the things that matter; blessings and grief

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Life got a bit confusing for a while, and I needed to stop blogging while we sorted it out. I still wrote, but in a private journal. We’ve spent the winter planning our next move, now that my husband is working from home and we can live anywhere we want, as long as it’s in the northeast. It’s funny how something can sound so freeing yet still be so complicated. There were many factors to consider: homeschooling law and opportunities, tax implications, cost of living, access to nature, distance from NYC, Boston, and an airport. Then we realized the one thing that was non-negotiable and surprisingly challenging once we started looking to head into the more rural parts of New Hampshire: high speed internet. It’s not available everywhere, and we had to have it.

We considered moving to either New Jersey or Connecticut (the only two northeastern states besides Maine and New Hampshire that have a good homeschooling law), but ultimately I got cold feet. If we had to be there, I would have done it, but it seems a little silly to live in congested and expensive areas if you don’t really have to. We love Vermont and Maine of course will always be “home” to me (although Scott disagrees), but both states have high income tax rates and New Hampshire has none. Property taxes are higher in New Hampshire, something to consider if we want to buy a home, but they vary a great deal by town and are not too bad in some places. And Vermont also has an oppressive homeschooling law, sadly.

Then I decided I wanted to buy a house, that after five years of renting I was just done. Of course it was too late to make that decision, since we have to be out of our current rental this week and I only decided I wanted to buy in May. We’d been looking at homes for sale on and off all winter, but not seriously. Turns out the real estate market is a little crazy in New Hampshire right now, at least for moderately priced homes. And after a few hectic weeks of looking, I realized the time wasn’t right yet and that we needed to focus on finding a rental.

Rental homes aren’t so easy to find either, not with all the things we need. After a winter in an 1100 square foot beach home. homeschooling two boys and my husband’s office in our bedroom, our belongings in storage because there was nowhere to keep them here, I was ready for enough space. For once, I wanted a big enough house that we could all spread out and perhaps even entertain or have house guests. I love the idea of welcoming others into my home, and want my boys to feel free to have friends over, but as an introvert I get a little weird about my space. At this point in my life, I think it’s okay to acknowledge that and be grateful if I can have a big enough home to keep everyone happy. I’ve paid my dues in tiny homes.

It was getting a little tense for a while, trying to find the right spot. We could go to another state if we had to, but we didn’t want to. We were even starting to consider temporary options if the right place didn’t come through in time- I was also very afraid of making a mistake and spending a year waiting for something to change. I’ve lived like that too many times and I’m more careful now, about the choices we make. Life is short, and I want to feel good about where I am.

June was upon us, we had three weeks to find a place, and things were tense. Then I went in for a skin check at the dermatologist, knowing I should but hating to go. I started going to the dermatologist three years ago, and it’s not much fun. I am very fair (something I didn’t fully realize until I was older), grew up in Florida at a time when no one wore sunscreen, and have spent most of my adult life as a stay at home mom, able to be outside with my kids a lot. And I chose not to protect myself much as an adult, figuring it would be okay. I’m paying for that choice now. I regularly have to have precancerous spots (actinic keratoses) frozen on my face, and this visit I also had a biopsy for a spot that she thought might be a basal cell carcinoma.

I came home with my face a mess, feeling scared. Of course I googled basal cell carcinoma on face, and was horrified by the stories I read. It may not be life- threatening, but it’s not a pleasant thing to have done, and the healing process is lengthy. Summer was coming, we were going to be moving to a new community, and this was something that would be hard to deal with. And then I had to simply wait.

A week later, on the 9th of June, my mom tried to call me in the morning. I didn’t answer- I’m not much of a phone talker and my mom is too old to text, so I usually call her back when it is a convenient time for me. My husband called me around 11 am. He was in NYC, on his way home. He delivered some terrible news- my sister Esther was dead. This news wasn’t completely unexpected, as she had been ill for many years, and I knew that she probably wouldn’t live to a ripe old age. But I didn’t expect it to come so soon, and if I had known I would have tried to see her, or talk to her, to bridge the gap I put between us many years ago. I don’t know what I thought, that I had time? That somehow it would sort itself out? You just don’t know, until someone is gone.

I don’t have it in me to tell all the history, the long and complicated story of her life and why I chose not to be a part of it any more. I love her children like they are my own, and I am very sad about what was a tragic and premature end to a complicated and chaotic life (these are words I wrote to another sister in a text, and they sum up my feelings). I will share here what I wrote on Facebook when my niece sent me her obituary, because I am emotionally drained and it’s hard to write (or talk) about it.

My sister passed away last week (the date is a misprint). I hadn’t seen her for nine years, and that is something that I am going to have to live with. But she was my big sister and I loved her very much. My heart is broken and my grief, guilt, and sense of loss are profound. I am especially sad for my beloved niece and nephew, their children, and my mother. Death is so hard to comprehend.

She was good to me when I was young- as a child I was blessed to be mothered by my older sisters as well as my mom. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the love that she showed me, the music and books and ideas she introduced me to. She loved without reserve, and was unique in her kindness and generosity of spirit. I pray that her soul is at rest, in a place where there is no suffering.

And then life moved on, very quickly. We got some good (great) news, all in a row. A wonderful rental home, Scott landed some big jobs at work, and my biopsy was not cancer. I was still mired in grief, but our annual homeschool camping trip was happening and Nick had been looking forward to it for weeks. I had to go, put on a happy enough face and make the best of things. Here is what I wrote on Facebook when I came home from camping~

So I’ve been pretty cynical about social media lately, trying to minimize the role it plays in my life… But I just want to say that the condolences and expressions of sympathy over the recent loss of my sister have helped me a great deal as I’ve been grieving. I wouldn’t have had that support otherwise, and I appreciate it.
I was able to spend some time in the woods, taking Nick to our annual homeschool camping trip. Being in nature and catching up with some old friends has helped too. I’m very familiar with bringing life into the world and nurturing it, but coping with death is so much harder. Grief is a pain that takes your breath away, but also a reminder to live each moment fully and love each other while we have the chance.

It’s been a little over a week now, and the raw grief has become sadness, acceptance, and also something more that feels like it will mark a new chapter in my life. My sister’s death seems to have rubbed off my sharp edges, made me feel more compassionate, less judgmental. I feel softer somehow. I can be very insular when I choose to be, content with a small circle of people around me, reluctant to put myself out there or let too many people in. If I don’t feel the need to see someone, I won’t. And now I realize that isn’t always the best way to move through life, that maybe I need to be more willing to say yes to things, to see people and talk to them because you never know when it might be the last time you have the chance.

12 thoughts on “the things that matter; blessings and grief

  1. Miriam, I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your sister. You will be in my prayers as you grieve. We, too, have known grief this year after our niece passed away at three days old. It’s a very sad story that could have had a different ending, and our hearts still ache to have known her. I’m thankful your biopsy came back negative. I had basal cell carcinoma when I was 32. It was on my shoulder, where as a child I had second-degree burns from a babysitter forgetting to apply sunscreen. As always, thanks for sharing your heart.

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    • Thank you. And I’m sorry for your loss too- that must have been very sad. Babies are so precious, and we never want to think of anything going wrong when they come into the world. Yet they’re fragile, as we all are, I suppose.
      I’m relieved about my face- just having a bandaid on my face for a couple of days, as well as the more lengthy process of the frozen spots healing, made me very self-conscious and truthfully kind of depressed. We take things for granted, like our appearance, and it’s scary to think of how we would cope if something went wrong. I know most of the sun damage is already done for me, but I can at least try to protect my skin as best I can from now on. I’m glad that yours was caught and treated in a timely fashion- I know that type of skin cancer isn’t deadly but it can still spread and be disfiguring.
      Nice to hear from you 🙂 I hope life is going well with the new addition to the family. I bet you’re very busy!

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      • After commenting last night, I realized I may have already told you about my basal cell cancer in a past comment. If so, sorry about that! Also, I wanted to mention I’m reading a book you recommended on your blog a long time ago–The Highly Sensitive Person. I’m about halfway through–taking it slowly since there’s a lot to digest. The book has helped me reframe many past experiences and has helped me make wise decisions in the present. At least half of my children seem to be HSPs too, so it’s helping me as a parent. And yes, life is going well with the new baby! There’s never a dull moment, of course, but we feel incredibly blessed to have our four girls and two boys. Owen will likely have surgery later this summer, but we won’t know more until his CT scan next month.

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      • No worries! I vaguely remember you sharing something the last time I wrote about my experience at the dermatologist, but it was a few years ago and it was comforting to me this time to hear that someone else had been through it. Although I guess I don’t actually have to go through it- just in my mind I did 🙂
        Glad you’re reading the HSP book, and finding it helpful. It was a life changing thing for me, discovering that there was a term for people like me and that it was okay. I don’t think about it too much lately, just remember to be kind to myself when I seem to see and feel so much more than other people. I think of it as lacking a protective shield against the world- there is a lot out there that is hard to understand and hurtful. But there’s a lot of beauty too, and I like to think that I’m able to appreciate that more readily as well.
        I’ll be praying for your little one 🙂

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    • Thank you. We are moving in two days, and are really excited about it! It’s sort of a dream come true, being able to live in the area where we’re going. And it will be good to actually live there for a year before we buy and make it more permanent.

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  2. Miriam, I am so sad to hear of your sister’s passing. I know without a doubt you will see her again but I know you’ll miss her terribly in the meantime. I’m glad your biopsy wasn’t cancer. I’m glad you’re in a great rental and that your camping trip went well. I hope the rest of summer is relaxing and healing for you. 🌸

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    • Thank you. My sister had a deep faith, and I know that she was okay with dying- I suppose I am the one that struggles with my faith when someone I love dies.

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      • Understandable. If it weren’t for my beliefs and my faith, I know I’d feel lost in this world. It’s comforting to me to know who I am, why I’m here and where I’m going after this life. I hope you feel comfort and peace at this time.

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  3. This is a lot on your plate at one time. There’s an idea that the deaths of people we had complicated relationships with are harder to grieve. As opposed to “cleaner” deaths/grief. I’ve found this to be true in my own life. You go right on having a complicated relationship with the person even when they are dead. Relationships with sisters are loaded. We expect so much from each other and see ourselves mirrored in one another, for better and worse.

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    • Yeah, it is. We’re finishing up our move right now, mostly settled in, and I’m feeling wiped out but also excited for the future. Thank you for saying this, that it might be even harder to grieve someone that we had a complicated relationship with. I’ve felt this way from the moment I heard the news, that my grief was anything but simple. So many mixed up emotions- and honestly my first reaction when I got the news was “why is my family so messed up?”. Meaning my family of origin of course, and said with a wail through my tears.
      You understand that, and it’s nice to hear that someone else gets it.

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