Flea Sisters to the Rescue!

There we are, my sister Flea and me. She looks like an earthy, Italian actress and I look like a runaway from the Grace Kelly School of Making Nice.

She is two years younger than me and throughout our lives we have struggled with sibling rivalry and the usual assortment of crap that comes with every dysfunctional family. (As if there were any "normal" families.)

As adults we have grown closer. In fact, I even made the two of us main characters in Sophie's Last Stand, a novel I set in New Bern. I call her Darlene in the book, make her a little bit goofier than she really is but kept her insight and wisdom true to life.

I only thought we were close a year ago.

That was when we found out Dad had Pulmonary Fibrosis and would probably die within two years. Sibling rivalry and stale family baggage is no match for death- especially when the person dying was our beloved father, the hero of our lives.

During the last few months of our journey with Dad, the hospice nurse coined the nickname we still use. We are The Flea Sisters- You can swat at us, cuss us and scratch all you want but you just can't get rid of us. We hung in with him right up until the end of the ride and then...we were lost.

I waited until I'd been back home almost two weeks before I called her for the first time since the funeral. That's when she told me that our adrenaline rush of coping skills was gone now and we were entering into hard grief. That's why I'd been bursting into tears at odd moments, picking fights, feeling put-upon and generally losing my mind.

Just talking to my sister made me feel better. We were sharing the same load again. We were Fleas and we could take anything...even Dad's death.

Of course, I didn't call back for another two weeks, almost three. I'm just so damned phone-avoidant. Actually, I didn't want to talk about it. Talking about it is somehow different than writing about it...Talking is less predictable. You never know where you'll wind up when you're in a conversation. You might talk about things that unexpectedly make you cry.

But my eternally wise friend, Kim, was on to me...

"Your sister and you have a lot of work to do with the new definition of your relationship. Don't let your sense of loss and distance manifest into something you cannot repair. It is hard to redefine what you are when you are in the midst of change, but you need to address it (change) and set the rules up right from the start. What the hell am I talking about? Well, I'm saying that you already know you have the propensity to go long stretches without contact. It's likely your sister has that too. If you don't set the paramaters for conversational stretches now, it can become all too easy to lose each other, and that would be such a shame. Grief this profound can turn a heart hard by nature, because hardening is the easiest way to block pain. You two need to wallow in it together and keep that softness between you. I'm no authority, but I've seen it happen too many times."

I promised Kim I wouldn't let this happen to us Fleas and I would report in when I reached her. I am so glad I called.

Of course, she was at work and I had to leave a message. When she called me back I was writing the blog about the Oldest Unnamed One turning 18, so I was already blubbering. She said, "I can make it through the week, but I'm a basket case on the weekends. And last weekend Mom rode me about making copies of the funeral CDs."

"Did you listen to it?" I asked...another "Is this normal?" check-in. I made a copy of the CD and I so far, haven't been able to even entertain the idea of listening to it.

"What, are you kidding? No! I just heard the organ start up for the opening hymn and I was crying. I'm not gonna listen to it, not now."

Then she said, "I feel him around me...At least I think I do. I mean, I see him acting in my life and I talk to him all the time." She paused for a second and I wondered if she was crying. "I have to believe he's there," she said softly. "I couldn't take the alternative. He can't just be gone."

I feel my throat tighten up and my eyes are burning. Where are you, Dad? I know the answer is supposed to be "I'm everywhere," but I don't feel it. Maybe it's just that his absence is so large in my life. Maybe I can't feel the shadow of him. Maybe the bleed-through from the other side isn't enough to even hit the bottom of the well that is my missing him.

I tell her of course he's there. But then I tell her my truth, that I can't feel him very well. And we both deny that he isn't there. "Even if he's still looking around," I say. "He's checking in now and then. He'll be back."

But I am not doing so well at believing this.

So I talk about Thanksgiving. I am dreading Thanksgiving but I don't tell her. Instead I invite her to come up for Thanksgiving- after she's had dinner with Mom. "You could spend the weekend," I add.

The relief in her voice is palpable. "Oh, really? Oh, Flea, that would be great! I didn't know what I was gonna do!"

She says she will farm out "Horrible Hanna," (her new nickname for her daughter A.K.A The Black Angel of Death (See Sept. 21st blog entry) to her father for the weekend and really get away from everything.

We will pile up on my couch with a thousand happily-ever-after movies like "Little Miss Sunshine." I will even endure "The Lake House" because she says I really need to see it.

We will have a Slug Fest- we will lie around like slugs not feeling pressured to go out and shop with the masses because, hell, we are flat broke these days. We won't have to apologize for it, either, or explain how we feel. We can just be.

We will wear matching T-shirts I intend to get for us. "Today's not your day and tomorrow's not looking so good either!" I'm going to Costco to see if they still have those electric blanket-like throws so we can have matching heating pads and feel even more cozy in our Slugdom.

We will be doing exactly what Dad would want us to do. We will be starting a new tradition and honoring the old ones.

But best of all, we will be thick as fleas.


Kim said...

I'm giggling now you know. Whether you're aware of it or not, your dad had everything in the world for what happened here. This is his hand Nancy, and you will see that soon enough. Big hugs my friend, to all three of you.

candy said...

Ha ha. Thanks for the compliment! It means a lot coming from such a great writer. :)

ALI said...

sorry for the loss of your dad. found you through the randomizer and really loved your blog, i'll be back!i'm posting my NoBlo posts at http://rnmom.spaces.live.com
not the blogger acct this is linked to.

Christina said...

it sounds like a perfect way to get through the holidays -- wouldn't it be nice if you two could just snuggle up on the couch until after New Year's? I'd do an ice cream run for you every one in a while, come over and flip you from time to time so your backsides don't get super flat.

I don't feel my grandfather around any more. About a month after he died, my son saw him hanging around on the dining room ceiling (talk about goosebumps, we were in DUBAI, for cying out loud, and hadn't talked about the loss of my grandfather in front of the kid, ever. But there's the little guy, two years old, staring at the ceiling. "What you lookin at, Boo?" I say. "Gate Dampa," he says. "Oh. Is he ok? Is he sad?" And my kid just shakes his head and says, "No, he's happy, he gets to be a little boy again."

I miss him like crazy, that granddad of mine. But whether he's here or just gone... I know his love is still with me, and his memories are a warm arm across my shoulder when I need it most.