Yesterday, my husband Alton and I taught a workshop, "Writing, Spirituality and Health," at a conference for clinicians and their significant others. We handed out journals and pens, played music and asked participants to record the details of a difficult experience and their feelings about it. Research from psychologist James Pennebaker at University of Texas at Austin and physician Rita Charon at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons shows that writing our stories helps with healing.
We asked if anyone wanted to share. Though tears were shed and pages were filled, no one volunteered. Perhaps the material was too personal. Perhaps people were self-conscious about the prose. We believe that it is not about the product but the process of opening up, understanding and working to accept what happened and move forward in whatever way is possible.
My husband read a poem he wrote about the passing of his sister.
After the workshop, surgeon Dr. Brian D. Tallerico, approached and handed me four pages. He has given me permission to share this poignant and beautifully written piece. He inhabits the voice of Kim, his deceased sister-in law in a letter to her sister, Karen, Brian’s wife.
In 1989 or so, for reasons known only to us, we stopped being sisters. As the years went by we grew up, you married your high school sweetheart and I took a few years to find my Mr. Right. In 2002 for our mother’s sake we reconciled, never really discussing what happened and why we lost more than a decade of sisterhood. We laughed about our childhood and planned on making up for lost time. 2008 changed everything. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. But I was a strong person and wasn’t going to let the disease win.
I continued to work sixty-plus hours a week as a CRNA (certified registered nurse anesthetist), got married and adopted a baby boy. The cancer was beaten through chemo and radiation, took a lot out of me, but I recovered. I persevered. Our sons were about the same age and we looked forward to them growing up with each other, best friends. You and I ran the race for the cure in Denver and laughed so hard we cried. It felt wonderful to be sisters again.
One day in the fall of 2010 something went horribly wrong. I acted out doing a routine surgery at work and the surgeon dismissed me from the case, gravely concerned, forcing me to go directly to the ER. I had been losing weight, feeling ill, not sleeping and not thinking clearly but I was not about to be weakened by that monster from my past. The cancer had returned, metastasizing to my bone, my brain. I died on a December afternoon.
Somebody said that once you stop dreaming about somebody who has died, you are finally over grieving. I want you to be done grieving but I don’t want you to stop dreaming about me. We lost so many years, past and future that the only way we can make those up is through your dream. Remember our childhood, riding that horse together, the Race for the Cure and my running shoes hanging there next year in memorium. And the laughter. That’s what erased all the bad years.
Tell your daughters I miss them.
Love your sister,