The response to An Open Letter to Cindy Sheehan was more than I expected. I no longer remember what it was I thought the effect would be on others; it was a cri de coeur, one woman to another. Having now heard her voice a few times, I realize the effort was futile. Had I known that ahead of time, of course I wouldn’t have attempted such an undertaking.
But had I not done so, the letters and comments and responses on other blogs could not have done their healing work on me. I forgot: it is others’ response to our pain which allows us to endure — even to metabolize and process — the unendurable.
So my response in turn is, of necessity, a visceral gratitude. Wonder and gratitude that so many share my experience and were moved to their own epiphany in reading of mine. Words are indeed “the instruments we use to beat out tunes on broken drums…”
All those who have had someone beloved wrenched from them know only too well the nightmare of the first anniversary of that sudden bereavement. It is like another small death in itself; a fist which waits for you in the dark. Even though you know it’s there, you cannot avoid it, you can only wait for it to descend.
Shelagh’s brother, the Baron’s Boy, was a senior in high school when she died. About to graduate, about to receive his Eagle Scout award, the time became a memory deeply etched by his sister’s sudden death. The following year, on that first anniversary, he was a freshman in college in the midst of exams. He paused there, coming out of class, to post his thoughts on his first year without his sister. With his permission, I give you his thoughts on that first anniversary of Shelagh’s death.
Here is that post:
A statue stands in a shaded place
An angel girl with an upturned face
A name is written on a polished rock
A broken heart that the world forgot
Through the wind and the rain
She stands hard as a stone
In a world that she can’t rise above
But her dreams give her wings
And she flies to a place where she’s loved,
Technically, this post should be for tomorrow — but seeing that I just took a test dealing with, among other things, Dissociative Identity Disorder, I figured it was fitting that I do it now.
One year ago tomorrow was Thursday, May 8th, 2003. I woke up to a disorganized househould. It seems that my sister’s boyfriend had called our house, hysterical. She was unconscious and not responding to CPR, and he had already called the ambulance. My mom was in tears and my dad was grim-facedly getting both of them ready to go over to her house. However, I still had to go to school, so I got in my car and started driving.
I don’t really remember what passed through my head on that drive — my sister had had numerous “incidents” before and managed to find her way through them. After 30 years of living with DID I guess she’d had to adapt to crazy situations. However, something changed when this song came on the radio. “You Were Meant For Me,” by Jewel. I’d heard it a lot before and kind of liked it. But then it got to the refrain:
Dreams last so long
Even after you’re gone…
I guess I knew at some level that this was one scrape Shelagh wasn’t going to be able to get of in one piece. And sure enough, around 1:00 that afternoon, Dad and my brother Joe came to pick me up at Fuqua [School]. She had been dead probably before her boyfriend had even made the call.
Before you think I’m making this into a sobfest, let me make one thing clear. I don’t cry easily. I used to a lot in middle school, and through negative conditioning I learned to hold it in. I never cried for Shelagh at her funeral; I guess I was almost happy, in a way, that her pain was over. But I cried for her many times after, because, as my brother Jamie put it, “No one ever understood me like she did.” There have been too many times this year when I felt like I needed to talk to someone and realized that that person was my sister. I know she can still hear me, but one-sided conversations just aren’t the same.
But looking at all of this another way — I’m never going to let anyone, not myself nor anyone that I’m close to, go gently into that good night. If Shelagh could hold on and weather the storms, then so can we. One of her bad days would probably send most of us “normal” people into a depressive tailspin. She lived with demons, both internal and external, that are probably better left undescribed. And yet she kept on, till the age of 40, until, as Thomas Hardy said in Tess,
||“‘Justice’ was done, and the President of the Immortals had ended his sport with [her].”
Nothing I could have done would have healed her pain. And indeed, not much any of us could have done would have accomplished much. We could only mend as many cracks as we could before the walls came crashing down. But I’ll be damned if I let anyone I love fall victim to a pain like that. No-one will suffer like that on my watch as long as I have my strength.
So here’s to Shelagh. If anyone deserves a happy afterlife, it’s you.
So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from Hell? Blue skies from pain?
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil? Do you think you can tell?
Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
Did you exchange a walk-on part in the world for a lead role in a cage?
How I wish, how I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl year after year
Running over the same old ground, what have we found? The same old fears,
Wish you were here…
— Will, May 7th, 2004