22 February, 2012

Goodbye, Ronna Lou

Nobody actually ever called her that and, to be honest, she'd probably kill me for even typing that here. But, unfortunately, that's not possible.

My sister died yesterday. Now I am sitting in an airport, waiting for an airplane to be fixed so that I can go to Boston and do the family thing that must be done when people die. 

I don't think I know how to grieve. Or maybe I do. I am not sure if I am grieving or if I am numb. I am not sure if numbness is grieving. I don't know anything. When my mother died 4 years ago, I felt numb. I did not feel the uncontrollable urge to sob. I did not feel like I couldn't go on. In truth, I felt like all there was to do was to go on. So I did. And here I am again, feeling the same way. It's not that there are no emotions. I definitely have some emotions. Maybe it's got something to do with the fact that both my mother's and my sister's deaths were entirely expected. There was nothing sudden about them. In both cases, it was (to use a term that I don't usually use) a blessing for them both, that they went quickly, because life was not going to be worth living for either of them.

My sister found out that she had a neurological problem at a pretty young age. This diagnosis came as a result of a few episodes in her younger years. Nobody could say for sure if she was truly in imminent danger from this vascular abnormality in her brain. But it was always this thing lurking there, sort of like a time-bomb. Everyone in the family worried about it. There were periodic tests over the course of decades. I cannot even imagine the stress she must have experienced, knowing all those years that this was in her head, and pretty much nothing could be done about it other than to hope it didn't cause more problems.

In the end, the time-bomb didn't actually "explode," but it worked like a slow-release of destruction, always wreaking anxiety and depression in my sister's life and, ultimately, causing her to slowly disappear over the course of the last few years. The Ronna that I knew wasn't gone yesterday; she was gone a long time ago.

Because I moved to Seattle, my relationships with everyone have been spotty. I have only visited about once a year, since 1999, if that. There were periods of time where I was in frequent, daily communication with my sister. She knew everything that was going on in my life. She was my friend, my confidante. Then, there would be periods where the relationship went dark, and we didn't communicate for months. Toward the end, I did not answer her phone calls, because it was too painful. I expect there is some regret to be felt in that. I don't know. It just got so hard, because she knew how to dial my number, but when I answered, the conversation was too difficult. It was dementia. Perhaps you can imagine. Perhaps not. 

Because it deteriorated over time, and I am out here in Seattle, it was easy to almost forget how close we'd been. We did not always see eye to eye, and she did not share all the same values with me, but she loved me, and she thought I was her really cool little brother. Even though we barely grew up in the same house, due to the age difference, there was some special bond, that defied the generation gap. We were probably closer than any two people in my entire family. We had our own unique sense of humor. Things were funny to us that were funny to nobody else. We were irreverent together. 

Ronna was wacky, sarcastic, clever. She was also shy, anxious, alone. I feel like I was always on the inside. There was an outer shell around her that was all those negative energies, but I was comfortably inside that wall, enjoying the relationship with "The Real Ronna." Not many people got to see that. A few of her friends. Her daughter. Her husband. 

Seeing our parents die starts to make us realize that nothing is forever. Seeing our siblings die starts to make us think about our own inevitable mortality. I'm not a big fan of that concept. I've been fortunate, especially compared to some of my friends, in that I have not lost many people who are close to me. I realize you can't outrun that forever. 

When I do think about my own death, it is terrifying to me. I don't believe there's anything else out there. I believe that the end is the end. That all we leave behind are memories. I hope that I can at least make those memories be good ones.

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