring flowers, I was the one crying all the tears. But I was not necessarily the one grieving most. I just always seem to be the one expressing the feelings most externally.
Birds sang as I placed the box in the ground, we then placed a handful of earth and some rose petals in the hole which was then filled. My sister had finally been laid to rest.
As an astrologically minded person I always look at the transits. Today the transiting Moon was opposite my own Mars Saturn Moon and conjunct my sister’s Pluto in Leo at the time of our ceremony. It was squaring Mum’s Sun Mercury Saturn conjunction and my sister’s Saturn in Scorpio. Transiting Venus was conjunct to my second sister’s Pluto in Leo. As I wrote in an earlier blog at present the transiting Sun is close to both Saturn and Mars in my dead sister’s chart. And most appropriately today Venus is exactly smack bang on my Uranus in Leo in the first house as Saturn in Scorpio squares it. I am aware of the many powerful eruptive Uranian events that have littered my life and splintered things apart.
Following our little ceremony we drove to our favourite café and had lunch. We then spoke of many things. I was asking questions about what occurred all those years ago following my sister’s cerebral bleed. I was 18 at the time, then 20 when she was sent back with a one way ticket by her husband. I learned at the time of her death from my nephews of what occurred in New Zealand in 1982 when she was in a psychosis. Her husband had been carrying on a affair. He had planned to meet the woman he was having an affair with over there and my sister had to be a party to this. Later, as I shared before, he had her committed to an asylum.
I wont ever know what my sister suffered. She would not speak of what happened at this time. I do know that my sister was not an easy person. She had addiction issues, in fact, as an adolescent she encouraged me to drink at a time when it had a bad effect on me. I have had such a struggle to make sense of it all, being the youngest, I was bonded for many years to my sister due to unresolved trauma. I understand that now. At some level I felt responsible for her, especially when I found out more about the multi-generational legacy of addiction in our family on Mum’s side many years after I got sober in 1993.
My sister’s ex husband died a few years ago. In all that time he never talked to his sons of what occurred in his marriage but I learned today that on his death bed he admitted to his oldest son that he had really betrayed my sister and regretted his actions.
It was good to be able to talk about this with my sister and mother today. I am so grateful for the softening in my remaining sister who put her arm around me as we laid my other sister to rest. My sister who died was like a mother to me growing up. She was 16 when I was born and she would wheel me in the pram around the neighbourhood and received funny looks when it was assumed it was a teenage pregnancy. With her wicked sense of humour she drew great delight from this.
It is now close to dinner time. I sit typing with the soft glow of lamps around me and the buzzing of a silence that is always present at deeply spiritual times. I have danced out some of the complex emotions that today has evoked. Exhausted when I left my family, I am now refreshed by time alone.
Its a great mystery to me, the family we choose. The question, do we choose? How fated it it? What are the common themes that wend their way tendril like throughout the generations? I see patterns, creating patterns. I see that sometimes we choose, sometimes we are compelled, sometimes magnetised and then we live to reap results we could never had imagined. Much as we try to control things at times, greater forces work their way out. It seems at times we make fatal choices and mistakes which then we learn from, even though the learning is gut wrenchingly painful at times. If we can bear the consequences we live on. And sometimes fate forces upon us a hand we wish to lay down or escape.
Today the issue of my father’s grave came up. Unlike Nana and my sister Dad is exiled to another part of the cemetery, buried in a coffin. At the time he died the Catholic church did not accept cremation. Mum cried today as she hates to think of Dad being alone. We spoke of Dad’s belief that when you are gone you are gone, and yet you are not wholely gone when others remember. I guess we project our own feelings on the dead. The memorial is probably mostly for us who remain and need a place to remember. But the exile of my Dad’s grave, so rarely visited does reflect something of how, in the past our family has not fully dealt with our grief.
It is interesting to me to note that in the week that astrologers have gained their first sighting of Pluto, so recently demoted from the planetary pantheon, that we as a family have begun to bring our own grief out of the shadows. I like to think this is a collective indication that our society is becoming more prepared to deal with the so called “dark” side of life. Death has lessons for us and emotions, sometimes very hard to express and resolve. It takes us into a place of healing, of recognising what was loved and what was of most value to us. In feeling it through we have a chance to engage with our hearts and with the complexity of our attachments and interconnections. Important work for our soul.
There attachments and interconnections are deep as our soul is deep. Even when we seek to avoid or deny them the affect us in many ways. We are not separate but inter connected. Death, loss, separation does not end this interconnection just moves it to another plane. That is my belief.