My first post in this series (this previous post) basically explains what is “Wish You Were There”; this one lays the groundwork. I want to be able to tell you about my family, but I need to get the basics down, first.
Above is an absolutely hilarious and absolutely accurate photo of my family. I’m the tiny one (of course).
When that photo was taken, we were living a literally quiet life in rural Virginia, my dad building a home a year, my mom doing the books for his small business, my sister Kim cheerleading, and me riding a pony. We didn’t hang out with extended family or neighbors, and I don’t remember my mom or dad ever having close friends. We were our own unit.
This series is about grief, so here goes.
My dad was the first to go. He died suddenly in 1980 while he and Mom were watching the “Who Killed JR” stuff on Dallas. He stood up from the sofa, turned several colors, then fell on the living room carpet, dead from heart failure. I was 11 and my sister 17 (she was away at college).
Life seemed to stop for a long time, and then it moved on. My sister got married and had a baby, Katherine, who was the precious perfect beloved first baby of the family.
When Katherine was 4, all we knew was she was sick. For years my sister and her husband (later ex-husband) bounced from PICU to pediatric hospitals, from neurologists to nephrologists to pulmonary experts and therapists.
Katherine died when she was 26, which is a remarkable age for her to have gotten to. I can’t remember if her diagnosis was made right before she died or after, but what plagued her turned out to be a super-rare genetic disorder. I have lots to say about that, but another time. I’ll leave you with the basic premise that it was all horrible.
Next was my sister. She had bi-polar tendencies before Katherine, but we called it “Being Kim.” The years of fighting for Katherine pushed her extremes, and she tried to kill herself a bunch of times when Katherine was sick. (In case you’re wondering if I’m exaggerating, I took our mom to see her body once, “for the last time,” as toxins were being flushed so her organs could be transplanted. She was a ridiculously strong fighter and survived that one as well as several other other attempts. Until . . .
She died after Katherine died, of an overdose that I think of as suicide. I have lots to say on that, too.
The deal with my mom is that she remarried (he died, too) and then she developed dementia, and I moved her to an assisted living place near me, and most days when I spent time with her I was lying my socks off about who was alive and well.
Mom died in 2019.
Finn was in college, I was amicably divorced. And, I was no longer on call at the hospital for Katherine, which I had been for 20 years. I wasn’t asking my (now ex-)husband to read my emails from my sister for me. (I’d had to cut her from my life to protect myself. Long story.) I wasn’t scraping together money to pay for mom’s assisted living or chatting with her about dead relatives as if they were there. Everyone was gone. So I took off.
It took me seven months to go through all the possessions and estate stuff of all my family (Kim had a lot of Katherine’s stuff; Mom had stuff from Dad, and her second husband’s family, and her parents), but I got it done. I quit my job, I got remarried, and I sold or gave away everything I owned or was responsible for, and I got the hell out of dodge, thumbing my nose behind me.
That was March, 2020.
And now I have all these people’s lives in my head and I’m going to write about them.