Today would have been my sister Lynn’s birthday. She was my eldest sibling and when I was a young child she used to take me shopping downtown on exciting bus adventures with the incredibly generous offer of buying me anything I wanted in the entire department store as long as I called her Mom lol! I remember choosing a huge stuffed animal because that seemed like the most audacious thing to do with such an audacious offer!
She moved out when I was very young so I don’t have many memories of her living at home but I do remember sleeping at her cool, modern, high rise apartment and admiring her for her confidence, style, beauty and sense of humour.
Our family has endured some major struggles these past years beginning with the passing of our Dad, followed by my divorce and estrangement from my middle sister shortly after, Mum’s stroke and most recently the loss of Lynn which took place almost three years ago.
So when I tell you that things are complicated, this may help to explain it. I know that all families fight and that conflict can be a productive way of resolving issues and even strengthening bonds, this isn’t what I’m talking about when I refer to our situation. I won’t get into the details but suffice it to say that there have been some grave, irreparable fractures which compounded the sadness of Lynn’s death even further.
When Lynn fell ill several years ago, prior to Mum’s stroke, with the earliest signs of disease, my brother, Mother, Kuki and I went to visit her in hospital right away. To say she wasn’t overjoyed to see us would be an understatement. As I mentioned, for years there was conflict which translated to long periods of silence. One of the first times I broke that silence was when I called her to tell her the news that our Father had died. But the thing is, I always felt that she had my back, that the weight of family conflict that arose was somehow not my burden to carry. Perhaps it was because I was the youngest and she was the oldest but we never really had a terribly complicated relationship. The hardest part was that we shared the same family that was such a source of pain for her. She would ask me “How is your mother or how is your brother?”
When she met Kuki for the first time after my divorce, she was so welcoming and understanding, didn’t even flinch when she learned that we were together. She came to our wedding and generously let us stay at her cottage as a wedding gift. We cherished her support.
She only revealed the magnitude of her cancer to me in confidence when I called to tell her that Mum had had a stroke. I was in a panic driving to the E.R to see Mum, not even knowing what was going on. My head was spinning when she told me on the phone but I swore I would keep her secret. And I did. She was a big support to me when Mum was recovering in hospital and rehab and would call most nights for updates and to check in.
When she became progressively more sick I began to notice as our conversations changed. She wasn’t always logical and her speech could be a bit slurred. She sometimes got angry at things that didn’t happen. But when I would apologize and try to explain myself she would admit that she was sorry too and didn’t always make sense.
We brought her food and hung out with her and her husband from time to time. The disease progressed quickly at the end and soon she stopped eating and lay calmly in her bedroom in a hospital bed. Her husband caring for her from the comfort of their home.
It isn’t easy to die of cancer. I will refrain from sharing the details here as I want you to know Lynn the way you see her in this picture: Confident, outrageous, beautiful, spirited and unstoppable! It isn’t easy to watch your sister die of cancer especially when you are the only member of your immediate family who was a part of it. It felt so scary and lonely. I am so grateful for the immense support of my wife who was there with me through every layer, however. I’m quite sure I couldn’t have done it without her. There is so much vulnerability and intimacy in death. I don’t even think that there is language to capture it. If there is I don’t know it. Lynn’s devoted husband of 40 years and her two sons and their partners and children were present. We looked at pictures and shared memories and laughed just a few feet away from her door the night before she died. There was something about that time together that felt sacred and holy to me and that I can hardly describe. The immaterial world is hard to describe. Sometimes I wonder if it’s even meant to be. Letting go of my sister was so sad. Seeing my beautiful, fierce, charismatic sister succumb to death and knowing that the rest of the family didn’t say goodbye to her broke my heart even further.
This idea of letting go of things we love is not easy. To be honest, the first draft of The Butterfly Trap was dedicated to my first dog Shady with the words “This book is dedicated to the memory of Shady who taught me how to let go”
I’m not very good at letting go. I tend to hold on tight. I tend to cling. I can be scared of letting go as letting go is scary thing to do. But just as Luki learned in The Butterfly Trap, loving something doesn’t mean putting it in a cage, you can love something deeply and meaningfully even if it’s not on a leash, in your grasp, or under the blankets with you. I still love my sister. I still feel her presence and will always be affected by the ways that she made me laugh and shocked me with her audacity. She was my big sister and big sisters leave an indelible mark. She was the only sister I had since my other sister cut me off almost eight years ago. So I have had to let go and I know that this is a part of the process of loving. Isn’t there a ridiculous cliche about loving and letting go. It doesn’t make it any easier or less painful because losing those we love is both of these things but it’s a part of the journey.
In the final pages of The Butterfly Trap Luki and her mother decide to spend the rest of their day outside in the garden counting butterflies flying free. Perhaps that is what we can do, look up and count our blessings and take stock of all the love, the love we still have, the love we once had, the love we have had to set free, the love we know now and the love that is still unknown to us….
Hooray for Butterflies flying free just as they are meant to be
Rest in Peace, Lynn and Happy Birthday to you my dear sister.