The gladness, it arrives

What many of you don’t know is that the most recent chapter of sister-drama and crisis lasted for nine years. That’s almost a decade. Nearly a decade of being drained, embattled, hopelessly entangled, desperate, and full of episodic fury and nearly constant resentment.

Mostly kept out of view here.

I can date my getting to know the thread-people here to the very beginning of this nine year chapter because — clear as day — I remember reading an article about Jude while waiting in the ICU (“The Artful Blogger” perhaps?)*

A few doors down, my sister was recovering from emergency abdominal surgery. A hernia and necrotic bowel. Then she went septic. When the doctor called, he gave her a 60/40 chance of dying and then announced in a voice dripping with judgment, “She’s almost 400 pounds, you know,” as if it were somehow my fault.

I honestly couldn’t tell in that moment whether I wanted my sister to live or to die. It might’ve been 60/40, too.

We hadn’t talked in nine years. For good reason.

Because of her size, they couldn’t close her up. The plan was for her to lose 150 pounds before attempting the final sutures and so there would be eight weeks in ICU and then a lengthy rehab. But because of my sister’s aggression, they put her into a medically-induced coma.

(I guess the male nurse got kicked in the balls one time too many).

That meant she had to be ventilated.

And that meant that when the tube finally came out, my sister couldn’t talk. Not even in a whisper. For weeks, she wrote me short notes in a shaky hand. As it turned out, a medically induced re-entry to relationship was a gift. What better way to reconnect with an estranged relative but slowly and with carefully selected words?

Around this time, I started taking Jude’s classes. I had two kids in high school. Often caregiving and exhaustion kept me from participating in the way I would have liked. That created some tensions that were mostly, but not exclusively, internal. Some linger.

Because of this fateful beginning, it was just weird to sign up for Jude’s last round of classes during the demanding and excruciating final weeks of my sister’s life. Talk about distracted. There were dirty diapers to dispose of, commodes to empty, calls to 911 to make (“she’s at 86% on four liters of oxygen”). There were DNR and DNI’s to be signed, regular care and hospice care to be coordinated, a nursing home transition to make, and should the priest come now, no not yet. Now.

Then her awful mess to clean up. And then (gratitude!!), Italy for more than half of April.

So once again, with respect to online participation, life thrust me into this position of “delinquency” (at worst), shadowy participation (at best). It’s a pair of bookends. A bit of a rerun. Not how I want it to be.

Because this burden of care has been on me for most of the time I’ve been participating in fiber circles, I am happy to mark a change. First with a brag and then with a photo.

The brag — I HAVE FINISHED MY NOVEL! I know I mentioned this in a comment a few days ago, but it bears repeating. First draft — done! Already edited 4/5’s, so edit last bit in July. Assemble list of agents in August. Compose query letter. Start submitting in September while also researching self-publishing.

Nine years in the making (there’s that number again). Ta-da! For all of the support I’ve received here: many, many thanks. I haven’t forgotten the tangible kickstarter support that got me to SC for an indigo weekend, for instance.

And to Deb Lacativa, fellow writer in arms, a special thanks — she is the only person to date to have read almost every goddamned word. Caught typos. Made thoughtful remarks. Cast her wild imagination in and around the plot lines. Whew, what a sensibility!

The photo below is to document how gladness can arrive. It was taken last night while another friend and I celebrated R’s birthday. It’s a tradition for us. Since my birthday’s in February, R’s in July, and our third friend’s in October, the tradition keeps us connected all year long.

I hardly recognize myself.

Gladness and a finished draft. Not an accident that they arrive not long after my sister departs.

And since there is ANOTHER birthday to celebrate this evening, I picked all our currants and will make a pie. Usually for my husband’s birthday, we go out, but tonight I’m keeping it easy: pasta topped with the last of the truffle oil from Assisi and basil from the garden.

Ahhh, summer! Ahhh! Relief.

*This was 2009, but November, December, so almost 2010.

44 thoughts on “The gladness, it arrives

  1. Jen

    Congratulations on the Novel. And geez!!!! You look 20 years younger – and HAPPY!!! I’m so glad those 9 years didn’t take another person’s sanity, or life. You definitely look like you’ve come out the other side a whole and healthy being. I know there is still healing to be done, but Congratulations also, on your survival.

    1. deemallon Post author

      To congratulate me for surviving is NOT hyperbole. So thanks. And for all the rest,

  2. Liz A

    Ah, the ease of this post … even as it details intensity. I felt the glad-ness … and wish you ever so much more of the same.

    And nine … how that number resonates with meaning …

    1. deemallon Post author

      I tried to find the article I was reading back at the tail end of 2009, because I’m certain it pictured one of Jude’s nine patches. Maybe I’ll look again.

  3. ravenandsparrow

    Its like catapulting through dangerous rapids into the smooth water beyond. Thank goodness you weren’t pulled under. I am so happy you have finished your novel….what an achievement! Congratulations.

    1. deemallon Post author

      It was touch and go for a season here, and another season, there. I wish things could have been different, but given that they couldn’t have been, I’m glad she’s gone. Either a piece of the ether or in a better place. Both better than what she was doing here. And you know, it’s not like writing this novel has been a picnic either given my topic. So. I know there are plenty of rough waters ahead. We all go through them. But for now, I can breathe a little.

  4. Marti

    Long and hard, long and fraught with so much emotional upheavals, long and hard and through it all, You held. It may not have seemed like it to you but you held and reached out, reached in and reached up. You did connect here, and through it all, an idea came, words came, research came, history came and you put it all together, through the journey of nine and a novel has come. To do this during nine years of long and hard, is an achievement beyond compare. Well done Dee.

    I leave you with this quote from Anne Lamott: “Reading and books are medicine. Stories are written and told by and for people who have been broken but who have risen up and will rise if attention is paid to them. These people are you and us. Stories and truth are spirits for the soul.”

    1. deemallon Post author

      Thank you Marti. “Holding” is such a positive spin on my interaction with my sister. She tried really hard to push me away, tested me constantly, and even though I lost patience with her more times than I care to remember, I held fast. I did. I gave her that.

      I also often wanted to abandon a book about slavery (who am I to tell this story, etc), but held fast there, too — for better or worse. On some level it doesn’t matter what happens with it now. I have written a novel. No matter what.

  5. grace

    i’m so at a loss lately for words, but want to say how good it felt to see this photograph
    of you with your friend….the softness radiating. and you’ve Written A Book.
    You’ve Written A Book.
    Big Big Love to you

    1. deemallon Post author

      Just so you know, I get a notification every time you “like” a post and it is a constant and affirming thing to see. Thank you.

  6. Laurie

    Congratulations on the novel, Dee. I empathize with a lot of what you say. We have a problem sibling, and we’ve done a lot of eldercare. A lot of people claim that art heals and uplifts artists during these times of stress. In my case, it brought me to a screeching halt. I am amazed at what you have achieved despite this drama and emotional abuse, and the grief afterwards. I hope you know what an inspiration you are.

    1. deemallon Post author

      Thanks Laurie. There were lots of periods of nothing. I don’t know if I would have kept at it were I not in a weekly writing class. I’m sorry to hear about your problem sibling. One of the benefits to being more public about what my circumstances were is to find out HOW MANY of us have problem siblings. Two of the friends in my immediate circle have serious issues to deal with in siblings. Not that that makes it easier, but it is good not to feel so alone about it.

      I’m glad to have served as inspiration. Because you’re in North Carolina, you are one of many who has helped my fiction along — a reflection here or a piece of helpful information there. I always study your photos when you’re up at the Waccamaw place, too. That landscape is so alien to me but I have been describing it now for almost ten years! So thank you back.

  7. Joanne

    When I was notified of the death of my youngest brother (alcohol, drugs, con man and worse) I felt relief at first and then regret and finally sorrow. Sorrow that the little brother I knew and loved had disappeared and this other brother had taken his place.

    1. deemallon Post author

      Oh I’m so sorry Joanne. Was this long ago? With my sister it’s a little different because as I saw how deep her problems ran, I could look back at our childhoods and see their presence even then. But there was still a sense of promise that’s hard to be with. She had a lot of artistic talent too.

  8. grace

    a lot of odd thoughts today…to be held hostage ……. to be a slave …….to be owned.
    In a way, was it you too…????? were you a hostage to circumstance?, in some
    odd way, a slave?
    am being required to look back in time to those years beginning with Jude, beginning
    to realize the community of cloth women, that different world. ….and i think of how it was that way for me,
    not a sibling, but of a marriage

    1. deemallon Post author

      There were so many ways I felt powerless. Bound. Because for some reason I decided that I wouldn’t abandon her there were times that the only way out seemed to be to kill myself.

      So dramatic, I know. But the stakes always felt really high. I feared that she might take me with her, especially at the end. I heard my mother’s voice cautioning against that all the time.

      But. But. But. I could have loosened her hold on me in ways that I just didn’t have the skills to manage. I’m not beating myself up for that, but it’s a truth that sits there right next to her pathology.

      Sometimes I wonder about how my experience of suffering informs how I write about slavery. It’s tricky to even say such things. Empathy can be radical, well-informed, but has its limits. And “slave” is such a particular word with such a particular meaning, that I would never apply it to any aspect of my life or any white person I know’s life.

      At the same time, I understand that all fiction is autobiographical on some level so even if not answered well or openly, the question is there: what about my life allows me to imagine what it meant to be enslaved?

      That perhaps is a question for another day and one I might not feel informed or sensitive enough to answer publicly.

    1. deemallon Post author

      Selections from your blog, compiled and accompanied by pictures, would make a wonderful book.

  9. Cheryl Fillion

    Wow! You’ve written your book. How exciting that must feel. I tip my hat to you! Ten years ago I started mapping my two-in-one novel. Over the years developed my characters, fixed a story glitch or two, and wrote the whole thing in my mind. You have just inspired me to complete a good draft by the end of the year. Maybe NANOWRIMO?

    1. deemallon Post author

      Good luck! I know people who have used NANOWRIMO to good effect. It might be a way to meet your goal. Especially if you write as much as you can between now and then.

  10. Tina

    I had to read your post a few times .. so heartfelt. Deep and truthful as anything I’ve ever read other than perhaps a few of your other posts. You are an amazing writer .. so I am just beyond trilled that you have come to the end of writing a novel. Dee you have written a novel. Perhaps it’ll be the first of nine now that you are free to be the woman you were meant to be.
    Big hugs and blessings

  11. Michelle Slater

    Your Sister recap has become complete. Your Novel is complete, The currants are complete in themselves and will make a wonderful pie to complete a celebration. I would recognize you anywhere, even with that beautiful smile.

    1. deemallon Post author

      I’m not sure the sister recap is complete but feel free to skip over whenever you want! Thank you about the smile . . .

  12. Nancy

    A long nine and a whirlwind! I am happy to have been along this road with you and I’m thrilled for thi moment you are in now!! You look great!

  13. Deborah Lacativa

    We’ve goaded and prodded each other along, haven’t we? A failing on my part that I have always had seperate compartments for Dee, the Artist/Stitcher (going back years), Dee , the Writer/Esteemed Editor, and only recently, Dee, the Sister. Maybe the compartments kept your boat afloat?

    1. deemallon Post author

      Yes. Goaded and prodded. I never thought about how I compartmentalized but you’re so right. Maybe that helped make up for how poorly I maintained boundaries with my sister.

  14. Hazel

    Oh, Dee… You’re glowing! I’m so happy for you- the book & much deserved peace! Many of your feelings, on both sides of your story, are so familiar. Some swell soul (you!) said to me recently, “this is the you you are meant to be and on some level have always been.” I wish you joy and ease in this new true space of your life. Love to you.

    1. deemallon Post author

      Thanks Hazel. Unfortunately for my sister I was ready to move on quite some time before she died. Oh well. I’m hoping she feels more peace now, too.

  15. Saskia

    congratulations! on how you look: Alive! Happy! Whole!
    on your Book!
    on having survived your long ordeal with your sister!
    I’m sure there will be ‘down episodes’ in the healing process after her death, but you are still here……with us, in the Circle, haha! xxx

    1. deemallon Post author

      Hi Saskia. Yes the aftermath is not a straight line by any means. I miss her at odd times. Still when the phone rings. But how much more time I have! How fewer needs are pressing at me from her direction!


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