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My sister died this afternoon.

BrigidBrigid Veteran
edited December 2007 in Sanghas

My sister, Mary, 48 years old and the middle child, died suddenly this afternoon, Oct. 16th. Her 15 year old son was still at school and her husband was at work when my oldest sister, Sine, dropped by Mary's house in Montreal to pick up a few things. My sister Mary hadn't been feeling well and told Sine that she'd leave the door unlocked because she was going to take a nap on the couch in the living room and if she was asleep she asked Sine not to wake her.

Sine arrived with her husband Gregory in the late afternoon, went into the house and found Mary on the couch. Sine knew right away that Mary was dead but couldn't accept it at first. She turned away and tried to convince herself that it wasn't true, then went up to Mary and touched her and she was cold.

Sine and her husband called emergency and a little while later Mary's son, John Malcolm, arrived home from school. If Sine and Gregory hadn't been there, John Malcolm would have been the first one to find his mother dead.

John Malcolm went into hysterics but eventually calmed down enough to leave with Gregory to find his father, John, Mary's husband, who was at the exercise club. By the time Gergory, John Malcolm and his father, John, arrived back at the house it was filled with officials, emergency staff and the coroner etc.

The cause of death hasn't been ascertained yet but it was clear that Mary had been ill for some time because she'd been losing considerable weight rapidly over the last few months and apparently she'd been throwing up for the past few days.

Mary was a heavy duty alcoholic. She and I were very close at one time but because of the disease she'd done some really terrible things to me and she'd been estranged from various members of our family over the years. Her oldest son Michael even came to live with my parents here at the farm when he was 12 (John Sr. is not his biological father) and Michael has lived in this area ever since, marrying and having a child of his own. But when he was younger my parents had to sue Mary to get her to send them money for Michael's upkeep, even though Mary was married to a millionaire executive. My parents were on welfare.

However, in recent months she'd made up with everyone, except me. I did receive a short note from her telling me she loved me and if we put aside "all the crap" she and I had had some great times together. I received the note with a closed heart. I always said that I'd never have anything more to do with her because she was so incredibly toxic, vicious and cruel, especially towards me for some reason. I felt that unless she came to me and told me she was in alcohol recovery and was sorry for all the things she'd done to me and wanted to make amends, I would never be able to have any sort of relationship with her.

She'd been looking sick and extremely thin for months and everyone she met commented on it and told her she needed to see a doctor. She told them, and my parents, that she'd been to her doctor and they'd tested for all sorts of things but couldn't find anything wrong with her. That was a lie. Sine asked John tonight who Mary's doctor was and John told her that to his knowledge Mary had never been to a doctor. John also never bothered to call an ambulance this morning when Mary was throwing up dark green vomit, which was still in a large bowl when the coroner arrived at around 8pm tonight. She took one look at it and said in all her years as a doctor and a coroner she'd never seen vomit that like before.

So Mary knew she was sick, which is probably why she sent me that note. After I read it my thought was "Far too little, far too late" and I thought about throwing it away but stopped myself and instead stuck it between the pages of a book. She wanted me to forgive her, but I couldn't. She didn't ask for forgiveness in the note, probably because in her alcoholic daze she couldn't admit she'd done anything wrong. She was in deep, deep denial, which is what prevented her from going to see a doctor when she knew she was sick. She was probably afraid the doctor would tell her either to stop drinking or that she was drinking herself to death. Maybe she didn't care that she was dying. Maybe she couldn't come right out and admit it to herself. Maybe that's how deep the denial went.

All I know is that out of the five siblings, Mary and I had always been the closest and when she died we were the furthest apart.

I'm glad I can be here with my parents to help them through this. We're all still numb from shock. We only learned tonight from my other sister, Jo-Anne, that Mary had still been drinking. Up until we found out, my parents just thought that she'd been getting far too thin lately. I hadn't seen Mary since Michael's wedding three years ago and of course, hadn't spoken on the phone to her except for three times when I answered the phone and it was her wanting to speak to my parents. Each time she kept trying to talk to me but I was very curt, cut her off and called my mother to pick up the phone. We did have a brief exchange during one of those times when she told me "to be nice" and asked me about my back injury. I began answering her because she still had power over me, being my older sister, and I'm not good at being rude, but I felt like I was getting sucked into a conversation with her and I didn't want to do that. I'd learned the hard way never to tell Mary anything because it would come back to haunt me in some insidious way later. Like when I went to my high school reunion in Montreal a few years ago and one of my teachers, who'd bumped into Mary at the grocery store, said to me "Oh, Brigid! I was so sorry to hear about your breakdown. Mary told me all about it when I saw her a few months back. I hope you're feeling better, dear." There had been no breakdown, just Mary's desire to make me look as bad as possible to as many people as possible. For what reason? Probably because I'd been there and seen her when she was at her worst, drunk and falling all over the place, embarrassing herself in public falling off chairs and so on, and her response was to try to make it look like I was the one with problems instead of her. She's always resented me for everything I ever did right. She never went to university and hated the fact that I did etc. etc. etc.

And now she's gone. Dead. Fell asleep on her couch and died in her sleep at the age of 48, leaving behind two sons and her husband, her parents and her siblings. We don't know what killed her but if I were to hazard a guess, I'd say she drank herself to death.

I don't know what to do with my inability to forgive her for all the things she did to me while she was alive. My sister Jo-Anne and my father both said the same thing; forgive her now. My reaction to that is that it's too late, she won't know that I've forgiven her. She died knowing I hadn't forgiven her. Forgiving her now would be a gift to myself and it's not me I want to give that gift to, it's her. I should have told her I forgave her, even if I didn't want her to be in my life, I should have told her I forgave her. My hard heart stopped me. I'm so very sorry now.


  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited October 2007
    Boo, I don't know what to say.
    But please, whatever you do, don't beat yourself up about this.
    If you don't feel like forgiving her, then don't. Don't try to do it because you think you should, or because others are expecting you to do so.
    This is something you may have to wrestle with for a long time. Maybe you never will be able to forgive her.
    She asked it of you, and let's face it, you made it conditional.
    And that's OK.
    That's how you felt, and that's the way it went.
    So be it.
    Accept the feelings you have at the moment, and run with them. Observe them, and let them be.
    We're none of us perfect. We're not all able to embrace "The Lessons" and the Wise Words and all the teachings at once, and completely.
    Be whatever you're being at the Moment. Stay with your emotions, let them lie, and do what you can to support others in their times of Pain.
    This may well be, in fact, your way of 'serving' your sister, now that she has died, and left behind the people around you. Love them, be there for them, and fill any holes that you can, from your own standpoint and heart.
    She's gone.
    Her problems are over.
    Let that be.
    Come to terms with the feelings between you, and focus instead on Compassion for yourself, and compassion for others.

    Love always Boo, and I embrace you wholeheartedly.
  • edited October 2007
    My heart goes out to you and your sincere condolences!
  • SimonthepilgrimSimonthepilgrim Veteran
    edited October 2007
    Darling Boo,

    There are no words, only my most sincere love and deepest condolences. Incense and candles are burning here. I have celebrated a commemorative meal and offered tobacco for all the intentions of your family, including Mary, and, most especially, you.
  • edited October 2007

    Forgive yourself. Guilt is part of the psyche.

    Peace and love.
  • NirvanaNirvana aka BUBBA   `     `     ` `     ` Outa Range Fridays thru Sundays South Carolina, USA Veteran
    edited October 2007
    Dear Brigid:
    Hard-Hearted you are Not. No, Brigid. It's often very difficult to "reward" bad behaviour with our attention, as if to condone it. I think what would be amended in a second-go-round is the course of events, not your attitude or inclinations. I doubt you ever wished your dear sister, Mary, anything but the best, and expect that you were only distancing yourself from her as you thought that the best course of action (as you've said). Wouldn't it be nice if we could get this span of our lives and that of those we love right in this time of dress-rehearsal for the Truly Real?.. But, in the end, all manner of thing will be well and it shall be well with you.

    Surely, there is no treasure like a sister and I know it will be very hard for you for a very long time. You acted as you did in the hope that your sister, Mary, would finally come around right — I mean, the way she was, her real self. It's too bad that that never happened, and that's truly tragic. It's so hard losing a loved one —even one with whom one has the best of uncomplicated relationships. But, I reckon it's doubly or triply hard in such a hard loss. First you lose your dearest sister to some substance, then she's totally gone, as it were.

    Words, words, words. But I guess we wouldn't be able to learn right compassion if we didn't experience some measure of great sorrow and loss in our lives. It's just so sad that now the world is a worse place for you, now that you've lost you dear sister, Mary. I feel for you, Brigid, but know that you and yours will make this time of passage an occasion for joyous celebration of your love for one another.

    I lift up my hands in Prayer for you and for Mary and for all those whom you love.
  • edited October 2007
    Brigid...words fail me. I'm sorry. The whole 'sister' thing...loving and hating...distance and longed for closeness. I know you are a good person, and you will forgive yourself, and her, with time.
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited October 2007

    I agree with kowtaaia, please forgive yourself.


  • BrigidBrigid Veteran
    edited October 2007
    Thank you all so much. It never ceases to amaze me how much comfort I find here.

    I guess where I'm at right now is where the real work is. After a lot of thinking and trying to be as honest with myself as possible I think the truth as it stands right now is that I haven't forgiven Mary yet. Plain and simple. Her death didn't bring about some kind of miraculous change in my heart. I'm still dragging along a full set of luggage crammed with...ego hurting? Anger? Whatever it is, I'm going to have to unpack it all, item by item, and examine it closely because something tells me there's important learning to be had here. It's not going to be pretty, but I have to find out where my weaknesses lie and put them through the wash.

    But that's going to take a while, like you said, Fede. In the meantime, I'm going to do what you're all telling me to do, forgive myself. Not forgiving myself feels like some kind of arrogance thing, ego thing. It also feels like some kind of irrational way to make myself suffer, as if that will somehow make things better, when I know rationally it's just more self-inflicted suffering.

    I don't know how I'm going to forgive myself, my thoughts are all confused at the moment. Maybe forgiving Mary will come with forgiving myself, or vise versa. Maybe it won't. I guess we'll see. But a conversation I had with my nephew Michael yesterday felt like a step in the right direction. He's Mary's oldest son who's married and has a child of his own. Michael and I have always been very close. He was born when I was 13 and he's always been like the younger brother I never had. Anyway, we were talking on the phone and he started to break down and he said "I just hope she's all right". I don't know Michael's spiritual persuasion but from this I assumed he was worried she might somehow have ended up in a bad place, maybe hell or something. So I said the most comforting thing I could come up with, even though I don't know if it's true. I said "Oh, sweetheart! Of course she's okay. There's nowhere bad for her to go. All the bad we saw came from the disease. When you take away the disease your mother was full of love for everything and everybody. She was more full of love than any of us." And having said that, I started to remember Mary, my sister, as she was before the alcoholism, and it was perfectly true. She was the most loving person in our family. She was so sensitive and so full of compassion for people and animals, especially dogs. She had such a tender, gentle heart before the alcoholism twisted her out of recognition.

    So when I brought up memories of her before the disease grabbed her, I could feel my heart softening and warming. I could recall the days when I knew she loved me and I loved, and even idolized, her. All she ever wanted was to be a mother, so she could shower all her love on her children. It's so terribly sad that it didn't turn out that way. She ended up being more abusive and neglectful than loving to her two boys. But having known her while we were growing up I know she never wanted things to turn out as they did. She must have been so full of regret.

    I have work to do and I'm so grateful to have the Dharma to guide me and my sangha to support me. I can never thank you enough.

  • edited October 2007
    Condolences, :)

  • buddhafootbuddhafoot Veteran
    edited October 2007

    Like the others have said - forgive yourself.

    It doesn't matter anymore. There are no more harsh words to be spoken - don't let there be any harsh deeds or words, that were spoken, be remembered.

    Your sister will live on within you and her family by what and how you remember her. Don't let her memory be one of guilt and grief. Don't celebrate her that way.

    Celebrate her time here in good ways :)

    I hope you all find peace.

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited October 2007

    If you find it difficult to forgive yourself, I suggest taking time each day to practice meditation, especially mettabhavana (loving-kindness meditation), and dedicate all of the merit from cultivating wholesome mental states to your sister. I have found that this helps me to overcome feelings of guilt for the things that I have done that I am unable to make up for in any other way, and perhaps it will help you as well.

  • BrianBrian Detroit, MI Moderator
    edited October 2007
    I'm very sorry to hear about your loss Brigid. I was going to post yesterday but technical issues prevented me from doing so. :(

    I can't say anything more or better than anyone else here has said. Just know that you are loved :)
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited October 2007
    Brigid wrote: »
    She had such a tender, gentle heart before the alcoholism twisted her out of recognition.

    So when I brought up memories of her before the disease grabbed her, I could feel my heart softening and warming.

    There's the key.
    You have it right there.
    What happened to her was not WHO SHE WAS.

    If we take a step back and just look at ourselves honestly, we all have a portion of our being, our temperament, our characteristics, that clings to something, that has a need, that can, unchecked, unseen and uncontrolled, turn into an addiction and in turn ultimately control us.
    This is part of our journey. To really see what attachment is. In its every guise, in its every manifestation.
    We may think we've understood what attachment is, but we don't realise how strong it is until it, itself, reveals itself in all its ugliness, in all its horror, in all its adhesive, gripping, velcro-like nastiness.
    it's the silly, trivial innocuous attachments, that we view as ridiculous, that are in fact the ones with the most treacle, tar-like qualities. Because they can lead us into despair, desire and destruction. So we have to be watchful.
    And I am as guilty, if not more so, than many of my wonderful Dharma-Sangha companions.
    I know the teachings. I agree with the teachings. Of the vast source of the Dharma, what I have learnt, absorbed understood and accepted all makes sense to me, and is logical, sensible and Right.
    Do I therefore Live by it?
    Hell, no!
    So you see, I think with the above, you've hit the nail on the head.
    You are justifiably angry at what she had become. but this is not who she was. Her choices and actions had been wrong ones, but inside, she probably was entirely aware that she had lost the plot and had gone seriously wrong. Addicts do. And they hate themselves for it, but it comes out in the wrong way.
    So now she has died, and her addiction with her. The pain, the anger and the torment are over, and she's no longer under their dominant control.
    Separate the 'what' (alcoholism) from the 'who' (Potential Buddha-Nature).
    It's simple, and not necessarily easy.
    But it may be a start.
    Love always.
  • MagwangMagwang Veteran
    edited October 2007
    Sometimes reconciliation can be too late when a person is still alive, and sometimes it is not too late after a person is gone from your life. I think you will be able to find healing that can resonate beyond yourself, perhaps even into next lives of yourself and others.

    Love Adam.
  • edited October 2007
    I am so sorry you and your family are going through this right now. Like the others have said, I wish I could do more to help you out other than say a few words. I sure do hope that you are able to find some peace with this situation. Please forgive yourself for not forgiving her right away - that is a very hard thing to do! Just try to remember the good times you had together. Easier said than done, I know. Hang in there.

    Lots of hugs,
  • XraymanXrayman Veteran
    edited October 2007
    Oh my god...

    PM me so I can talk to you on the web

    from rich
  • BrigidBrigid Veteran
    edited October 2007
    It's impossible to express how much comfort and peace your messages have brought me. Thank you all so much. My heart is full of gratitude to you all and to the Buddha and his teachings.

    It's kind of hard for me to believe, but I'm actually very okay now. I've let go of the guilt because it quickly became apparent how silly and self-important it was to make my sister's death about me and my feelings. And because you all reminded me to. Thank you.

    I was in Montreal over the weekend for the visitation and funeral and it was both horribly sad and really quite beautiful. SO many people were there. But the greatest thing was to see my brother again. I haven't seen him in years. He's been on the outs with the family on and off his whole adult life and has struggled with his own alcoholism and drug addiction. But he's been sober and in recovery for a good while now and he was his old self again. As soon as I saw him I threw my arms around him and cried and cried and he held me tight, just like when I was little. I'm the baby of the family and always idolized my siblings, especially him. It was the greatest thing to reconnect with him. Mary always had a knack for bringing people together and as trite as it sounds she did a great job at her funeral.

    So I've accepted the fact that my sister died knowing I was angry with her. Her 15 year old son also had a lot of rage in him and gave her a very difficult time while she was still alive. My guilt is inconsequential in comparison. I'll be going into Montreal again in November and I've invited him to come visit me and watch movies and maybe talk because we both have anger issues about our mothers' alcoholism. (Both of my parents are alcoholics but don't drink anymore). Maybe we can help each other. He and I were so close when he was little. I'm going to make myself as available as possible to him.

    I'm also glad I'm here with my parents. I've watched my father age 10 years in the past week. I'm so grateful I can take care of them. I don't think my father has been able to cry yet. But when I saw him go up to my sister's casket alone and get down on one knee to say goodbye...well, that was the saddest thing I've ever witnessed. I wanted to hold him in my arms like a baby and soothe him. It was utterly horrible and beautiful.

    So I'm over myself, thank goodness. If this had happened before I found Buddhism I'd be in a really terrible state. I'd be inconsolable, lost and torturing myself. As it is, I've never felt stronger or more healthy than I do right now. I can face the reality of the situation completely. I explained to my mother that as a Buddhist I don't have the luxury of believing Mary's up in heaven looking down on us and knowing what's in our hearts. My sister's gone and she left knowing she'd hurt people. That's all there is to it and I can accept it. All I can do now is remember never to hold another grudge again and help my family heal as best they can. My mother, although a devout Catholic, understood and respected my perspective. I've always had so much rage about her addiction. It always felt like abandonment. But I told her I was trying my hardest to grow up and stop lashing out at her, because I do that, especially when my back's bad. I give myself permission to be a complete bitch to her instead of trying to understand her and it's got to stop. Even on a purely selfish level, I can't let her die while I still have anger towards her. But on a more mature level, she deserves so much more from me. Mary's death has woken me up to it and I'm going to work my ass off to treat my mother with the love and respect she deserves. It's time to grow up and get over myself.

    Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I love you all so much, you have no idea.
  • BrigidBrigid Veteran
    edited October 2007
    Oh, I almost forgot. This morning at breakfast two deer came right up to the windows and stood around looking in! My parents and I were freaking (quietly, very quietly)! We've had this farm for 36 years and it's the first time the dear have ever come right up to the house. It was amazing!!
  • buddhafootbuddhafoot Veteran
    edited October 2007
    You should keep crappy old apples around the them. They'll show up a lot more :)

  • BrigidBrigid Veteran
    edited October 2007
    Really? I have a whole drawer full of crappy apples in the fridge at the moment because the McIntosh weren't ready. I think I'll throw them about outside and see what happens. Thanks, BF.
  • buddhafootbuddhafoot Veteran
    edited October 2007
    Brigid wrote: »
    Really? I have a whole drawer full of crappy apples in the fridge at the moment because the McIntosh weren't ready. I think I'll throw them about outside and see what happens. Thanks, BF.

    Well, if they're coming by, and find some apples, I'm sure they'll be back.

    Some friends of mine live by a lake about 40 miles from me. Lots of deer. They've been feeding the deer for about 2 years.

    Now? Now, the deers aren't even that shy. As long as you don't jump around, they walk right up to you and eat them out of your hand. Even the little babies.

    I think the key will be getting them to realize, "Boo has yummies."

  • bushinokibushinoki Veteran
    edited October 2007
    Brigid, I'm sorry I've been absent the last few days, and I'm really sorry to hear about this. I'm glad to hear you're holding up well. This just brings to light a problem I'm dealing with, that my sister may end up dead so young as well. That's probably the reason I put up with her crap so much, because I know deep down, her lifestyle is going to take her young. She's already had a couple of close calls.
  • NirvanaNirvana aka BUBBA   `     `     ` `     ` Outa Range Fridays thru Sundays South Carolina, USA Veteran
    edited October 2007
    Well, Dear Brigid, it's been almost a fortnight now since Mary passed away...

    Tell me, is that fact still really unbelieveable? To be able to bring yourself fully to the realization that she's gone?

    I know it would be with me. I've thought many times about the demise of those I hold dear, most especially my five sisters whom I treasure beyond words. (My brothers just aren't as deep.) I guess the knowledge that the plane of our common existence is transitory and bound to end up in a way I'd ruther not see makes me take joy in the present and in upcoming celebrations of our life and love for each other when we all get together for several days once or twice a year.

    Anyway, I was touched by your story and can really relate with your self-questioning. You have always been deeply concerned about the welfare of others and sometimes that can make things hurt a lot more. However, it is better to have loved and cared deeply about others, whatever happens, than not to.

    Hope I'm not writing at a bad time.

    All the Best to you!


  • BrigidBrigid Veteran
    edited October 2007
    Tell me, is that fact still really unbelieveable? To be able to bring yourself fully to the realization that she's gone?
    Hi, Nirvy.

    Boy, you really hit the nail on the head with that question, because the disbelief is pretty much the reigning thought in my head right now. I just took a spoonful of cereal and thought "I can't believe Mary will never put a spoon to her mouth again. She'll never eat again. I can't believe she's really, actually gone." The grief has subsided somewhat but the disbelief is as strong as ever. I mean, I understand and accept that she's gone. But I keep getting these "flashes" of disbelief like "I can't believe she won't be here for Christmas" and so on. It's hard to get it into my thick head. Then again it was the same when my friend Aviva died. It took years to accept that she was really not here anymore and would never be again. It feels so big.

    But most of the time I accept and understand that she's gone. It's just that sometimes something will trigger my disbelief and it will feel like I just don't get the concept. It's weird.

    Anyway, it's an interesting experience. Where I'm at right now is just trying to be as much of a comfort to my parents as I can be. It's forcing me to be kinder and gentler with them, which is a very good thing. I'm catching myself before I get frustrated or short with them because how awful would that be? They've just lost their daughter and their other daughter can't even maintain her patience with them! No, I couldn't deal with that. I really want to shield them from the harsh realities of the world right now, even though I know that's impossible. I just want them to have a chance to heal in peace. Bless their hearts. I can't even imagine what they must be feeling. I just want to hold them in my arms and soothe them as much as I can.

    Thanks for asking, Nirvy. Hope things are going smoothly for you.
  • BrigidBrigid Veteran
    edited October 2007
    Thank you, Bushi. And I hope your sister gets well.
  • NirvanaNirvana aka BUBBA   `     `     ` `     ` Outa Range Fridays thru Sundays South Carolina, USA Veteran
    edited October 2007
    Clinging to others is better than most other sorts of clinging, I reckon. As long as we don't go too far, which thing I doubt you'd ever do, dear One.

    It's so hard for me when I have those rare times when I lose three or four beloved residents in the space of a few days, especially these days when some families want to do all the "grieving" stuff (wake and funeral) on the same morning and afternoon that I have to be at work. It's hard saying goodbye but even harder not being able to.

    I've yet to lose a sibling, but do think about it often, as I'm in geriatric nursing. I know one thing, though. It would hit me extremely hard in even the most benign of incidents. Pretty much a knock-out. They are the oldest and dearest of friends and are really more than even my very self.

    Call each other often. Stay in touch. And talk about stuff that most of us avoid.

    Be Good to yourself and the rest will follow, dear Brigid.
  • edited November 2007
    I am sorry that I have not been on the board for weeks and just today when you myspaced me did I know....

    My heart goes out to you and your family..........Bless your hearts......

    I agree with Fede......
    I think Fede said it very very well.......

    I'm going to pm you.........

    As always, you are in my thoughts and prayers
    Love you Boo.....

  • edited November 2007

    Have you seen this deer video? So cute!
  • not1not2not1not2 Veteran
    edited December 2007
    Wow, just came across this thread. I've popped in a few times, but managed to miss this one. I'm sorry to hear of your loss. I hope things are well with you and that perhaps you've learned a few things about your life, yourself, and your sister in this whole process.

    May you be well in this holiday season.

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