Saying goodbye to my sister (and Eva, too)

I came down to Tucson not just to enjoy the sunshine or run the trails, though I admit that I love the sunshine and love running desert trails.

I came down to finish the memoir of my sister, who died almost fifteen years ago from complications of an eating disorder.

I began the memoir shortly after her death, handed it in as my graduate thesis a few years later and after a few edits, my agent shopped it around. It was almost picked up my HarperCollins but they weren’t happy with the requested rewrite. According to the editor, the book lacked resolution.

I was unable to resolve the ending because I was unable to resolve how I felt about my sister’s death.

I couldn’t see this at the time, though. As so often happens in writing, I was blinded by my own limitations.

So I put the book away. Occasionally I’d bring it out, move sections around, delete this, add that, but inevitably I’d put it away again.

It was painful reliving those memories, and even more painful having to face my own past and all of the feelings I’ve tucked away, too afraid of what it might mean to acknowledge them.

Last winter when I was down here in Tucson I tackled the bulk of the book but struggled with the last section. The voice faltered. The writing stuttered. I said too much or not enough or I said enough but not enough of what I needed to say.

And when I returned to Anchorage in March of last year, I put the book away again. I barely thought of it all summer.

Then winter came, and snow, and I knew I would return to Tucson, to the same house I stayed in the year before, and I knew I’d work on my book again; and those old feelings emerged.

I was unable to end the book because I couldn’t let go of my sister. And I couldn’t let go of my sister because I couldn’t let go of my own past. We were so close growing up that I was often unsure where she left off and where I began.

Back then, she was the favorite of my three sisters. Because we were the closest in age and because we lived on a farm, isolated from our nearest neighbor by more than a mile, we learned to curve ourselves around each other’s behaviors. It’s like a marriage, that kind of closeness, when you are together from morning until night, when you know someone so well that everything, from the way her breath smells in the afternoon to how fast her toenails grow, is familiar to you. It’s beyond love, it has nothing to do with love. It’s love in its purest, most basic form.

Today, I started to let go of my sister.

It began with this card that I bought at a holiday craft show in downtown Tucson the weekend before Christmas by an artist I recently discovered and love dearly: Regina M. Lord.

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I had intended to send it to a friend, and yet I didn’t. I selfishly wanted to keep it for myself. Because it is so bright and cheerful and optimistic. And because I had horses growing up, and I often rode alone early in the mornings, no bridle or saddle, just me leaning forward with my hands tangled in my horse’s mane as we galloped across the fields.

I grabbed this card, drove to the West side of town, parked by the Santa Cruz River wash and walked to the Garden of Gethsemane, a small garden filled with religious sculptures carved by artist Felix Lucero.

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Near the entrance to the garden.
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Christ and the apostles at the Last Supper.

My partner and I discovered this garden a few weeks ago during a run. It’s quiet and small, and there’s a small statue of the Virgin Mary surrounded by flowers that lends a distinct and colorful Hispanic flavor. This is used as an altar of sorts, and people leave prayers, notes asking for blessings and thanks.

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When my partner and I were there, the flowers were scattered with small scraps of prayer papers. Today, there was only one, written in Spanish and taped to the wall. I scrawled a note to my sister, placed the card by the statue and knelt down. I intended to pray, but I didn’t. I knelt in silence, and then I got up and walked away.

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I looked back once.

DSCN1876I cried and cried, but it was a good kind of tears, a holy kind of tears.

Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting someone. It doesn’t mean turning away. Instead, it’s more of a prayer, and a gift: You’re setting them free.

Soar, honey-girl, I wrote inside that card. Lift your beautiful arms and soar.

Another loss: Goodbye to Eva Saulitis, Alaska essayist, poet, teacher, biologists and author of Leaving Resurrection, Into the Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss among Vanishing Orcas and Many Ways to Say It.  Saulitis recently died of breast cancer. Her words, her insight, and her unflinching yet gentle honesty will be missed more than one can possibly comprehend.

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Source: evasaulitis.com

You Darkness

after Rilke

October darkness (can’t)
take me in, tap at my window, lure
me to your half-bitten frost-light
(rose fringe) over new snow, over
mountain snout, sleep, gentle, open
your mouth, you my lord of leaf fall
(of whitening), take this,
(unforgiven) down the trail through
meadows, down the eroded gully
(my thoughts) and as I watch
(softest parts flushing)
most horizon, cold to the edge—
ridgeline—glacial tongue,
take my mind, darkness
(that I cannot love) & I’ll step into
the alders, under the goshawk’s killing
tree (above me, looking through & past
—flayed beneath—picked clean) be not
so pretty, so pink, erasure
who unfolds, holds this (madness)
pressed in the swale, creek bed
(jealous lover) take me cold and hard.
Still this (something) comes (not) asking
for my logical, into this (my private),
demon lover you are below the horizon,
blue as a black eye.

–Eva Saulitis

Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s Book Blog, click here: http://www.julievalerie.com/fiction-writers-blog-hop-jan-2016

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22 thoughts on “Saying goodbye to my sister (and Eva, too)

  1. Cinthia, I’m so sorry for your losses–your sister and your friend. What you say about the resolution in memoir is so true. A book can’t be finished until the story is over and this is particularly difficult in memoir. I’ve had that problem myself. I couldn’t see the ending until my father passed away. Now I am letting some time pass before I go back to reshape the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Luanne. Resolutions are tough, tough, tough. So, so sorry about your father. Maybe we’ll finish our books around the same time, wouldn’t that be kind of neat? Take care, and have a great week (and some great writing too).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. hah, it would be cool, but I am not going to put any pressure on myself about it. I want it to unfold organically because forcing it wasn’t working ;). You too have a wonderful week!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. While sad at your loss and the difficulties that came with it, I’m happy for you that you have figured out a way to let go. It’s a difficult thing to do and many never manage it. And for purely selfish reasons I hope you find a publisher for the memoir. I would love to read it. I have this feeling it would be an incredible read.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a remarkable post, Cinthia. And if the book approaches the tough honesty you bring to bear here, I have to think it’ll be snapped up eventually. How sadly shallow of the editor to reject on the basis that there’s no resolution; this kind of loss is almost never resolved in our minds and hearts.

    I lost a younger brother ten years ago this year, and the guilt, doubt, and confusion still linger…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, Kev, so sorry about your younger brother. I know too well about the guilt and doubt and confusion. I wonder if we ever get over the too-early deaths of siblings. Big writerly hugs, and have a great week.

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  4. You are so right: letting go doesn’t mean forgetting. But we can’t push ourselves to that resolution. I really believe it has to come naturally, whether that means in 15 minutes, 15 days or 15 years. Your sister will always be in your heart. You just needed to find your way to say “see you later.” Wrapping you in hugs …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, yes, so true about resolution, yet still we push and push ourselves before we’re ready. And thanks for the hugs–so needed a virtual hug today (two rejections in my inbox this morning–two!). Cheers, hugs back at you and have a great week.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. My condolences, Cinthia. I lost a sister about 25 years ago, and it’s still hard sometimes. Good for you for finally letting go. I hope you find peace and a resolution to your book.

    Yes, Eva gave us so much through her writing, and her kindness. I met her several times at the Kachemak Bay Writing Conference, and am glad to have known a little of her.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I so admire you writing this painful memoir, the connections you made between your feelings and the resolution of the book, and that you shared so openly here. Best of luck with the next chapter in your life.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I lost my husband seven and a half years ago and wrote a memoir (essays) about my first year alone. It was more a book about finding a life than on the sadness of loss. I self published it because I had to let it go to try and move forward. Your post is beautiful. I don’t know that you ever resolve a loss but you do learn to keep your loved one close as you change and grow. I hope you will either publish your book or find a publisher. I would love to read it. I agree with Julie. Every word was beauty.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks so much, Barbara. I wept a little while reading your post because it felt sad yet hopeful, the things we do to hold a person in our hearts while also letting go. So, so sorry about losing your husband; I can’t imagine how painful that must have been, and maybe still is, at times. I cant wait to read your memoir. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog–I’m heading over to yours right now (anyone who writes and loves dogs is a kindred spirit of mine). Take care, and have a great week.

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