Rogers: How our lives take shape
My sister slipped away in her sleep last weekend. This was not how she lived — out loud, alive, awake.
It also was not how this was supposed to go. She and Mom were living together, taking care of each other, friends and roommates as much as mother and daughter. Rebonding, they both said in so many words, and more than once. Amazed, really, that they actually got along now. Through daily living’s ups and downs, through Covid.
In my family, the mother-daughter bond seems super-glued. My mom and sister, my wife and her mother, my daughter and her mother, my sister and her daughter.
I say bond, but I’m also thinking about buttons. Ones I have taped over never to push, having learned from hard experience. Things I would not dare, they go right there. And then those moments when I suddenly realize there was a whole conversation going on I never picked up on.
I’m saying, or trying to say, that moms and daughters have — or had — their own language, their own means of communication, certainly at times their frustrations with each other, and deep, connected love.
I know my wife misses her mom, also taken too soon, as our niece steps onto this awful path. I feel most for her, and her brother, though in my own assumptions I think most about the mom-daughter bond, so quietly untethered.
BEAUTY AND THE DORK
My sister in her youth was tall, striking, statuesque to my eye. My friends and, later, colleagues never failed to perk up when she was around. She also was brash, funny, withering, warm, her weather quick and changeable.
I remember during one visit watching her appraise what she saw in the mirror as we chatted before she left for her sales job. She declared this day called for the red dress, with closings on the line. She wielded her looks as weapon, tool. Men had their natural advantages, after all. She would use hers without qualm.
We might notice most what we possess the least. She was a cool kid in high school — not the prissy cheerleader but the world-wiser beauty who could say volumes with a timely eye roll and smirk.
In high school, I was an embarrassing dork, basically, meriting all her many eye rolls. But much later in adulthood this became a term of endearment. Already I miss her laugh, quickly followed by: “Oh my god, you’re such a …”
As little kids we were tight, as probably happens often in volatile circumstances. Dad drank, fitting the caricature of the Irish binger, which also happened to be his dominant heritage. Our parents divorced while we were young, making us more reliant on each other.
We split off in adolescence, she cool, me the dork, and then I was the one who left forever within a week of graduating from high school, while she ultimately stayed.
Over the decades apart, our relationship settled into amiable while living our much different lives. Something held, though. I know what it took her slipping away to realize. I loved my sister. What a dorky way to put it, I’m sure she’d say and snort.
NIGHTMARE COMES TRUE
Mom really got the short end. She had to discover her daughter in bed, try to resuscitate her at a 911 dispatcher’s direction, and in the aftermath continue living in the house, at least for now.
I’m writing before I see her and can understand better than listening for clues in her voice on the phone, hearing from others, and generally worrying.
A few weeks ago, a few weeks ahead … timing works about as well as plans. Now there’s a bit more in flux than simply home and hearth in the California foothills and as knotty a professional challenge in Aspen as I’ve encountered so far.
KNOWN AND UNFATHOMABLE
I signed up for The Aspen Times knowing pretty much what I was in for. Maybe the apex ski town, but still a ski town with its share of easily ruffled cats who fashion themselves dogs.
My sister’s death and mother’s fix came as a blow from nowhere. Altogether, the best that can said is they have delivered a cold perspective fresh as a sudden storm.
The problems are opposite — professional vs. personal, a life phase in store for all of us vs. avoidable mistakes compounded by other avoidable mistakes. But there is something common at the core, I think: Grief.
The closer you are to the center, the more the grief, and that fits these twin circumstances. Family and colleagues, friends, relatives, community, strangers who can imagine how it might be, and on out to the far reaches of uncharitable peanut gallery, folks whose need to share their own pain express themselves in quite a different cast. It’s the same core, though, a life condition we all have in common.
Experiencing one can help understand the other maybe a little better. So I embrace the notion that coincidence only seems so, that there is a purpose to all this, also that serendipity is seldom far behind.
In any case, these are the sorts of big events that shape our lives. At least until it’s our turn to slip away.
Aspen Times Editor Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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