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We Actually Can Survive Incredible Loss

I had the skills to survive a loved one's death, but I didn’t want to.

I don’t think I can live without my mother. That’s what I felt, even as an adult. What grown woman with a family of her own talks like this? But that’s what I felt deep inside. Of course, I have the skills to survive a loved one's death, but I didn’t want to. But she died, and I survived. I had my brother, my sister-in-law and best friend Marilyn, and of course my entire nuclear family, my husband, and three sons. Still, the little girl within didn’t want to go on without the woman who loved me, and bruised me as well.

But, of course, I did go on. I stopped crying, we worked on selling her house and packing up a lifetime of stuff, some that meant everything and some, absolutely nothing. We threw out and gave away. I flew home motherless and for the longest time, I couldn’t wear one piece of jewelry that she left me. Beautiful diamonds and gold, the ring she barely let me try on because it was hers, her power: “OK, Barbara, that’s enough. Take it off.” It was in my drawer, and it upset me too much to see it.

It was Marilyn who helped me through my mother’s loss. “I’ll call you every day at 4:00, the time I know you spoke to Mom. That will help you get through the afternoon.” And she did. She was with me in the hospital when the doctor told us there was no hope and that we had to make the decision to turn off the machine keeping Mom alive. Marilyn took care of so many of the overwhelming plans and she did it all without asking. “You did it for me when my mom died. I want to help you.” We were like that with each other.

So, I survived the loss of my father and then my mother and a dear, dear friend, but in the back of my mind, I knew I always had Marilyn. She was my stabilizer in the turbulent years of my parenthood, and everything else I endured in my life. I bought her an angel statue that read: “I would go crazy without you, sister.” I knew she would love it, but before I could give it to her, she told me that she had Stage IV lung cancer. I put the angel away, knowing I could never give her something that spoke to her finite time.

My intended gift to Marilyn, now on my shelf
Source: bjaffe/blogger

I told my therapist about this horrific news. “You will have to think about life without Marilyn one day.” I wanted to scream at him: How dare you? What are you saying? You don’t know that. He merely stated what I knew was true after reading the prognosis online—the average survival rate; the treatments; the loss we would all soon know.

And then, I said what I had said not too long ago about my mother. “I don’t think I can live without Marilyn.”

It’s now been two months that I have lived without Marilyn. I say good morning to her every day as I turn on my computer and see my screen saver. I smile at her photo in the wooden picture frame I bought just for her funeral picture with the words: Sister. I was once her angel, now she’s mine.

The author gets great solace from this framed photo
Source: bjaffe/blogger

How is it possible that I can live without Marilyn? I am doing so, just like she knew I would; just like we all must do. Despite such a catastrophic loss, my days have joy as I talk to her with my heartstrings. I hear her voice. It’s not enough, but it’s something.