Dear Mary Jane,
I have started this letter four times. Each one has ended up in the trash. After your death, I read an article describing the therapeutic value of writing letters to those you are missing. I have found writing to be therapeutic in the past and since you are part of the reason I started this blog, I feel I owe you an update.
It has been three years since I promised you I would write. Three years since we sat holding hands, listening to Handel’s Messiah on the radio in your Hospice room. Three years since I had to call the other sisters at 2:30 AM to tell them you were gone.
It took me almost two years to realize I had to stop cultivating my relationship with grief. I was not aware of the depth of this relationship and its impact on my routines until the morning in March 2013 when I noticed how much I missed singing. I wasn’t singing because I had stopped listening to music. The recognition hit me like a bolt of lightening, shocking me out of my stupor. No music. No singing. Nothing which would elicit an emotional response for which I was not prepared. Sure, I cried and laughed, felt pain and happiness. But I had convinced myself I could control when and how deeply I felt these emotions. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this was to avoid music, the one outlet I always relied on to process and express emotions.
Of course this approach did not work. All it did was delay the inevitable meltdown. So there I sat last March, heaving wracking sobs, knowing I needed to change my tactic. Running from emotions, denying myself the gift of melody and song was not helping me. Ignoring the hurt didn’t allow me to break out of grief. And I wanted to live, not continue to mope.
I started to journal again, not every day but it was a start. I was just getting into the swing of things when I was hospitalized. My near death experience which afforded me a brief visit with you, ignited a spark within me. I left the hospital knowing I had been given a second chance, knowing you were expecting me to do something with it, knowing I couldn’t continue to waste time.
I remembered my promise to you, and started to research writing courses. Could I do it? Could I really be a writer? Was writing my purpose? How would I know? Doubt plagued me. Fear paralyzed me.
Then I thought about your strength and determination. You never stopped living even when faced with a death sentence due to cancer. You traveled, maintained your daily exercise routine and continued to make music with the community choir and orchestra. It was time for me to take action just as you had. The memoir writing class, the photojournalism class, the blogging challenges – all have helped me make progress in keeping my promise to you.
I am no longer paralyzed with fear. I don’t have all the answers, and remain doubtful about many things. But I do know I am indeed a writer. I have been writing over 500 words each day for more than 100 days. Next year after my trip to Australia I will fulfill my promise to you and start the book. While writing may not be my pupose, it excites me and makes me feel connected to others.
Two months before your death, you told me how much you enjoyed your involvement with the community choir and how you planned to sing with them as long as you were able. Your simple reason has remained with me:
“After all, it’s hard to be sad when you’re singing.”
Mary Jane – I’m singing again. All the time – just as I used to. In the car, in my office, walking down the street – everywhere. Although the music sometimes makes me cry and fills me with sadness, I promise to never stop singing again. Singing doesn’t take away the pain of missing you. It doesn’t keep the tears from falling. But it connects me to you and reminds me how important it is to remain among the living, celebrating life while I can.
Three years ago, the last song I sang to you at your bedside was “Beautiful World (We’re All Here)” by Jim Brickman. I still cry when I sing it, but not tears of grief and loss. Instead, I cry tears of gratitude – thankful for the second chance I have been given. I promise to continue to make the most of this opportunity, to continue to seek my purpose. I will do my best to capture your story and your spirit in words.
Thank you for continuing to be my inspiration. I always wanted to grow up to be like my big sister Mary Jane, and I still think that is a good goal. I miss you but I know your spirit is here with us when we gather as sisters. I will keep writing, keep singing, keep telling our story.
I love you.