Wish You Were There: Road to Forgiveness

It’s been at least a year since I wrote in this personal series on grief, and I’m not really back at it here, more like wrapping it up.

When we landed in Brownsville for this past winter, I began a series of therapy sessions called trauma therapy, with the goal of getting this grieving show on the road. What I learned (before I tore my knee and had to change focus) was the idea that I might benefit from granting forgiveness. As in, if I forgive my sister for being mean to me, I might be able to move on. And by “mean” I don’t mean dropping ice cubes on me while I’m in the shower; I mean blaming me for her suicide attempts and hurting me intentionally in other ways only she could have contrived.

I was struggling with this. I even did a search through my Facebook posts, hoping I would come up with stories of us having good times together as sisters, but no dice. What I did come up with is a series of posts I wrote that become a narrative of what happened after her death, much of which I’d forgotten about. I’m not sure how this helps in the forgiving department—but it’s a story of me and my sister nonetheless. If you’re interested in other details of this story, check out my Wish You Were There series.

February 1, 2018

For my sister’s friends and family here, I hate to say this in a Facebook post, so scroll down past the blank lines.




Folks, my sister was found dead in her house in Napa, California today. I know little about it … just what the sheriff’s office told me on the phone. I do know her beloved dog Ruby is in an animal shelter, and I’m trying to find any of her local friends who can get Ruby out for me. Please let me know if you know anyone who can help.

[Later that day on a private feed:]

Dear Lord, I’ve lived in fear of my sister. She had much emotional power over me and was brilliant at wielding it. I no longer have to hate her or fear her, or love her. So strange.

Feb 3

As you guys know, my sister died last week. I still don’t know the details, only because these things take time, apparently. (I’m learning a ton about what happens when someone dies; I’ve never been the sole responsible person.)

I’ll be going out to her place in CA to get her stuff soon. I won’t be having a service (too little family is left and I don’t know her friends) but I will arrange for her ashes to be scattered in the West Indies where her daughter’s are. The timing of her death is especially sad because she had a plan to move to the West Indies and was working toward it, a positive move for her.

We had a troubled relationship, but she was my sister, and I’ll miss her. My heart is with Finn and Paul who had been close to her even through the last years when I was not.

Right now, I’m quite busy getting a handle on her affairs while I continue to manage our mom’s. (I’m not telling Mom that she died – Mom thinks I’m her most of the time anyway.) Thank goodness my hours at the magazine are flexible, because I suddenly have three jobs. I’ll get it all done, eventually.

Feb 10

I wish I could spend more than five minutes each day out on my sister’s dock, but paperwork and sorting stuff is massive.

Feb 26

I’m having good days and bad days. Last night I didn’t sleep, so I arrived at work at 7am today to get productive.

Instead, I can’t log in to my sister’s account for a bill that’s gone to collections (f- them, I guess). Packages I thought were coming from her house today are actually arriving Friday (will I be home?). I left Kim’s phone at home thinking I didn’t need it, but a confirmation code has already been sent to it that I need, and it’s not yet 8am. One of her clients emailed me, defiantly ignorant that I am not maintaining her business.

I keep thinking about the chair I need to buy to replace Mom’s (from our house when I was little) that someone in her facility mistook for a toilet. That could have been Mom.

Of course I haven’t started magazine work yet. Maybe it’s too soon for me to return to work, but I don’t know what else to do without putting my coworkers under greater pressure by continuing my leave. We are a tiny company, and if I don’t put the magazine together, we have no magazine. I’m at a loss here.

Feb 27

You know you’re running on adrenaline when you sort your sister’s knitting supplies from 1 to 3:00 am.

March 12

Of the disparate tasks I do for my sister each day, the oddest is deleting her unimportant emails from two of her accounts I have on my phone now. She subscribed to a lot of email services (ACLU, The NYTimes, daily fitness tips, Buddhist reminders, a zillion clothes catalogs).

Several times a day I look through them, swiping left, swiping left, imagining what she might have opened instead of deleted. Each day I find a clue to some important mystery, like a renewal notice to a domain name registration I didn’t know she owned, and I keep that. But then I go back to swiping left through her emails.

Once it struck me as horrible that no friends ever emailed her, and then I remembered that that’s because they know she’s dead. Of course. That’s why I’m doing this.

March 20

Another odd thing I find myself doing in my sister’s wake (and I’m still unsubscribing her email addresses from automated emails; each one is a lost key to the mystery of who she was. For example, why would she want emails from a gym in Richmond when she lived there three years ago and hated every minute, plus never even went to a gym?). In any case, another odd task is selling her luxury items.

She had sublime taste in jewelry, handbags, scarves … you name it. And I am selling a lot of it via The RealReal, an online consignment shop that guarantees the validity of Chanel, Gucci, Hermes, diamonds, Mikimoto pearls.

As with so many aspects of my relationship with her, this process has been conflicting. I hate to see her beautiful things she curated over her life get sold for a fraction of what they meant to her. And yet, the money will go to her estate (aka our mom’s assisted living bills).

Plus, it’s been absurdly fun to log in to my RealReal account several times a day to see what’s been sold for what I feel are ungodly amounts of cash, what I would never spend on such things. It’s a fascinating world she lived in.

April 4

Well, it looks like the adrenaline from all the work I’ve been doing for my sister since she died has worn off, and I’m left with sadness. For her, for Finn, for me. There’s still more work, though.

April 5

On a much lighter note, I’m spending this weekend with my old roomie, Heather, and I expect we’ll talk talk talk until our throats are hoarse, and then we’ll laugh. I’m also having lunch with a Cox cousin, whom I haven’t seen in maybe 10 years, plus dropping boxes of Katherine’s memorabilia with her other grandmother, whom I haven’t seen in maybe 20. An upshot of not having a service for Kim is that I’m getting to reconnect with my family/friends at my own pace.

April 23

My days lately have veered almost exclusively from, “Thanks for the sympathy and compliments on how I’m dealing with everything. But really I have all this in control” to “GUYS, my SISTER just DIED.”

My updates are that I have finally gotten the letters from the court giving me the authority/responsibility of executor (funny how that is so close to “executer”). I’m still trying to sell her sailboat and will visit her storage units this weekend, this time with a UHaul. I gave Paul all her Buddhism books plus seashell collection and the ashes of all her pets for him to bury next to Jackie Boy. I am continuing to find homes for other possessions that do good.

Last night after a long day, I visited Mom, and she was already in bed. So I took off my coat and just got in bed with her, and we looked up at her ceiling and said funny things to each other and giggled. I’m sure she thought I was Kim. But that was okay.

June 1

Update on the saga of my sister’s storage units: I’ve given up on an estate sale in Charlottesville and will be moving all the contents to Bethesda on Father’s Day weekend. If you’re near Crozet and would like to buy anything, meet me that Saturday as we load the uHaul.

PS: If this is the first picture you’ve seen, it’s a sampling of two storage units full of large and small items from all the places my sister lived and her loves: Virginia fox hunting, Hawaiian traditions, sailing in the West Indies, mementos from Burma (I think) ages ago, plus pretty but inexpensive items from when she lived in an apartment in Richmond, briefly. So, something for everyone with taste!

February 2, 2019

My sister died a year ago yesterday. I was shocked to realize this, how my life changed so dramatically the moment I received the call that hers had ended, how I can feel even more confounded by her in death, as I also learn to appreciate parts of her self I had rejected in life.

I don’t know what “hot mess” really means, but my bet is it describes our relationship, then and even now. More like scalding disaster.

I regret a lot of ways I didn’t accept her, and I’m betting she would be regretting some of how she treated me if she were aware. The biggest regret for both of us is that she couldn’t find a way out of that mess to live longer. She and her daughter were at the heart of a classic tragedy, which I now know is not allegory but realty.

February 28, 2019

In my world right now it’s just me and late-night mac and cheese. I find I’d bought organic, deluxe mac and cheese instead of Kraft, and man is that not the same thing when you crave the comfort of much more terrible food. I’ve had to resort to what my friend Joel and I deem heresy: add real cheese. It messes with the creaminess, and that was all this mac and cheese had going for it. Of course I’m eating it anyway!

I’m also not the only one I know to dislike Facebook’s memories these days. Kim died a year ago, Katherine died in 2015, and Mom died this past July. I’d thought I was finished with all the paperwork until I realized I had to file taxes for them, even though they owe and will receive nothing; it’s all necessary, apparently. I’ve filed for Mom, Kim, and Kim’s estate, and I’ll file for Mom’s estate next year. It seems silly to say, “estate” when it’s just paperwork, but that’s what they call it.

It’s no fun sorting through the notebooks of information I gathered about Mom and Kim for their taxes, remembering the panic I felt after Kim’s death and the rise in panic growing while Mom was getting sicker and running out of money. I was so so busy with all of this back then that I didn’t make all the best decisions. Like, why would I take prints out of perfectly matted frames to sell the frames? I needed money for Mom and was frantic.

I think it’s done now (except for Mom’s estate, which is very close). Last night Tracy and I were figuring out when and how I started filling in my time: in September, a month after Mom died, I started at the boxing gym; early November ukulele lessons; mid-November this weird hair. The obsessive knitting started before I put Mom in assisted living, so I can’t blame that on anything but myself.

Instead of feeling relieved, I’ve been a little lost. No one is left for me to take care of, not even Jackie Boy or grown-up Finn. So I’m not sleeping and I’m eating bad mac and cheese instead.

Time will pass though, of course, and I’ll feel better and better, and thanks to advice from my great friend Lucy I will eventually sleep.

It’s just so weird to look at this photo and remember all the small things Kim’s detritus brings back. I think I sold each bit of furniture pictured but the coffee table which Paul has; I found a home for Kim’s dog Ruby right before Ruby die); I have that end-table photo of Katherine on my dresser now. And I’m knitting a summer sweater with that pink mohair yarn, right now, oddly.

When did Paul take this photo? It was before Kim moved to Hawaii, before she moved to Richmond when Katherine was in the hospital for one last series of miseries. How weird to recognize everything in it that kept me busy for so long, but also to know that Finn and I are the only ones left. The bookends.

February 1, 2021

I admit this seems to be a strange choice to report this memory of the day my sister died. But her death triggered an avalanche of activity and change – and a shift in drama – in my life, and of course a total cessation of the hurricane that was hers.

I don’t mean to imply that her energy transferred to me, but certainly the day she stopped her uncontrollable whirlwind of fight/love/grief/regret/hope, my life intensified, including my trying to understand her.

One simple thing I learned shortly after that day is how much more alike we were than either of us knew or cared to admit. And yet, I’m still so angry at her that I sobbed just recently, thinking about her complex relationship with her daughter that should have been easier. Katherine is the biggest victim here; she died a few years before and is also on my mind more and more.

I’d planned to write a book about my sister, but it would be dark and difficult. Instead, I’ve been writing my light and fun travel blog. Of the many ironies of our sisterhood, she had been planning a life on the road, too. So instead of writing about her, maybe I’m writing for her.

March 19, 2024

As I publish this, it’s been six years since Kim died, I’m feeling like I’m farther along with this grief business, finally. Maybe my writing has been a form of acceptance and forgiveness. Thanks for helping me share the process.

11 thoughts to “Wish You Were There: Road to Forgiveness”

    1. When I started this series, I didn’t know that’s what I was doing. But now, I think you’re right! Sounds like you speak from experience.

  1. Wow, Shelly. This was a really powerful read. I have a lot of thoughts and don’t know where to start. This is when I wish my blogging friends lived nearby so we could meet for coffee.

    First, I’d read the HELL out of any book you write about your sister.
    Second, I know this isn’t the same as losing a sister, but my childhood best friend died in May 2022, and we weren’t talking when she died. Your grieving process feels very similar to mine. It felt very validating to read some of your words here.
    Finally, I laughed at your February 27th post about adrenaline organizing the knitting supplies. I was doing something similar when my dad was rushed to the ER on Christmas Eve. Cleaning my pantry at 2 a.m.

    You’re an amazing writer. Thank you for sharing this. Sending you love.

    1. It’s very difficult for me to accept compliments on my writing, so I especially appreciate you mentioning areas that hit home for you, sad as your and my circumstances are. This is the closest I’ll get to a book, but friends say that my entry, “That Time with the Tacos” packs a punch as well. goingdowntheroadfeelinggrand

      I’m so sorry about your relationship with your childhood best friend and her life ending. That’s hard, I know.

      1. Well, that’s not a link! This should be.


  2. I’ve read some of your posts related to your sister’s death before and am very impressed with the way you so eloquently handle your grief. It’s inspiring. Thank you for sharing such personal stories.

    1. If you knew me in person, elegant would the last descriptor you would think of! IRL, I’m prone to tearing up for no reason at all. Thank you for the kind comment!