Happy Birthday to my little sister who lost the battle to cancer last November. She surprised everyone, including herself, by making it to her 66th birthday a year ago, and good for her. She lived large and according to her own design. A powerful woman.
I thought about all kinds of things on this cool and breezy July Tuesday as the edges of the marine layer flirted with my marina on and off all day. But mostly about Kay on her 67th birthday. My memories recently were confirmed that our trips to Carmel where my mom attended the Bach Festival for a handful of summers when Kay and I were little were fun and pleasant and we didn’t squabble, which we did constantly at home (I’m talking about hair pulling and kicking and rage — one time my exasperated mother handed us both a sharp knife and told us to kill each other, but do it in the bathroom where the cleanup would be easier; we were too shocked to respond). Removed from the family dynamic and in the company of our kind babysitter (no parents, heaven!), we had a ball and got along well. So interesting how kids absorb family tensions and dysfunctions and act them out. I am happy to think about that, the innocent joy we shared together during all those hours we spent on the beach. I am deeply grateful for those glorious, sandy, often-foggy summer days.
Had a nice moment today doing some outdoor household chores — I heard peregrines calling overhead and watched what may have been one of the resident falcons (there’s a nest on the Fruitvale bridge near me) chasing off an intruding falcon. Such beauty and acrobatic grace! A second or two of locked talons, even. Was cool I happened to be outside when that raptor-drama occurred (I did race inside to grab my binos).
Today’s painting — dug back into past photos. These are of wildflowers in Tilden Park in the Berkeley hills. Paints dry faster on windy days.
10″ x 10″ watercolor, pen on paper = $130
Grief sucks. She’s a powerful bitch that mops the floor with you. She eats you for lunch. She puts cement shoes on your feet in the mornings. She flops your brain around until you don’t know your name, what day it is, how to prepare a meal (not that you have an appetite). It gets even more confounding when the person you loved, who died, was someone you struggled with in your lifelong relationship. It muddles things. I’m not very coherent today but I can write down the feelings that are fizzing through my veins and leaking out my pores: rageful, sad, angry, peaceful, resentful, grateful, confused, sorrowful, doubtful, betrayed, frustrated, agonized, tenacious, lost, wrecked, sturdy, disbelieving, broken, in searing pain, outraged, content, wretched, regretful, distressed, desolate, flattened, furious, despondent, incredulous, volatile, bereaved, exasperated, defeated, hopeful, squashed, depressed, panicked, funky, deranged, thankful.
My belief is that it’s best to hand yourself over to this process and feel every last damn mother-flipping feeling. It moves through you better if you don’t fight it. When my mom died, almost exactly 15 years ago, I experienced a “complicated grief,” according to counselors. I didn’t get along with Mom, and neither did my older sister. I felt the need to protect myself when I was around her; she could be cruel and demeaning. But my younger sister, who died a week ago, had a better relationship with her and was always loyal to Mom. Which was a tense, sore spot in our sisterly relationship. But it was the truth of our family dynamics, and I learned to accept it.
Making things even more murky, Kay and I could never talk about the painful moments of our childhood that we suffered together at the hands of our abusive, raging dad. That is a sadness I carry today, deeply. Always will, I suppose.
Thank you for reading through this long treatise on mourning with all its criss-crossing metaphors. It reveals the contents of my heart, and I appreciate your kindness and compassion for this life experience I am having.
Oh, about this painting. I worked on it over the weekend in my studio and it is helping to contain my grief and pain. I actually felt joyful, painting in my space again. But oy, you should see the spatters! I actually wrecked a small painting that was against the wall, too close to the Jackson-Pollock freewheelingness of it all.
22″ x 30″ acrylic, India ink, pencil, crayon on paper = $795
OK this is going to feel a little weird. Here goes.
During my almost 3-week stay in Washington, most of that time with my sister in Seattle who was dying of cancer, it was so interesting to walk through her neighborhood (Fremont) and see various front yards. I’ve never before seen anything like this bush which had neon-pink flowers with blue berries at the center. Like the berries had turned into some kind of magenta fireworks. They were gaudy, even — colors looked cartoonish. But they were so cheery to see during my chilly November strolls.
What is strange as I post this is it will be the first time Kay won’t be reading it. She enjoyed reading my blogs every day, which meant I had to be sensitive in how I wrote them, if I mentioned her. She passed away two days ago, Sunday morning after a battle with breast cancer that lasted on and off for 21 years. She was mostly healthy and cancer free after that first diagnosis and the subsequent and innovative treatments (a cancer clinic in Seattle was set up based on things medical professionals learned from her regimens), and she was grateful for that bonus time, for the initial diagnosis was quite dire. But she beat it. For awhile.
Kay was never bedridden but the pain was increasing and the nights were getting pretty rough. Just a few days before she passed we had a long walk through Seattle and her stamina exceeded mine. She was really something.
Goodbye, Kay. You and I had a difficult relationship at times, yet we loved each other very much. And it was an honor to be with you in your final days. I am so happy you are no longer being painfully savaged by that awful disease and are now at peace.
6″ x 6″ watercolor, pen, acrylic ink on paper
Near the beach at Fort Worden, a state park in Port Townsend, WA, a small boat rested in the dunes, relieved of duty (a retired lifeboat, perhaps? curious that it has chains at both ends — maybe it brought shipwrecked fishermen to safety). It completely charmed me. One of the reasons I loved this sandy scenario is because I was visiting my dear friend Claire who lives in that part of the gorgeous NW and together we roamed the beach there a couple of times; one day was sunny and bright and we identified Mergansers (cute diving ducks with punk hairdos), marveled at the soothing sound of beach waves washing over pebbles and collected shoreline stones smoothed by the swells of the Strait of San Juan de Fuca (ha! accidental alliteration!). Another day we set out to collect bits of driftwood and it was so windy it took both my hands to open the car door. I really love the wildness of this watery corner of the US, with its fierce storms, soaring bald eagles, brilliant night stars and island-hopping ferries. My precious times with Claire those few days will long be cherished and tended to in my memory banks.
But I’m not super crazy about this painting, so I’ll likely do another one once I’m home. Getting low on watercolor sketchpads here in my sister’s digs in Seattle and I am soon heading back to California, saying goodbye to my sister who got the short end of the breast cancer stick. She’s well-cared for here and deeply loved and her husband, daughter, caring friends and hospice team will look after her with empathy and tenderness. Which gives me peace as I head back to my Alameda life. [There were no authentic, accurate expressions of loss and sadness I could conjure up today. So I got out my paints.]
7″ x 10″ watercolor, pen on paper
My sister Kay here in Seattle is finishing up her memoirs as she gets ready to leave the planet. She asked me to create some artwork for the cover of her book, and gave me a black & white shot taken of her with her camera, circa mid-1970s, to use as reference. I’m honored to have my painting on the cover of her life story, and I’m fond of this image of her looking through her viewfinder, as her life has been lived with curiosity and hunger for knowledge and beauty. I love you, Kay.
10″ x 7″ watercolor, pen on paper