Saturday, February 9, 2013

For My Big Sister

View from Sarah's cabin
So hard to blog after all that’s happened.

Young professional - 1960s
She died January 4th. Sometime between 8 and 8:15 AM - I never asked what time they called it. I’d taken time that morning to have the car seen to – the “Srvc Req” light came on back on Dec. 30 while passing through Barstow.

It was a 3-day trip from Houston to Santa Rosa, CA. I arrived close to noon on New Year’s Eve. She was asleep in her wheelchair when I first peered into her room. Bent over, a crocheted cap protecting a chemo-balding head, she looked startlingly aged and gaunt. It took me several minutes to wrap around this image before greeting her. True, she’d weathered 28 years of rugged mountain life, but she’d always been so strong  and ageless, even after the first two surgeries. This was surgery #3 and she was rehabbing in a nursing home.
The lung tumors were causing extreme shortness of breath. She was weak, couldn’t get comfortable, and spoke in a pant. Nevertheless we had 3 full days together, including her birthday Jan. 3, before the nurse called me that morning at the garage saying she was unresponsive and to please hurry. I didn’t make it.

Rights activist - 1970s

Back home I continue to sort through the history brought back from her cabin: research papers from grad school (she earned a Masters in Social Work) and ensuing professional life, clever children’s stories based on our childhood in the ‘40s,  and many rough-draft letters written to family and friends over the years. There were meticulously kept record books from two decades plus of minding grounds, crew, and equipment of the vineyard where she lived. And there were many precious pictures documenting her days from infancy through activist phase to young motherhood and up to the mountains of Sonoma County – the place of her soul.
Nothing will ever fill the gap rent in my own soul: those hours-long phone calls, letters that could run to 10 pages, emails with enough paragraphs to crash her Mac. She was so wise, so natural. A mentor and a cheerleader. A thinker, philosopher, great friend and neighbor. Most of all she was the big sister I idolized and envied growing up. And I miss her.

Mountain woman, April 2012