WEEK 20

JM thinks my computer almost hopeless, so next step??? problems w/ photos & … photos to be added later

May 14, 2017 – SUNDAY

Photo of Shasta daisy

Who will mourn her: Mary my older sister called. She spoke of our youngest sister Lois, of her brilliance, of her artistic talent, of her constant battle with health issues. When others would have given up, Lois pushed on. Perhaps it was the difficulty Lois had with coping with her myriad of problems that left her little energy to express her considerable talents or to deal with the living of her life. Lois’ life seemed, for as long as I recall, hanging on a delicate thread. Her body, heart to bone to muscle to mind, endured much. She was physically strong even while her organs were weak. In so many ways she was a contradiction. She with her talents should have made her way easily in the world. She did not. She should have died of heart trouble as a toddler, of smoke inhalation in a fire, in mis-managed medical procedures, of kidney failure and in the auto accident a few years ago that all but took what chance she ever had for a normal life. Michael use to described Lois using an old adage: If she did not have bad luck, she would have had no luck at all.

Mary talked of visiting Lois in her beautiful North Carolina Mountains that she so loved, of seeing in Appalachian Spring’s translucent leaves, leaves capturing one’s attention and the sun’s energy with their chartreuse green. Mary recalled Falls in Michigan with trees of color with that eternal sun making leaves into jewels or panes of stained glass. The sun, the angle of the light in Spring and Fall, created crystallized beauty that left her spellbound. She went on to talk of the inter-consecutiveness of all life, of all things. She waxed eloquent on how humans must take care of our world and not ‘mess with mother nature’ because to do so is to destroy the delicate balance that exist between all things, a balance formed over eons. When Mary said those things, I thought of our similar view of the world, and of the dissimilarity of our personal philosophies. I wonder how, if she believed what she said, she could remain a Republican and even more, how she could have voted for Trump.

Lois was dismayed by Mary’s politics and that of Sam, her husband. I cannot understand with our upbringing how Mary can hold the political views she has. We were raised Republicans. The kind of Republican who, by today standards, would be liberal, believing in: socially equality; racial justice; civil rights; support of first amendment and a free press; public schools; the separation of ‘church and state;’ anti-gun; and sometimes anti-war. Early in our voting lives, all of my parents’ four daughters were Republican.   Esther, Lois and I did not leave the Republican Party, the Republican Party left us. Mary is the only one who remains Republican, and, unlike my parents, she is a conservative Republican. The more advanced my parents years, the more liberal their politics. (That has been my tendency, too, and I hope it continues.) Mother at the end of her life opposed her church and voted for gay rights; was abhorred by police violence expressed towards blacks. When she saw the young man Oscar Grant shot by BART police in Oakland, California, she said out loud, and I was in the room to hear it, of the policeman who shot Mr. Grant, “He has a problem with blacks.” She supported Hillary Clinton and voted for Barack Obama.

And at the conclusion of our conversation, Mary reminisced of Lois’ love of the Gulf of Mexico, the birds on its shore, the manatees and porpoises in its water. Because Lois loved it so, she wanted her ash-remains to be thrown into that warm, comforting body of water. I want my body to delivered to the great ocean, not cremated, but food for the fishes – if they would have me. I did not know of Lois’ desire to be dispersed in water, nor did she know of my desire to be dropped into the sea. Perhaps because neither of us had children, we had little need for permanence and desired to be returned to nature to do with what she will.

May 15, 2017 – MONDAY

Photo of answering machine, address book, dwg:

A chill remains: Since learning of my sister’s death, I find myself cold: hands and feet cold, body chilled and shaking cold, even with a sweater. First thing in the morning, the last thing at night I think of is Lois. After my father’s death, each morning for a year I woke in tears. Relationships are partly in the mind, and I find the ending of them, with those I have loved, particularly difficult.

In the past, I have not removed the cards of people who have died from my address book. Somehow to remove them is to symbolically say they are forgotten. I have a recording of each of my sister’s voices on our answering machine. I keep a message from each sister so that, if they should die, I have their voice, ready to hear again. Michael and I still have a phone message from my husband’s good friend Pat, which we did not erase. We have not opened the letters he left us, but his voice there on the answering machine is heard, a lingering reminder of his once person.

May 16, 2017 – TUESDAY

Photo of JM in cap

Habits: JM put on his cap and golfed with his friend Michael T. on Bayfair Island. JM had golfed with his dear friend Pat until about a year ago when Pat died. JM stopped golfing. The sport reminded JM of his friend, but in spite of the memories, Michael, encouraged by his friend Michael T., started golfing again a few weeks back. They now play weekly. It has been good for the two of them getting out into fresh air and sunshine. Both Michaels are endeavoring to play the game as well or better than they had in the past. Scores are less important than the act of playing the game. Death does sometimes result in our changing our habits, of putting things on hold. One’s life is made less by the loss of those we love, but life is there for us to be lived. The challenge is to do it and do it well.

May 17, 2017 – WEDNESDAY

Photo of sweet pea

Blooming: The Sweet pea, the flower of my birth month, is in bloom. Many of our flowers have done well as a result of this winter’s rain, but our Sweet peas (and a few other plants) seemed to have been stunted by the overabundance of water. They are blooming late, the blooms themselves sparse and the vegetation spindly. Still, even in their diminished state, they are lovely.

There will be no bouquet sent to the funeral home where Lois’ remains lie waiting for cremation. She, like the dreams our parents once had for her, will go up in smoke. Flesh is weak and impermanent. My sister Mary said she too wants to be cremated, but she wants a place, something somewhere declaring, like Kilroy, that she has been here. Mary will purchase a stone in a local garden under which she will sprinkle a few of Lois’s ashes. That stone, almost certainly to remain unseen but declaring in some small way, ‘Lois was here. She walked this earth.’

May 18, 2017 – THURSDAY

Photo of cookbooks

I cannot forget: I woke up at the crack of down, actually well before dawn. Thinking of Lois’ death, I could not sleep. Thinking of Lois’ life, I could not go back to sleep. I worked in my study culling papers. JM said, “We have too many papers.” I responded, “We need a full-time secretary.” To which he said, “No. We need a bonfire!”

Michael has his books, papers and teaching notes from his academic years in English Literature. Then there are his papers from his paper years: his years as a journalist (copywriter, writer, editor) in newspapers, magazines and teaching. He has books from two careers and literal paper and electronic ‘paper’ (files) as well. Files and shelves of information. Then there is my stuff, which out-stuffs his stuff: My biology books and papers. (Thankfully I gave away my teaching materials when I left teaching.) My math and engineering books and papers. My energy studies books and papers. My theater books and papers; My books and papers from the study and practice of architecture (a wide-ranging collection of history; design; examples, studies; and technical documents). My cooking library (recipes and files and cookbooks from my mother, grandmother, great aunts; cookbooks on many ethnic cuisines, cookbooks on many food-types; cooking magazines; and, files of collected recipes —- I read on foods and their preparations probably more than any topic. I should have been a chef.) In addition we both have reams of personal things. We have engaged in many activities, but much of what we have done involved research and paper and books. Now to say goodbye to the things that helped us become who we have become and that helped us do what we did is difficult. Our life has been a life of books and papers. Our house is filled with desks. My study alone has three desks; one in the built-in bookcase-file-desk unit covering an entire wall; another against another wall, a single desk unit incorporating the computer desk / files / scanner / printer / architectural files / desk; and my stand-alone segmented glass-topped Herman Miller desk. I love my desk-centric study. Our guest bedroom is no longer a guest bedroom, but has files and, yes, a desk, an original Eames desk, a desk where I study language (Swahili and Italian – good at neither) and sew (infrequently). Our lower study / family room is a contemporary German drop-down desk. That desk was used by JM when we first moved into the house before he relocated to his outside ‘book-room’ with his old roll-up desk so he could work and smoke his pipe. He gave up his pipes long ago, but still does his heavy academic work there. A friend borrowed and recently returned our round Saaranin dining table which now occupies the center of our garage. It too will be used as a desk, but for arts and crafts. Just as we have desks, we have file cabinets, cabinets in my study, cabinets in JM’s book room, cabinets in the lower study. The cabinets in the garage we recycled a few months back, some of the contents disposed of, but others relocated into plastic file containers.

We have far too much paper, but JM now needs some of the files he, thinking he’d never use again, threw away. Trying to cull, he has made more work for himself and lost precious information that he’ll not be able to retrieve. Instead of culling, we should we put our papers into labeled Xerox boxes, put them into storage and let those who ‘clean-up’ the remains of our lives when we die make a bonfire to dispose of what no one else could use. JM and I have given away or disposed of things we thought we’d never need again, to discover that they were needed, needed and we did not have them. We have so much paper, finding what we need is difficult, and we reason that if we can’t find it, it is as if we don’t have it, so we may as well dispense with it.

There are books and objects that have vanished, and we have learned that a book loaned is a book gone. Few loaned books are returned, and when we’ve asked for the return of books we have loaned, even when individuals have signed cards listing the books they were borrowing, they claim they never borrowed them in the first place. JM says we can always go to the library for a book, but libraries do not contain all books, especially books related to our areas of study. Our life has been a life of books (and papers). The pages of those books (and papers) trace our history and our journey of thought. Recycle we tell ourselves, but our lives are not yet ready for the trash bin.

May 19, 2017 – FRIDAY

Photo of JM & the mace & photos of the gathering graduates

The MACE: Michael led the graduation procession for the Arts and Science graduation ceremony. In cap and gown, carrying the mace, he led flag-carrying marchers and youth about to be granted degrees. He was leading them from one phase of their lives to another. On the commons, before and after the march, there were smiles and photos and selfies and bouquets and leis-stacked necks and gathering of groups of friends and family and professors and administrators. It was a symbolic gathering, a last gathering. At the end of each college year, I remember standing and looking out over the campus as classmates were departing, thinking ‘on this arbitrary date, we who have lived and studied together are dispersing. This date changes everything; we leave this place, we leave those we know, we may or may not return and even if we return, we will return to a different existence.’ Today I watched the youth and their parents in the sunshine. Graduation day could not have been more beautiful: beautiful youth gathered in an incredibly beautiful place on a rare warm beautiful San Francisco day. Those no longer children had had the luck to attend and graduate from a school where they received lots of attention (small classes and frequent interaction with professors). I sent into the ether good wishes for their new adult lives. Their yesterdays had been a preparation for tomorrow. Today, their tomorrow has come.

In the evening JM and I attended the Oakland Symphony with friends Peter and Anita. Afterwards we went out for drinks and snacks. In front of the bar, two big young men stood like sentries. I asked if they were bouncers. They were not. They were checking identifications of which I had none. My entry was delayed because I had no proof of age. I thought, “Use your eyes. Look at this line. Look at this sag. Look at this scar. This is from this decade and that is from that decade.” I searched for my wallet. I had left it at home. I believed my physiology declared my decades, but not so: they wanted documentation and my body, it seemed, was not documentation enough. Finally they asked my birth date. I gave it and that surprised them and our companions. Once inside I was the oldest one in the building. We passed by loud-squeaky talking youth to the back room. We stayed until after midnight. When we left, JM tapped the ‘bouncer’ (the one who had delayed my entrance) on the shoulder and said, “Thank you for letting her in. Yes, she is a prostitute, but a working girl has to make a living.” The man who earlier in the day led youth toward their new lives ended his day in youthful fun. We left the bar and walked down the street past an endless stream of celebrating youth. They were on the street, in restaurants and bars, around every corner. This part of downtown Oakland – which only a few years ago had been all but abandoned – was now overflowing with youth. Their joy was contagious, and we wished their vitality was too. We ended the day as we had started it, among celebrating youth.

May 20, 2017 – SATURDAY

Photo of the market

Full Day: Early in the morning Michael and I went to our Grand Lake Farmers Market to hand out “Save our Market” flyers. We talked to market goers, many of whom were from out of town and who had come to our market, to our neighborhood, to shop. The market has repeatedly been voted the ‘premiere farmers market of the East Bay,’ yet egos would destroy one of the best things in our neighborhood. One of those egos walked stern-faced past me. I took little notice of him, and he took no notice of me.

In the afternoon we drove up to Petaluma to celebrate the graduation of Nellie from the University of California. Tom, Nellie’s father, and Michael worked together at the San Francisco Chronicle. Tom, Michael says, is not just intelligent and a good journalist but is a thoroughly decent man as well. Kim, Nellie’s mother and Tom’s wife, died shortly after Nellie’s graduation from high school. Nellie delayed college to spend time with her mother. In the last weeks of her life, Tom bought a series of cards (graduation cards, marriage cards, birth cards) so that Kim might write to her daughter and wish her well when she reached ‘life-marker’ events. Kim wrote Nellie a note for her college graduation, one to be given to her when she marries and another for the birth of her first child. Kim’s notes will remain sealed until Nellie reaches each specific event. With each card, Tom will enclose a piece of jewelry he bought for Kim. When Nellie graduated from college, she received the first card from her mother Kim. Kim guided her child through her early life, but waiting for Nellie, waiting still, words of encouragement for her mother who died five years ago. If Kim were alive today, she would see that her daughter has developed into a kind and gentle adult. Somehow it seems appropriate that Nellie received her degree in Peace and Conflict Resolution. As a psychologist, Kim helped people analyze their inner world so that they might live better in the external world. One might say Kim helped her patients slay their inner demons (conflict), work to build a healthy ego (find inner peace) in pursuit of positive lives. Mother and daughter — careers centered on the other and in creating a better world. And Tom the father, an observer of the external world who wrote of that world and taught students to analyze and describe the larger world, has ushered his lovely daughter into adulthood. Tom had a minor heart attack in December but has recovered. He feared, we suspect, leaving Nellie an orphan before she reached her first milestone in life, college graduation. When we walked into her graduation party, Nellie was holding her new nephew in her arms. She who had lost her mother young was nurturing the next generation, her loving arms providing a secure place for the infant to snuggle. Life is there waiting for Nellie and Nellie is stepping into adulthood supported by a loving family. Next week she starts a cross-country trip with a friend. The big, wide world awaits you Nellie, bon voyage.

Week 19:  A week of sadness

Computer slow, very, very slow – too little memory  —- photos to be added later 

May 7, 2017 – SUNDAY

Photo of baseball game, or birds @ game

Peanuts and Cracker Jacks: A glorious day for baseball. We’ve been Oakland A’s season ticket holders for decades. JM also has San Francisco Giants tickets, but although my cousin played for the Giants, we are more A’s fans than Giants fans.   The San Francisco Giants’ stadium is arguably one of the most beautifully sited in baseball. However, I actually like the A’s stadium because its seats are comfortable and the view of the field from most seats is excellent, better than the SF ballpark. For that reason I think it a better ballpark for the game of baseball. When we arrived in the SF Bay area, the Oakland ballpark was considered one of the best stadiums in baseball. There are things I like better about the SF ballpark – the view, the giant baseball glove and the mammoth neon Coke bottle – but other than that, I really enjoy watching baseball games in the A’s ballpark better than in SF.

The weather was perfect, the game slow and relaxing. We had peanuts and tacos and Coke and Cracker Jacks and Haagan Das ice cream bars and a walk-off win (one last night, too) against my home-town Detroit Tigers. The finale:   Ryon Healy hit in the winning run, got a pie in the face and a green cold shower. I recall the joy of playing ‘baseball’ (actually softball) with neighborhood kids on empty lots. I loved throwing the ball, catching the ball, but there was nothing like the sheer pleasure of hitting the ball hard, watching it fly past outfielders and running the bases my long hair flying. When I watch a professional game, I enjoy the game itself for the pure athleticism of the players, the skills exhibited at the highest level and wonderful timing and teamwork. And when a game is won with a dramatic conclusion, I vicariously enjoy the youthful exuberance: the ‘team hug,’ the pie and Gatorade over the head. Those acts remind me that some of the child remains in me, remains in each of us.

May 8, 2017 – MONDAY

Photo of SF & Book Club & buildings

The domain of the BOOK: I attended a tour of the Book Club of San Francisco, a place of old ways and new ideas, and bought one of their publications, Plate By Plate, California Recipes from the Gold Rush through “California Cuisine.” On that publication, one can feel the imprint made by the press on the page. And it is not so much a book – it is not bound – as it is a series of folders, each containing a ‘dish’ recipe and its history. The book club is not a reading club, but rather a club of those who love ‘the BOOK!’ There, at the club, we saw a 15th century book, tiny books (one no more than an inch square), books incredibly bound, and we learned that the once exclusive club (access to membership, only after a member died) now has an open membership policy. In the past, people were not so much dying to get in the club, but waiting for the death of another so that they might be admitted into the rarefied group, an organization in which they remained, like marriage, ‘until death do I part.’ ‘The Club’ will print a publication on its 200-year-old press next October. Michael would love seeing the press run, so, today I bought him an early birthday present. I think it an appropriate gift for the learned man he is.

— Traffic, heavy traffic as we made our way home through San Francisco’s surface streets (expressway is elevated). There we saw old buildings being demolished, buildings reflecting other buildings and new ones under construction. Gone are structures familiar to me when I worked in downtown San Francisco, replaced by new buildings (not many well designed), creating a city now as strange to me as when I first arrived.

May 9, 2017 – TUESDAY

Photo of Oskar @ computer

Perfectibility, a concept now in doubt: I grew up thinking that human kind, human institutions were on an inevitable path toward perfection. There have been changes in my lifetime of which I am glad to have seen, but as an adult I have seen, especially in government, my hope for better government and a better tomorrow dashed, dashed by ‘bad people, incompetent people, people of small minds’ elected to or appointed to various national positions. Trump’s presidency terrifies me. It terrifies me because I see in him (and his associate and supporters) a threat to our American democracy. Trump fired FBI Director James Comey yesterday. His alleged reasons are specious. Comey was fired likely because Trump and his campaign team colluded with the Russians to make him president, and Comey had recently requested more money to continue and expand the investigation. Bill Moyers, L. B. Johnson’s press secretary, a person I admire because of his intellect and his insights, wrote today of the incident:

Trump is hiding something. Something extraordinary. To keep it hidden there is no end to the chaos he will stir at the highest level of government. Every day he lies lustily, as reflexively as the rest of us breathe, knowing some filth will stick. With each day he edges us closer to autocracy.

With the news of Comey’s sacking, the need is clear and more absolute than ever: We must have a special prosecutor to turn the stones over — or an independent and bipartisan commission with subpoena power and public hearings, like the 9/11 commission. Or both.

Trump’s presidency is deeply corrupted, our democracy is compromised, and the system of checks and balances is failing us.

He’s attempting a coup. No joke. We need the truth. Now.

And so today, I contemplate America’s future and enjoy my curious cat asking for attention as I write on my computer. There is pleasure in my life, even as I live in terror of an unstable man with a limited mind and a vindictive spirit filling the office of president. I wish this nightmare over, or even more that Trump were a dream and not reality. I wish Trump had never been elected, if indeed he was and the Russians did not give us President Trump.

May 10, 2017 – WEDNESDAY

Photos of paint brushes

Which Century is it anyway? My brain is in one century and my body in another. My brain tells me I am a mere 21 while my body, says, “No, the only 21 is the 21st century,” and I know muscle and bone cannot be relied on to do what they once did.

I fear loss of physical abilities, but probably more I fear the diminution of my mental abilities.   I’m taking a watercolor class. Painting is an art I never mastered, but in some past attempts I created tolerable compositions. Not so today. Nothing is worthy of preserving or even commenting on. JM talks of the ‘learning curve’ and now, he says, it is the ‘re-learning curve.’ I ask ‘Have you ever heard of a forgetting curve?” It seems that certain skills and many memories have left me, dropped out of consciousness as rapidly as one might fall off a cliff. Senility, the loss of mind, the disappearance of an informed consciousness developed over a lifetime, might vanish in a flash or gradually, leaving me not me, but only the rough remains of me.

Today, brush in hand; I try to regain what I forgot. Will it come again or like other important things, will it be ‘unreclaimable?’

May 11, 2017 – THURSDAY

Photo of Lois’ sketches

I will not be able to call her as I had promised:  It was a phone call I have always expected, but when it came I could hardly grasp it was true.  It was a call from my older sister Mary Ellen Iaquinta telling me that our youngest sister Lois Marie Landrith was dead.  Lois had a brilliant mind, a damaged body and a troubled personality.   I cry for her end, just as I often cried for the life, that sad life she lived.  — For the talent she had that went unexpressed.

Our mother’s body was ravaged by tropical diseases during Lois’ gestation.  But beyond that, her birth was a traumatic and damaging birth.  The nurses at Wyandotte General Hospital in Wyandotte, Michigan, when Lois was exiting the birth canal, forced Mother’s legs against Lois’ protruding head, to prevent her birth.  The physician was not in the hospital, so they delayed the birth until he arrived.  Mother told the nurses to let the child be born.  They kept forcing Mother’s legs against the protruding head.  Mother did her best to fight the nurses to allow a natural birth.  The nurses grabbed mother, forced an ether mask over her face and put her out.  Because of that birth, Mother believed that Lois suffered brain damage.  Mother also blamed herself and her own bad health for Lois’ congenital conditions.  Lois had problems from the start, problems related to her delayed birth and congenital abnormalities.  Lois was plagued during her early childhood with spells, spells during which she lapsed into unconsciousness.  I thought those spells related to temper tantrums, but mother said that they often occurred out of the blue, for no reason.  Mother had had a considerable amount of nursing training and, although not a nurse, was competent in administering first aid.  One of my early memories was of Mother trying to revive an unconscious Lois.  I remember seeing my imperturbable mother on the verge of panic just before Lois regained consciousness.

Lois was a beautiful baby.  I remember her in her crib, hands in a tight fist and my uncurling her thumb and fingers to look at her perfectly formed hand.  I remember our Mother patting Lois, rocking her and singing to her by the hour to comfort Lois and stop her from crying.  Mother said of Lois that she was the most curious child she had ever seen, constantly asking ‘Why?  Why this?  Why that?’  She was a chubby beautiful baby.  She was a gorgeous toddler with long blond banana curls, a face like an ivory angel whose cheeks were cherry red.  She was so beautiful that people would stop my parents on the street to look at her, to touch her, to see if she were real.  As a toddler Dad took her to work at the largest wholesaler in the U.S.  Lois fell asleep, and someone who came into the showroom literally thought Lois a doll.  They would have bought her likeness for their stores if she had been one.

I was protective of my sister Lois from the moment I saw her, and I became more so after a visit to the doctor’s office when Lois was 2 and I was 6.  The doctor informed Mother of Lois’ serious congenital heart defect.  After the appointment, Mother gathered her three older daughters around her.  She told us of Lois’ condition and instructed us to look after Lois.  We were never to upset Lois because her bad heart could fail at any time, so upsetting Lois might result in her death.  Because of that, Lois was allowed to misbehave.  We always feared upsetting her.  Had she been a healthy child, she would not have been permitted to behave as she did.  But death was always there, and none wanted to be the cause of her dying.

Tonight, late in the evening, alone with myself I cried.  It was more than cry; it was more a wounded animal howl.  A sustained deep anguished utterance.  I had tried during the day to busy myself, to take my mind off of her death.  She died alone, looking out her window, who knows how many days ago.  They found her decomposing body this morning, sitting at her front window, in Florida heat.  When my older sister arrived at Lois’ home, there were police and an ambulance and the coroner.  Lois is to be cremated.  She made the arrangements after one of her many health incidents (open heart surgery; after her house caught on fire, she almost died of smoke inhalation; after being hit by a speeding car that drove onto the sidewalk and threw her car-lengths through the air resulting in operation after operation’ and after that more heart surgery).  Lois was tough.  She should have died long ago, but she survived decades.  She survived what healthier, younger people could not have survived.  We thought her made of steel and worried that she might die any time, but on the other hand, we thought she would outlive us and there would be no one to look after her.  After being hit by a car, Lois spent a half a year in the hospital, followed by other hospitalizations, but she learned to walk again, even with one leg 6 inches shorter than the other, and Lois was walking miles daily up to the end.  My older sister had called and stopped by her home several times this week, but got no answer and thought her out walking.  But then neighbors had not seen her walking, so called 911 to check on her.  She who had withstood assault after assault on her body died sitting in her chair.

What does it matter what is done with the body after death?  Lois is dead, which means she is gone from this world and me.  I wished I had talked to her at least once more before she died.  It does not make sense, but I wish I had.  Lois called last Saturday, did not leave a message.  When she called, she typically left her name, her location, her relationship, “This is Lois Marie Landrith, your sister and sister-in-law in Venice, Florida.”  Saturday she merely called and hung up.  It was in the afternoon when she called.  I was on another line and when I thought to return her call it was late Eastern Standard Time.  The weekend passed, and then I had a busy week.  I was going to call each day, but did not.  Did she call out to me as she was dying?  As a child, she called out to me in the middle of the night when she took a wrong turn into the closet and ended up in the attic instead of the bathroom.  It was me she called for, no one else.  Had she called for me one more time and I, busy, did not respond?  I wish I had been there.  I wish I had talked to her.  I know it is illogical to think it, but I do.  And the tears and the animal utterances come from deep in my being.

I would have had another life for Lois.  Her immense artistic talent, her brilliant mind, never able to produce, as it was capable of producing.  Harmed as she was by two nurses who insisting the doctor must be present before she was allowed to be born.  They harmed her.  She had not only to deal with her heart problems and other congenital problems, but with the damage those nurses did to her brain.  What chance did she have for a normal life after what they did to her?  Her psychiatrist told me that Lois was brilliant beyond belief, that no one else in the family could possibly come close to her level of intelligence (although my uncle told me when my Dad died, that he was the most brilliant person he had ever know.  Both Father and Mother had extraordinary intelligence and talent.).  Her psychiatrist believed that Lois would be able to use her intellect to overcome her emotional issues.  That did not happen.  Her university psychiatrist also told me that he and his team had deemed Lois the most complex personality they had ever encountered.  If they, experts in the mind, could not figure out how to get Lois to do what was best for her, what chance did we her family have to help her achieve her potential?

One reason I did not want children was because I suffered such pain watching Lois struggle to find ease, a life with pleasure, a life where her gifts might be manifested.  Lois was my sister-child.  I have been told that I have an unusual ability to empathize.  Perhaps I saw what she was, felt her frustration, her anguish, and because of her developed the ability to sense what others felt.  My college theatre professor told me that I had the intelligence and sensitivity of one in a million.   That empathy brings me pain, pain beyond my own pain; I feel the pain of others and sometimes wish it were otherwise.

Since I learned of Lois’ health plight as a child, I have watched over Lois, anguished over Lois, shared with Lois, listened to Lois and tried to help her live the good life.  I tried.  I failed.  Lois helped me.  It is Lois who sparked my interest in color and in architecture.  It is Lois who told me about Cranbrook Art Institute, and when she described the place to me, I said, “No such place existed.”  She was correct.  It did exist and was as she said.  She talked of philosophy as a child.  Some things my parents talked of, but many of her ideas I did not study until college.  I often wonder, if the nurses had behaved medically as they should have behaved, if Lois would have been able to utilize her ability and if her brilliance might have been even greater than it was.

As an adult, I’ve always believed that a life was more important than money and that money spent to help a life was money well spent.  My spending of money reflects my belief.  Michael has accepted me and my commitment to others.  From a financial point of view, JM and I will now have more money to spend on ourselves.  We have supplemented Lois for years, several years spending 60K or more to help with paying bills, medical and otherwise.  We have spent at least a million on her over our lifetime together.  I suppose our helping with her living expenses, her medical expenses, her psychiatric expenses made her life better.  Still, as I cried, I found myself saying, “Lois, I wish I could have helped.  Lois, I wish I could have made a real difference.”  I feel like I failed Lois.  Lois lived with us.  She spent time with us.  We, at least twice, were able to get her psychiatric treatment and medical treatment that saved her life, but we were never able to give her a life of joy, a life of peace.  I did try by caring and giving, but I could not, did not make the difference I would have liked.

I had a profound connection with Lois.  Only in the last year or so would she, when she said goodbye, say, “I love you.”  I loved her and cared for her deeply and said so, but it took her a lifetime to say “I love you” back.

Lois has been my concern, my responsibility, my worry for almost my entire life.  But in addition to my being responsible, she challenged me artistically, intellectually.  We discussed books and art and food – she was the best home cook I have ever known and Mother was a wonderful cook – and philosophy and observations and ….  I miss her.  I will, as long as I have mind, will miss her.  And sitting alone tonight, my animal self cries out for her loss, for her sad life, for her pain, for her sicknesses, for her death and for my loss.  If Lois had not been, it is likely that I would not be who I am.  She demanded much from me, but I learned from her and much of my humanity, I believe, is the result of seeing and feeling her pain.

And, this morning when I heard of her death, I listened, I felt numb and cold and shaky and sick to my stomach, but I tried and did occupy myself and my mind with busy work all day.  But, at the end of the day, what I tamped down has come bubbling forth, and I’ve cried as I have rarely cried.  I’ve uttered deep lonely moans, anguished tones, copious tears for the loss of my brilliant, talented, troubled sister, whom I loved.  I will not hear her talk of beautiful owls and egrets and pink eyes of birds or hear her share how to barbecue a turkey or roast asparagus.  Sometimes when she called, I’d just set the phone down and let her talk as I sorted papers or made a meal.  I feel guilty now for not having engaged more fully.  I no longer have her to engage with.  It will be less trouble, but because of her death I have lost the interaction with an incredible mind, a mind with far-reaching interests.  As my sister Esther Landrith-Hardesty has often said, “We were blessed to have brilliant and ethical parents.  Our parents introduced to ideas and activities, and we had a childhood of thought that few children experience.”  I would add to that, that I have been blessed by having intelligent, creative sisters.  Had I been an only child, I do not think I would have developed into an adult with the capacity I have to love, with the capacity I have to care, with the capacity I have to share, with the capacity I have to feel.  I am the product of those who not only created my being by their coupling, but I am who I am because of my sisters.  It was they who humanized me.  I miss Lois and, I suppose, I am lonely for her and will always be so.  Lois often made my life more difficult, but I was fortunate to have been lucky and to have time and assets to share.  Thought the difficulty, through the sharing, we forged a bond.  She is gone and I will remain lonely for her.  I miss her now and will forever.  Much of the focus of my life has been directed toward Lois.  And without Lois, what of my focus?

May 12, 2017 – FRIDAY

Photo of 4 girls

A life of challenge: Before I was fully awake, our cat Oskar was wooling on me as if I were his mother cat and he was nursing. We’ve had him for almost seven years and he’d never done that, even when he was a kitten he did not. Was he trying to comfort me? I suspect he was. I saw my early morning face in the mirror, sad mouth and sadder yet, my eyes reflecting the pain, the deep sorrow I feel at Lois’ death. If family is a bulb, like an onion, and the self in the center around which members of the family are layered, my family bulb is being peeled away layer by layer. Aunts and uncles died, parents died, followed by cousins. And now with the death of my youngest sister, the once large bulb is greatly diminished. The layer closest to me stripped away. Lois, in a recent conversation, said of our family, of all of Father’s sibling’s families, our family was the only Landrith family in which all children remained alive. All of my parents’ daughters, she noted were in the same decade of life. This past year she had joined her older sisters in that decade.

Lois, because of her traumatic birth and because of her congenital health problems, survived against the odds. She did not thrive, but she did survive. When I questioned the ‘whys’ of life, I came away grateful for my good luck and always sorry for Lois’ bad luck. Often when Lois had to choose between selecting something that would be ‘good for her’ and something that would ‘cause her harm,’ she almost inevitably chose the latter. It was as if she wanted to complete the process her birth had started and would not counter the bad hand she felt she had been given, but did things to insure the bad hand she been dealt would play itself out. Our parents were anti-smoking. Mother fed us a healthy diet with small amounts of red meats, lots of healthy whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and she curtailed sweets and limited soft drinks (a Vernors ginger ale when we were ill to settle our stomach and a Boston Cooler in the summer as a special treat). Lois always ate a healthy diet, but she did not drink healthy. She was a diabetic and understood what Pepsi Cola, not artificially sweetened Pepsi, would do to her blood sugar, yet drank a liter a day. Lois, a nurse who understood the consequences of smoking, smoked. Our mother walked miles daily. Lois, refusing to walk, drove her car everywhere and started walking (as her mother had) only after she was run down and nearly killed by a cell phone-talking driver, a woman who blamed Lois for being on the sidewalk onto which she drove to hit her. After almost being killed in the auto accident, many of Lois’ medical specialists did not think she would walk again, so in defiance, it seems, not only did Lois start walking, she walked miles daily. If anything could describe Lois’ life, it would be that Lois was always in opposition, doing what she was not supposed to do. And as the youngest daughter, she was supposed to be the last to die, but is the first. I did try to help Lois express her innate potential. Wishes are not easily transformed into reality. Lois broke my heart, but she helped make it. I sometimes felt that Lois was my life’s project, and my deep regret was that her abundant, her considerable gifts were never realized. She died. Few will remember her, but I will and I will remember what she has given me and try to forget the pain she inflicted (on herself and others) in the living of her life.

Death is a solitary thing, as is sorrow.

Today would have been Mother’s 106th birthday.

May 13, 2017 – SATURDAY

Photo of oak branches in early sun

Tears: I woke with tears in my eyes. Out the bedroom window warm sunlight on twisted Oak branches. A few years back, Moon shadows from those same limbs cast images on our bedroom walls, images that seemed made by a Gothic Cloister’s carved stones. Hanging on the wall next to our bed, quick sketches drawn by my sister Lois. They were drawn as an art assignment at Arts and Crafts in Detroit. In a matter of minutes Lois had created a five-inch stack of tree images, images of incredible variety. I had recently asked if she’d draw me more. She died before she could draw them for me. Lois is gone and her talent along with it. The real tree and the drawn trees both remind me of her. Lois had an eye for beauty. She had the ability to synthesize it, re-define it, communicate it. And I cry today for her death and the pain I feel from the loss of her. She is no more and that I find hard to comprehend.

I am trying to stay busy. I’m trying to be active. What good are tears? Perhaps they remind us of what we have lost, as well as what we still have.