Sunday, November 3, 2013

A letter to Joan sent in October 2012

October 8, 2012

To my dearest sister, Joan,

The letter you sent will be a treasure to me forever. Now I’m writing one to you in answer to a question you asked me on the phone.

You asked, “Are you okay?” (Always thinking of the other person, just one of the many reasons I love you so much.)

I answered that I was fine and believed I was telling the truth. But maybe it wasn’t a complete answer. I tried to explain, but since I am not that in touch with my feelings, I didn’t do a great job.

I think we were talking about your cancer. Am I okay with that? Absolutely not!! I consider it an enemy with no right whatsoever to invade your body. And I refuse to yield to it — as if that were a choice I have. I realize it’s not, but I can and do stubbornly refuse to accept that the cancer will win.

But there is something else deep inside me that I choose to ignore. (like I said in the hospital, “I’m hanging on to my denial.”) That something is fear. Fear, not so much that you will die, but that I won’t have done all the fun things, said all the important things, asked the right questions—the ones I’ll think of later when it’s too late to ask them—fear that I won’t have spent the most important and precious moments with you, intimately sharing life, love, laughter—and maybe even some honest grief with you before you die.

Work and other distractions pile up and beneath it all is the anxious feeling that time is not waiting for me to get around to doing what I want to do, which is to be with you and share with you the things we love: Books, writing, words, the outdoors, nature, seeing new parts of the world and the people we want to meet, and doing it together. Sharing thoughts, ideas, and ideals with you. Gleaning more of your wisdom.

Am I okay? I’ll be far more okay when the cancer is gone. …

We will die. We won’t always have a chance to enjoy the things we love to share, which may be no more than each other’s presence. And when one of us dies, we’ll find a way to be okay with that, too. Don’t worry about me. I am okay with my love and longing to be with you. This is how love works, and I love you and will love you forever. I’ll never have any regrets about that.

With Love Always

Almost a year after receiving that letter from me, my sister died—in spite of my hard-held denial. Wanting so badly to beat it and see her well and robust again just wasn’t enough to save her. And so, in truth, I do have regrets. I regret time I didn’t spend with her. I regret that we didn’t get to do more of the fun things we both enjoy. I regret that I didn’t say enough, ask enough, or honestly share my true feelings and thus allow her to do the same. Oh, we talked a lot, but one never thinks to ask the important questions, to convey the critical sentiments. Stubborn denial was a hindrance to my ability to do that.

But there is so much more that I am thankful for. I’m thankful for all the time we did spend together. I’m thankful for the many interests we shared, and for all the conversations we had, both by phone and in person. I am thankful for all the years she loved me and guided me with her example. I am thankful that she wrapped me into the folds of family love, bringing me closer to all of my Colorado family.
Celebrating Joan's 78th birthday, November 2012 

I am thankful that she no longer suffers the horrible pain and illness and sorrow that she endured for so many years since the day the doctors pronounced, “You have lung cancer.”

I have no regrets that I loved her so much that I miss her each day and moment. That is how love works. I will love her forever with no regrets about that.

To answer the age-old question, Is it better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all? Of course it is. For what she gave me will never be lost although she is gone from my sight.

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