Farther Along

When death has come and taken a loved one

It leaves a hole so dreadful and drear.

Then do we wonder why others prosper

Living so wicked, year after year…

Farther along we’ll know all about it,

Farther along we’ll understand why.

Cheer up my sister, walk in the sunshine,

We’ll understand it, all by and by.

Naah, I’m not getting all religious, but that song’s been in my mind for almost a year now – I’ve always loved it, it’s a nice hymn – simple, square and balanced (like a Methodist church) My birthday’s on Friday and it occured to me yesterday that it will be the first birthday I’ve celebrated without a close loved one who’s shared all of my others. Losing a brother – an only sibling – and a mother in a year is rough. Sucks.

All we really have of someone are the memories. The love, fights, passion – the essence of our relationship – the mementos, letters, pieces of clothing – they buttress the memories. Memory is imperfect, which is fitting, and memory is elastic.

We shape our memories, we sculpt them, form them, polish and hone them. Sometimes we sharpen them. Smell always brings memories to me easier than any other sense, so it’s especially odd (and wonderful) that in the past year my sense of smell has returned after it left abruptly when I had my OC and hysterectomy. The other day I was cleaning the living room and I swear I could smell Youth Dew – the smell of middle aged women across America throughout the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, and the scent my mother loved best of all. It was so strong that I left the room, then returned and it still lingered. I went out and told a neighbor, then came back – still strong. I enjoyed it.

I’m in the process of rounding out the memories I have of my mother, my brother – and by extension my father, my aunt Wanda (both of the, actually…) and everyone else who’s passed in my life. They’re haunting me these days, and it’s actually quite a nice feeling – warm and comforting. I’ve been thinking quite a bit of a dear friend from college who passed from Aids in the early 90’s. Oddly, I ran into a friend of his family while at the Michigan Fiber Festival, a blog reader of mine who recognized my hat (but not me) and then was astonished and gratified to discover it was me beneat the hat. Of course that made me feel great. The fact that in our short conversation Darin surfaced fit so beautifully.

I find myself knitting the threads of memory together into a cohesive piece. The process is so much like finishing a sweater –

Binding Off The jarring, jolt that the goodbye was final – it comes at the oddest moments.

Blocking Fitting the loss into my reality – coming to really believe that my brother won’t be at my daughter’s graduation, that I can’t call my mom, that I won’t get a birthday card from either of them.

Joining Drawing parallels between my snatches of memory and my current life – finding a way to patch the small pieces together so I have something I can really grab hold of and wrap myself in.

Picking up stitches and creating collar, buttonband, ties, etc. Grafting these memories into my current life. Finding ways to include Jim and Mom – and Dad – in conversations with the kids, allowing myself to be reminded of childhood fights when I hear my kids bicker, remembering the sweetness of my brother’s boyish face. Until Jim was 8 and I was 6, I used to creep into his room almost every night so we could listen to 45rpm records long after mom and dad thought we were asleep – Hannah and Max do the same thing now, staying up and listening to CD’s together.

The best gift you can give a kid is a sibling. Sorry to be so maudlin today. I just spoke with my cousin, Jan, who is so much more than a cousin (and my last close relative – I have other good cousins, but none who are as much like a sister) She had her second round of chemo today and her hair started falling out on Sunday. She shaved her head and was unprepared for the emotional shock. I wish I were there. She’s having her surgery the first week in November, when I’ll be down in VA, so I’ll either go to Parkersburg before or after the retreat.

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