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Saturday, September 18, 2010


In June, I found myself purchasing Debra Adelaide's "The Household Guide to Dying" while racing up and down aisles of foodstuffs to ensure my own sustainability. I wanted to read someone else's story. A work of fiction where no actual bodies lay in its wake.

In August, I rhythmically chopped piles of tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers into pot after pot of simmering, fragrant salsa.

I hadn't really had the stomach to cook salsa since that summer four years ago when I chopped and chopped to put a rhythmn to my bottomless grief, fear, and inadequacy.

The summer that Ken was dying.
The kitchen always smelled of salsa. I chopped up so many vegetables that summer, I thought we'd float away on taco chips. I canned and canned and chopped and chopped, and Ken just kept dying.

Other deaths came in the wake of his horrible departure; along with some life-threatening gashes and slashes of the internal, immeasurable variety. Still, minutes and hours, months and years have ambled by.

I'll be forty-three this November. The very too few number of years that my brother reached. I try to imagine what that might have felt like- to look at my own beautiful children and know that I'm not long for this world. I can't. It rips me up inside.

Still, he had no choice, and he had to go.

There's no way of knowing how much time we have left. There's no good reason to stop kissing your children at bedtime, laughing at their jokes, studying their artwork. Fighting with them, pursuing them, praying over them. I wish Ken could come back and do those things for another fifty years.

I've been thinking about turning forty-three since my brother's sudden decline into death at that age. I hope this year will be a shifting one for me. A year of resolution, of moving purposely forward. I hope my disappointments, griefs, and fears will be the very things that offer healing and health instead of harsh, dead living. I hope I can put to death some of the shadows that hang on the cuffs of my jeans- dragging me down and rendering me ineffective. I hope I keep myself company instead of busying myself into distraction from my own internal racket. I hope I have the guts to stare my fears in the eye- with compassion and understanding.

I trust I'll be surrounded by wisdom.
I trust I'll surround myself with wisdom.

And if I'm extra brave, I'll ask you to come along and keep me company in this, my (almost)forty-fourth year.

When Ken was 43, he was really proud of his backyard tomatoes. His family would bring them in to the hospital to show him how beautifully they were ripening, and then they'd be shared with his favourite nurses. I always think of Ken when my tomatoes begin to turn gloriously red. I think of his amused, lop-sided grin. The way he laughed, his cynical sense of humour, and the beautiful life he carved out for himself. I think of where he came from, how he blossomed, and where he might have been headed.

And this year, until the next August's red tomatoes, I'll hold all those thoughts a little tighter to my heart.

(sorry, Ken. You shouldn't have died.)


christine said...

you are right. ken shouldn't have died.
i'm glad you write about him.

Anonymous said... hard to lose people you love...L-lew

Anonymous said...

That's beautiful. Thanks Joyce. Kathy

Robin said...

This must have been difficult to write. I hope that it helped to put the words on paper.... to just let some of that pain out. It doesn't help keeping it locked up tight to the vest. Letting go has to be one of the hardest things ever. My heart feels for you in this.

janice said...

I am sorry you lost your brother and I am sorry he lost his life. What a beautiful tribute. You are a talented writer, as well as a compassionate person. Your trust is bringing you wisdom.

tanya said...

oh, to have some magical words to make you feel all better...

Mary K. said...

Just the other day I looked at my album of "that summer". Tucked in behind some pics were pics that still haunt me. ...I also cannot bring myself to take the pics off my wall of his girls that I received that summer, of him with all of us siblings surrounding his wheelchair, and of him looking at pics of his girls. I can still hear him say with pride... "Those are MY girls." And Nurse Norma -- "No-Nonsense Norma" as he named her. Memories of pain, warmth, love, separation, angst, fear, trust.... thanx Joyce -- beautiful words. And as for your resolve --- you go girl! Love you, Mary

jenn said...

I have no words to offer.
Very sad.

Karla said...

You continue to honor Ken's memory with your words. I love the pictures you showed me of all of your siblings and parents surrounding Ken in those last days. He sure knew he was loved, didn't he? But that painful scar goes so deep, doesn't it? Love and peace to you tonight and every night - as usual.

Roo said...