aging without botox

Archive for the category “Grief”

Who doesn’t want to be remembered?

IMG_0005March 7, 1957 Theresa Marie Stilling was born.  She was my only sister born 6-1/2 years before me.  The story I grew up hearing was that she danced and sang at my birth, “Ive got a little sister, I’ve got a little sister!”  Terrie died on April 10, 2010. Today would have been her 61st birthday.

Her illness, fight with Leukemia, and untimely death left me deeply changed.  Thank god! If we aren’t deeply changed by profound experiences, what is the point to this life? We all (or many, many of us) get caught in the cycle of work, social media, care for family, social media, news, sleep. The endless addiction to our screens can keep us from feeling much of anything, and strong feelings we do have, can easily be stuffed down or numbed by our addictions – to screens or intoxicants.

I’m now a year older – 54 – then Terrie was when she died.  I often feel I am living on borrowed time. One of our brothers died in 2012 – Chester was only 57. Life is short and difficult, and joy-filled and distracting.  I was distracted by my grief for many years and distracted by comparing my insides to others’ outsides.  I wasted time watching others get over death and sorrow much quicker or differently than I did.  I am finished with that phase of my life.

It is odd losing siblings. Your history is gone in an unnatural way.  You can’t check things out from childhood. I am the youngest of 4; me and my oldest brother are still alive, but we live 2000 miles apart and life gets too complicated most days for me to ask him what he remembers about my childhood.  My sister always had those stories ready. She wasn’t perfect – there were many times in her life where she was downright tortured by her demons, but she was my only sister, and we were good (most times) at allowing each other the space to have our demons. I’ve experienced too much death and grief to put the dead on a pedestal – Terrie was human and flawed – like me – but she was my sister. I would have been willing to take the risk of fighting with her once in awhile to see what it would have been like to grow old (or at least older) together.

She has a granddaughter she never met.  She would have been OVER THE MOON about Ryleigh Marie! Her 20-something children have turned out to be quite awesome. The politics in this country are what she would consider catastrophic – she was a big fan of President Obama, and was never embarrassed to be brazenly liberal in a deep red county in Maryland.

My life has changed too.  I am an empty-nester, enjoying much time with my spouse of 24 years. Today, I am quieter, more introspective, less in need of distraction and attention. I don’t mind being alone. I don’t mind sitting home on a weekend (in fact I’m quite protective of my weekends).  I don’t need to be so busy that life rushes by.  I have a perspective that may come from being 54 or may have been aided in losing siblings in their 50’s.  Being able to sit still in a society that won’t stop competing and running and working and distracting is not something that just happens. It takes a lot of practice. And I have practiced!

I practice and teach Mindfulness meditation, and I am a Buddhist. I’ve let go of my addiction to work and am able to make my own schedule and enjoy lazing around most mornings or hiking with my dog in nature before heading to work. I don’t use intoxicants at all, and as I age I can’t understand why people do.  Life is just too short to be numb – even for a Friday night!  I want to be awake and present.

I left the rat race.  It’s something I never thought I would do – I was addicted! I was addicted to work and attention and saving people and institutions! I was delusional and numb.  And then Terrie got sick, and my life changed profoundly.

In retrospect, I’m glad I was profoundly changed by my sister’s life, illness, and death. But it was so fucking difficult in real time.  Eight years later, I still rarely have a day go by where I don’t think of her; the way I feel when I think of her has changed drastically, but the thought is still there. Terrie’s death compelled me to write, and writing saved me from succumbing to debilitating darkness and depression.  I don’t write much anymore, but today I wanted to give Terrie a birthday present.  I wanted to give her the gift of being remembered. It’s selfish too, because as I live on borrowed time, I hope my relationships are profound enough, that I too am remembered when I am gone.


Photocred: William Stilling – my very alive brother took the picture of Terrie and photoshopped it.



Death and Taxes

I wrote this entry a year ago.  I wanted to write another for today, but I thought instead, I’l just repost.  Writing is a wonderful way to chronicle the feelings of our past; we can relive them. Writing keeps our memories alive.  I continue to change and grow through this loss – through this grief.  I continue to live in the “now,” and try to live fully by not fearing sickness and death.  It’s a journey – one in which I will certainly continue experiencing loss. But for today – I repost the past, and hold in my heart my sister, Terrie. Caring for Terrie changed my life drastically.  Dang I miss her!


Today is April 15th – Tax Day.  It is also the day my only sister died at age 53 after battling Leukemia for a year; a battle she was absolutely positive she was going to win! The entire time I wanted to shake her and tell her to realize she may die, that she should take this seriously, that she should follow instructions. I would call people crying hysterically – I was so afraid she was going to die.  The wise friends would respond,”Of course she is going to die; we are all going to die.”

What good would it have done to have made her talk to me about dying, about her death, about the arrangements.  Sometimes I thought she was amazingly optimistic, and at other times I thought she was purely delusional. I was her caretaker, I got so close to her, so close that I started referring to her as “we” when saying things like, “we really did great today in physical therapy,” or “we need to eat more to gain our strength!” It became a joke between us; an inside joke.

It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done – caring for my sister day in and a day out during her illness  I was there to talk with the docs, to fill in the family, I was there to wipe her nose and her butt, I was there to hold her hand while she was in a coma, and to watch her eyes open when she regained consciousness.  I had a role, a job, a place in life. It was exhausting and difficult, and sorrowful, and yet it could be the most blissful experience as well.  Feeling just for one moment that I had comforted, made the right medical decision, impressed someone with my medical vocabulary (the docs would say, “Do you work in the medical field?” I would respond, “No, but I’m here everyday!”

One day when Terrie was recently out of a coma, she asked me, What time is it?”  I said, ” 3 o’clock.” She exclaimed, “In the morning?” I said, “No silly, in the afternoon.” This was the same day it took me 20 minutes to get her situated in bed after sitting up for a few brief moments.  At one point I was huffing and puffing and bent down very close to her face and she looked into my eyes and said, “Please don’t leave. You being here makes it bearable.” I don’t know if I ever told anyone she said that. . . until now. When friends and family and loved ones would tell me I had to back off and take care of myself and get some rest – I could see Terrie’s beautiful blue eyes staring at me and saying, “You make it bearable.”

It’s been 3 years, and my problem is I still have expectations of how it should or shouldn’t feel. I realized today how tired I am and how today – the anniversary day – brings back that feeling of walking through cotton wool.  I can’t remember words as I am in mid-sentence.  I read a text but forget to ever respond to it. I forget to pay bills. I sometimes forget what year it is. I am stuck in 2010 – I write this year more often than not on checks, etc. I think the phrase should be “grief induced ADD.”

And today there were bombs in Boston. What right do I have to be sad? She was 53. It was Leukemia. There are worse things. And this – this comparing – this ability to put things (pain, death, loss, terror) into compartments as if they are knick knacks in a shadow box – is how I survive. I know that it is okay to be sad today, but I can’t just be sad. I have to get up and go to work and act, and wonder what it would have been like to just stay home, to just be sad, to not have to make it bearable for anyone anymore. To just let go, just fall apart.

I wanted to write something here today, but instead I was falling asleep in the living room when I forced myself to grab the computer and write.  I force myself to write as if writing this is so damned important. As if writing makes my feelings real or valid or . . .heard.  You see I only let myself cry silently tucked away – not in front of the kids or my husband or friends – but just tucked away. As if my grief would be unbearable to you.

Today – I googled my dad’s name because I forgot his death date.  What appeared were the listings of the obituaries from my mom (78), October 17, 2012, my brother (56), January 18, 2012, my sister (53), April 15, 2010, and finally my dad, April 24, 2007.

I still have a brother – he is the oldest – I am the youngest, we are close even though we live 2000 miles apart.  I emailed him today, “Thinking of you today. . .tax day and all.  Peace.”  He knows what I mean. There are so many songs, and jokes, and history that I want to pick up the phone to ask my sister.  And what will I do when the next death comes? We are all going to die, but God I could use a break from the complete exhaustion that grief brings to me.  I’ve tried to act, and go on, and run, and work, but still the grief exhausts me. The grief isolates me. Going to events with lots of happy people just seems like it would zap any energy I may have right from me.  Each decision to go to a social event or visit a friend is weighed in a meticulous way that once upon a time wouldn’t have been a second thought. Grief is heavy.

So I write, and writing brings me acceptance. Writing makes the comparisons and fitting into compartments sound useless.  Writing seems to be a comfort, it seems to make this bearable. I read the obituaries that popped up – it was a lot to read. It is a lot of grief. I cried, and then I wrote, and now I will sleep.  My taxes are paid, and tomorrow I go to work, and maybe even run or cook a meal. I don’t know what is to come – that is good – and terrifying.



Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: