Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Sister's Heartbreak

A few weeks ago I received a phone call in the middle of the night from my sister. Through giant sobs she managed to say, "...he didn't make it... I can't believe I lost my husband... I love him so much..." I sat in disbelief as I listened to her try to explain. My heart broke for her. She asked me to call our father and brother and give them the news. I could barely compose myself, but somehow I managed to pull myself together and do what she asked. I woke my husband to tell him what had happened. He comforted me until I convinced him to go back to bed. Then I spent the rest of the night watching him sleep. As I write this, my tears simply will not stop falling. I will hear the pain in my sister's voice for as long as I live.

My brother in law was only 47. He had a history of heart problems, but it wasn't his heart that had failed. We believe it was an aneurysm. An autopsy wasn't performed because he was a donor. He saved a few lives that night. He and my beautiful sister have a 10 year old son.

I flew up to be with my sister on the first flight I could get. When I walked into the house and saw her as she turned the corner into the front hall, no words were necessary. Her eyes said it all. I put my arms around her and held her for what seemed like an hour. Her body felt small and fragile as it heaved with sobs. The grief was too heavy for her. I took some of that grief and cried for her, for him, for their son, until she finally found her breath. Some hours later my brother arrived, and the three of us were together for the first time in a few years. We had planned to do something in the summer. This was not what we had in mind.

By the time I reached 28 years of age, my sister and I had already lost the most important women in our lives. Our female mentors, our mother, my godmother and our great aunt, and both grandmothers had been our guides through the feminine labyrinth that life places before all women. I called upon the strength of those wise women for the sake of my sister, for myself. I had never needed it more.

Night time was horrid. She would cover herself in his coat and try to sleep. Every hour or so I would hear her cry and I would just hold her or take her hand. This went on for days. I couldn't leave her side. Wherever she went I would follow her like a shadow and make sure I was there to hold her up or shoo people away. When I would feel inadequate, it was my 10 year old nephew who held his mother up with the strength of Theseus. Her pain was his boulder to lift. My little hero.

There was no funeral for my brother in law. Instead, my sister chose to have a Celebration of Life party. I'm so glad she did. It was beautiful. When we walked in we were greeted with the most unexpected surprise - EVER. A group of women stood at the entrance. I looked at their faces and could not believe my eyes. We had grown up in a small Connecticut town on a street with kids who were our playmates and dear friends. I hadn't seen them in years. And there they were, all grown up, waiting to share this moment with us. I was at a loss for words.

After a loving goodbye to my brother in law, we went back to the house. All of our dear friends and relatives joined us and we spent the evening telling stories and filling the house with laughter and tears. My cousin and I slipped out to get some much needed tequila, cause we're cool like that. We toasted to the memory of the man who gave my sister love, happiness and a beautiful son. I looked around me and realized that surrounding my sister was an entire generation of women. Our cousins, friends and sister in law stood with me and enveloped her with the love and strength of all of the women who came before us. In my mind I saw my mother give a loving nod and a smile. I realized at that moment that she would make it through this.

That same week there was a storm in the North East that left entire towns under water. Just about everyone we knew had damage. My sister's basement flooded and we spent two days bailing out water. It wasn't what I had in mind, but at least it was a distraction.

I decided to stay with my sister as long as I could and help her through dreaded quiet that would descend upon her life after everyone else went home. Her bedroom transformed from a place of subtle romance to a dark and dreary cave. She decided to change everything from the curtains and bed sheets to the arrangement of the furniture. We shopped, had lunch in odd places, bonded over silliness. Her darkness was lifting enough that she decided to go back to work. I stopped by with one of my cousins to give her some support while well meaning clients gave her their sympathies. It was tough, but she made it through her first day back, and through the devastating news that Ricky Martin came out in public as a gay man.

As much as I wanted to stay with her, I decided it was time for me to go home. Leaving her was heart wrenching. I'm grateful to the friend who accompanied her home from the airport.

Because of his heart condition, my brother in law was not able to get medical insurance. And now the hospital bills are arriving. Now my sister is left with one income, a son, a mortgage and thousands of dollars in medical bills. I have decided to help her by putting on a benefit. For the first time in my life as a performer I will use my voice to help my sister. She has only asked me for one thing: to record her favorite song for her. I wasn't sure how I was going to do it. Then a few days ago I met with a wonderful pianist who has agreed to help me with this project. It may seem like a simple thing to him, but I don't think I'll ever be able to express to him how much his generosity means to me.

Today my sister told me that she felt more positive about life. Because of his condition, they always knew they were living on borrowed time, and they lived every day as if it were the last. As much as she misses her husband, she is grateful for the time she had with him. I don't think I can ask for more than that.


  1. I'm in tears.. U did great.. And I'm glad ur sister has u in her life..many blessings to u my sweetie!

  2. Aw Katie - thank you - no tears sweets. She'll be fine. Lots of hugs for you!

  3. I am so glad that your sister has you, my sister, for a sister.

    Love you to pieces!

  4. Thank you, AJ, my sister. I love you, too!

  5. Well written, Wongo. I'm glad you could be there for your sister.

    As I've known for a while (since I started following you on twitter) you are a very big-hearted person. You did the best thing you could ever do for your sister by being by her side.

    As I said before, if there's any way I can help with the benefit, please let me know. Art, design, brain-storming.... just holler.

    We love ya.


  6. Thank you so much Dave. I really appreciate that. I love you guys, too.