Love Between Sisters

As the youngest of 5 sisters, “sisterly love” has been a major theme of my life.  One thing I absolutely know to be true:  if you have a sister, you have an ally, best friend, confidante and personal coach for life!  As a youngster, it was fun for me to write letters to my three oldest sisters who left for boarding high school (each one following the next, one year apart) starting when I was 4.  My goal was to entertain, make them laugh, and convince them to let me “tag along” behind every teenage adventure they had.  I remember hiding behind a curtained window hoping to catch one of them kissing a boy in our driveway – everyday was a new adventure (or violation, from their perspective)!  My relationship with my sister just 3 years older than me was much more like the traditional sibling rivalry yet unique because we have always had completely opposite personalities.  As anyone from a large family can attest, my identity and purpose throughout life has largely been framed in the context of being an “annoying little sister”!

A sister can enrich your life more than any other connection.  Between sisters, there is a shared lens on the world and life formed so strongly and early that it is nearly impenetrable.  What one can see, the other feels, maybe another interprets for the rest.

Sisterhood is a flowing exchange of perceiving reality and washing it in the bonds of caring, safety and love created when we were young – and giving it back so the world feels softer, more tolerable.

As I get older, washing the pain I feel in my sisters’ lives is the greatest act of love I can conceive.  These champions of my spirit move through the world and experience human pain, suffering, joy and the like but to me they seem larger than life, as if immortal.  I want us all to stay little and innocent forever.  For my psyche to process actual pain and suffering is an excruciating emotional task.  I do feel “one” with them.

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Embracing my sister on her wedding day after some huge life difficulties!

The past decade my sisters and I have all moved into middle age and experienced the natural illness and loss of a parent and the challenge of creating a loving environment for our Mom, who is very ill.  Throughout these days, life has brought us each some pretty difficult health, financial and emotional challenges.  The laughter we shared feels distant many days.

It’s hard to accept that the people you love most in the world can be cut at the knees by life yet the purpose of life is to flow freely through the pain and darkness and share joy and light with one another.

This much I know for sure, I may disagree with my sisters philosophically, politically or any number of ways, but THEY ARE ME.  We belong to each other, and that is the most important thing in the world.

Some people believe we make “spiritual contracts” before entering the physical world, and part of that is choosing the souls with whom we travel through life.  It makes sense to me when I consider the love I have for my sisters and the joy that comes from witnessing their high points in life.  This year, I want to be a better sister, I hope to be able to do more than just entertain and make them laugh.  I want to fill the vessel of sisterly love until it overflows.

When I feel wounded and scorned by an intolerant world that does not understand me, my sisters are there protecting my heart.  My sisters are Grace personified.

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Dear Mom, You’re My Favorite Badass

My Mother was born prematurely during a record blizzard on December 1, 1932, in Memphis, Tennessee (a night, we learned later, on which her Grandmother was babysitting her future husband, one-year-old Dickie Killion!).   She lived in an incubator the first few weeks of her life before her parents, Opal and Ronnie, were allowed to take her home to Hayti, Missouri, a rural farming town in the Southeastern part of the state.  As a young child, she contracted rheumatic fever and the doctor said there was nothing he could do – he advised her parents to buy a coffin for Rhetta.  So they did.  Fortunately, they did not need it.  And even more fortunately, this impish child who cheated death early in life continued to thrive and grow into a beautiful young woman who would marry and bear 7 children, the youngest of whom is me.

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Growing up in the  post-Depression South, there were certain expectations of young ladies that Rhetta continuously defied.
For instance, one of her very best friends, Carliss, was African American.  They enjoyed playing outdoors together for hours.  To Rhetta, the color of her friend’s skin was of no particular consideration at all.

Rhetta was strong-willed and did not want to go to school.  She recently confessed that she was, in fact, expelled from kindergarten for refusing to stop pulling the little girl’s pigtails who sat in the desk in front of her!  Rhetta did not mind the unconventional.  To her Mother’s horror, while performing in a piano recital, Rhetta suddenly forgot the music so she stood and sang the words instead!  When she was instructed to trim the rosebush – a chore she despised – Rhetta simply cut off all the lovely heads to hasten her task.  When cautioned that young ladies did not get muddy, she rode her bike through every single mud puddle she could find.

Spanking never worked because Rhetta refused to cry!  She liked visiting an Uncle who purportedly had taken up the company of a “woman of ill repute” because the woman was so friendly!  She had a daily habit of stopping along the way from school to home at the courthouse to enjoy a cigarette in the ladies’ restroom.  Rhetta was, indeed, incorrigible!

Mom recalls there was an internment camp for German Prisoners of War (for some reason in Hayti, Missouri!) when she was a child.  Fearful of what unknown harm could become of the adorable blue-eyed blonde little girl, Rhetta was absolutely forbidden from ever riding her bike to “that part of town.”  Well she did.  And Mom remembers talking through the fence to the Germans, they speaking German and she speaking in her inimitable Southern drawl – and relishing the smiles on their faces and laughter on the other side of the fence.  “I’m sure they thought my accent was as strange as I found theirs’ – but we were fascinated with one another,” Mom remembers.

Her Dad, Ronnie Greenwell, was a proud member of the Missouri Cotton Producers Association and Lions Club.  He somehow gained access to President Harry Truman and took his precocious daughter along with him to meet the Great Democrat from Missouri.  Mom only recalls President Truman asking her how she liked school – and that she was fairly bored throughout the encounter!

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In spite of all her youthful spiritedness, Mom managed to easily slip into the “ladylike patterns” of the day and married my Dad, whom she adored, at the tender age of 20 in 1953.  They began a life together in Southeast Missouri in a small farming community where Mom bore 7 children and participated fully in the spiritual life of the Catholic parish to which our family belonged.

Mom smiling

But there was always a restlessness about Mom – she loved life and learning and wanted to participate in the world as more than a caregiver.  She convinced Dad to move to St. Louis, where she began a wallpaper business and eventually became a tax preparer for H & R Block.  She brought energy and life into our family with her diverse group of interests and friends.  Mom volunteered for hospice and a program for teenage runaway girls.  She helped the local United Way with its annual “100 Neediest Cases” Christmas program.  She became enthralled by the study of Jungian Psychology which led her to the work of Elisabeth Kubler Ross, whom Mom personally escorted from the airport to a workshop she attended!  And she handmade beautiful quilts that are treasured by many.

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Now in her eighties, Mom is confined to her bed.  She still enjoys a lively imagination and interest in many people and things, especially the St. Louis Cardinals! Here she is meeting one of her great-grandchildren, a beautiful gift she treasures.

She never fails at giving me the perfect advice.  Ever.  When I was in my twenties, Mom often sent me “Affirmations,” her own compositions in her own handwriting, to help me navigate the difficult adult world.  She once wrote to me, “I love you.  Don’t give your personal power or your $ away.”

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For these reasons and so many more, my beautiful Mom is and always will be MY FAVORITE BADASS!  I thank God every day for the blessing of a life with Mary Henrietta Greenwell Killion as my Mother.

 

Bitter With The Sweet

I am ashamed to admit it, but I am outrageously jealous of my friends who are enjoying the companionship of vibrant and involved octogenarian parents.   This is such a selfish and unfair statement, I know.  I had great parents (Mom is still living) and they were there for me when I needed them.  So many people can’t even say the same.

So many of my friends did not have the joy of being given away by their Fathers.  I did.

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So why am I feeling sorry for myself that my parents weren’t the “take the family on a trip to celebrate our 50th Anniversary” type?  For many years, whenever we were together, Mom and Dad took the family to their favorite Italian restaurant in South St. Louis, Missouri, Giuseppe’s.

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My parents cooing with my nephew and one of the family’s closest friends over amazing Italian cuisine in South St. Louis.  GREAT memories.

I can’t help but feel a pang of jealousy, though, when I hear a friend tell me she spent the afternoon shopping with her Mom and then out to dinner with both parents – and they are in their eighties and enjoying active lives.  Like the famous Carole King song, I know I need to do a better job at taking the bitter with the sweet:

“A friend of mine once told me

and I know he  knows all about feelin’

down

He said, “Everything good in life you’ve

got to pay for

But feeling’ good is what you’re paving the way for”

But you can’t enjoy the sweet without “paying for it” with the bitter, right?  That’s the deal.  Sometimes it stinks!

The morning my Dad passed away and I called my husband to share the expected but dreadful news, a feeling washed over me I had really never felt before and I told him through my tears, “I wasn’t done with him yet.”  That must be why sometimes in my dreams I watch him ride away, alone in a limo with darkly tinted windows – no room for me.  The separation of death is bitter.  Memories are sweet.  I guess I will always taste both.

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In my heart, this is where my parents remain – in their late 60’s, active, involved, enjoying life.  Laughing with me.  Together.

Nobody prepared me (or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention) for this constant ache you get from watching your parents age and then losing them.  Maybe it’s because loss from death is the first thing I have ever encountered in my human existence that simply cannot be prepared for.

And the really strange truth about losing a parent is this:  the permanent pain is because of the sweetness of their love.  Like C.S. Lewis writes in “A Grief Observed,” -“For in grief nothing ‘stays put.’ One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?”

At the end of the day, I don’t begrudge any of my fortunate friends who are still enjoying happy times with both parents.  It’s a gift and, after all, not something to be overly examined.  I had what I had and that’s it.  Boy, was I lucky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recovering In Community

I told my counselor today that this summer I allowed myself “permission” to just sit quietly (a lot!) and rest, reflect and heal.  When I decided to get sober this past June, I had no idea that I would feel emotionally drained for so long – the exact opposite of what I was expecting.

We overuse the word
We overuse the word “balance” like we do “love.” It is a commitment and daily effort, like love.

 Ironically, for me, the clearer my mind becomes, the less I seek the chaos that was once my life – am I now addicted to peace?

Talk to anybody who has been in recovery for more than a couple of years and they will nod in complete agreement and understanding and say, “the longer you are sober, the more you will enjoy a quiet life.”  The trick is learning how to quiet the things that once stressed me emotionally without alcohol.  This must explain my present state of fatigue, I am like a child learning to ride a bike without training wheels.

Thus, the subject of today’s blog:  How does one successfully “recover in community,” with normal deadlines, stresses, demands and all sorts of other messy obstacles life presents?  I began my sobriety without any kind of in-patient treatment, so I have been “hanging out there” in community trying to stay sober and keep my life going for five months.  It is tiring.  I wish I could say it is thrillingly exhilarating – the gratitude I feel each morning for a new day, a healthy and loving family, and my sobriety is comforting.  But maintaining it all makes me well – TIRED.

I am still in nurture mode with 2 teenagers
I am still in nurture mode with 2 teenagers

Doing what is best for my 2 very different children without the influence of alcohol is certainly much easier and more enjoyable!  However, some days it feels like I don’t have as much to give as I’d like.  My body, mind and soul feel tapped out because all I can do is just “be” and “love.”  Is this enough???  I see other parents (whose sobriety status I am not aware of) really “managing” their kids’ lives and this clearly is not what is happening under my roof.  And the gnawing question I have, now that I am sober is, “what’s the difference between the way I loved drunk and the way I am loving sober?”.  Or anything for that matter.  And I think the answer is caring and feeling versus numb and complacent.  I think my body hurts and my spirit feels tired because it hurts to feel and process one’s thoughts in healthy ways all day long, especially when you are responsible for young adults.

Recovering in Community works best in the company of a safe friend
Recovering in Community works best in the company of a safe friend

When I talk about these fears and feelings to my non-sober friends, I kind of get blank stares.  Other addicts know exactly what I mean.  It’s what makes us all different and interesting, right?  So I continue to make room in my life for AA meetings, conversations with others who are focused on their recovery, and living a day to day life that is healthy, balanced and aimed at giving my family the right kind of love – without cheating myself.  That’s enough for one person to handle.  And that, my friends, is how I am attempting to “recover in community.”