My Sister

It’s one month past the year mark of my sister, Kathy’s passing.

Kathryn Jane O’Brien, November 17, 1955 -December 19, 2018.

Over the past several years, I have witnessed my sister, Kathryn, up close as she continued her battle with cancer.  I have seen the qualities of courage, strength and love personified through her.  Love being the constant force.

Selfishly, I did not want her to leave.  Finally, with love, I coached her to leave.  As did other siblings.  She fought the long hard fight with great dignity and respect for herself and others.

Once she committed to Hospice care, her capabilities decreased rapidly.  Over the past few years, she had been managing increasing pain, wearing a compression sleeve for the lymphedema in her right arm, having her lungs drained weekly, thoracentesis.  Her open wound had to be cleaned and bandaged daily.  She hardly complained.

A month before she engaged hospice care, she emailed me in the morning to say that she was a “shipwreck.”  I told her “I’m coming down.”  We spent that afternoon together and a few hours the next day.  For the moment, she had regrouped and was going to go continue the fight for her life.

Then, three weeks later, she was done.  She called our other sister who lived nearby, Susan.  Susan cleared out a room for Kathy in her home.  A hospital bed was delivered.

Bandages, swathing, wrapping, weaving
what battle has she returned from, has she?
The wasteland of her body resounding
reflections of an earth in jeopardy.

How does she heal what seems like a riddle?
Which rhyme does she summon, where lies the key?
In such a haystack, is there a needle?
How does she unwind this tangle, does she?

Is there an apology forthcoming?
or a salve of forgiveness to be applied?
Questions in midair, balance beam teetering
spanning a chasm that seems far and wide.

What falling before this Phoenix rises?
resurrection modeled in each sunrise.

 

 

 

“Truth”

I live in the mountains of northern California.  In early 2018, my sister, Kathy, moved one hour south of me at at a lower elevation.  Prior to moving, Kathy had fought cancer for several years.  She followed her own instincts in treating it.  In January, 2018, she opted for chemotherapy.

Following is an excerpt from my journal at this time.

Angels meet and greet.  Glances exchanged, hearts engaged, hands touch–sisters–when the end is near, the truth becomes clearer.  I couldn’t drive her to her first chemo appointment.  It was yesterday.  It was rescheduled from last week.  Last week, I had a good excuse–a big snowstorm.  My sister, lymphedema in her right arm–swollen beyond recognition.  A warrioress with literal wounds.  A bandage is swathed under her arm and across her chest.  This wound that hasn’t healed–the bandages need to be changed daily.

My word today is truth.  Her word is courage.

I told her that I couldn’t drive her because I couldn’t sit there beside her in the hospital as she underwent this intravenous process.  I wouldn’t have been the best support.  She thanked me for telling her my truth.  If we can’t be straight with one another now, when?

She got her hair cut short.  She asked me to knit her a hat, which I began working on immediately.  I painted her a picture of a woman surrounded by butterflies.  I think that she’s going to make it.  We need optimism.  Truth is, I don’t know very much.  The mystery is here, is in us, is around us, is us.  Nature helps.  I send her daily photos of the nature where I live to calm and center her.  To support her with beauty.

Truth is, some days I think that she’s doing better than me.  Truth is, love is a strange animal–she is always showing up at odd times, giving us opportunities.

Like that night I sat on a log beside my driveway, stargazing.  It was so peaceful, I shut my eyes.  A visiting cat sat beside me.  Out of the shrubbery beside me, a rustle. Opening my eyes, I see a creature emerging.  I can’t name it immediately.  And then,
Skunk.  A few feet apart, we stare at one another.  Neither of us felt threatened.  I watched him waddle away.  Truth is, it felt like love.  Does recognition equal love?

Truth as an expression of love.  I love you enough to tell you the truth.  Is there something that stands in the way of truth?  At least, I can try telling it to myself.  When my parents were in their declining years and the family was in chaos, I began a poem with this line:

“Truth lies in a shallow grave
while perspectives hang out everywhere…”

transformation.

 

In the New Year

2020 feels auspicious.  In the mountains, we are expecting snow and rain, that wintry mix.  I am appreciating winter for a good winter promises an abundant spring.  These days, I am also grateful for the inward time that winter proffers.  Did I use that word correctly?

A little poem, a couplet, that I came across in one of my journals:

A bed of earth below which lays
a startle of forceful green relays
the message that beneath tamped earth
there is the promise of rebirth.

 

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I’ve been painting again.  I wasn’t painting for awhile.  I’ve been grieving three intimate losses in a ten month period.  You might know that grief is it’s own country.  When you go there, everyday life takes on a different sheen.

Anyway, this painting began with a large sheet of watercolor paper (18″ x 24″).  I wrote down my feelings about grief.  Then, surprisingly, emerging from this came my version of “Puss n’ Boots.”  See below.

Blessings to everyone as we go forth.

pussn'boots3

What is your stance on the gender binary?

“Gender Binary is the classification of gender into two distinct, opposite and disconnected forms of masculine and feminine, whether by social system or cultural belief.” (Wikipedia)

That is women’s roles versus men’s roles in society…as in, are the differentiated roles necessary, a natural progression?

Response:  Being female,  I experience my inner masculine when I exhibit action in the world.  Action being considered a masculine quality.  And a male friend has shown his feminine side when, as a caregiver, he nurtures his elderly clients.  Nurturing is viewed as a feminine quality.  So, we have within us attributes of either gender.  And, we express in the world as male or female primarily.

It is obvious to many that a woman’s biology determines certain things.  Even if we could grow a baby fully in a scientific test tube, the advantages to this would be none in my opinion.  It’s not a matter of eradicating what a woman’s biology intends for her.  It’s a matter of recognizing and embracing the value of what women innately offer to humanity.    Regarding men, what is primarily their terrain by virtue of being born male?  How does any culture value their innate qualities?  And, as women step more into their feminine power, how does this affect the dominant male in society?

Whenever we try to separate out this from that, masculine from feminine, we miss the overlap.  Whenever we try to define one gender as better than the other or in opposition to the other, we miss the point.  Basically, we are interdependent and we won’t experience our wholeness unless we allow both the masculine and feminine (within and without) the dignity that it deserves.

My question is why do we make what is obvious, complex?

There was a time of goddess cultures and matriarchies (the story goes) where women’s wisdom ruled.  I can only imagine what that was like.  Or what the masculine role was within that society.  Or how and why it was overthrown.  It is obvious that some balance needs to return to our planet.  If that means bringing in more of what is innately feminine, then we’re overdue to get with that program.  In these times, all voices–masculine and feminine–need to come to the table and be heard and respected.

Feminist Slogans…a few

An individual woman is going to have her personal interface with the feminist experience.  Continuing with the theme of Feminism…my granddaughter asked me:

“What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the advancement of women’s rights?”‘

These too familiar slogans came to mind:

burn the bra
free love
Equal Pay for Equal Work
Different but Equal

Women wanted equal opportunity for advancement on the job.  In the early 70’s, I worked in a corporate setting in a personnel office.  The male establishment often brought up the oppositional point that a woman would likely get married, then pregnant and leave her job and fall back on her husband for financial support.  They perceived this as some sort of logical reason not to advance a woman on the job.  That said, for many years now, the necessity of a two-income household is without question in order  to afford a certain lifestyle.

I lived in San Francisco at this time.  My ex-husband was in the fire department.  Women were fighting for the right to be firefighters.  There had been height, weight and physical agility requirements.  Most women and men of lesser build couldn’t meet these prerequisites. The requirements were modified to allow women in the department.  They still had to meet certain requirements, but these alterations in the standard entry test opened the door to women.  Whether or not they were capable of doing the job was going to be tested on-the-job.

The sexual harassment laws have been evolving since the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission began defining what that meant in the 1960’s.  It seems to be taking awhile for the male population to take this seriously.

There is the ongoing question around a woman’s right to make decisions about her body.  It seems that with each change of administration, the abortion laws come up for question and review.

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Women come of age at different times.  In our own individual lives as women, it seems to be part of our growth to recognize when we are disrespected, mistreated, devalued. We come to understand that we must first respect and value ourselves.  With the strides forward of the individual woman, the macroscm is affected.  How we esteem ourselves teaches others how we expect to be treated.  No small task.  Lots to undo.

Do You Consider Yourself a Feminist?

Sorting through my many files of writing–with the intention of shredding some of it, I came across a questionnaire from my college-age granddaughter…she was writing a paper about my generation of women.

The first question was “Do you consider yourself a feminist?”  As I rewrite this question here, I wonder if the concept of feminist even exists in other cultures.  I’d like to know.  Or does it belong to a time and era, culture and country, localized?

Regardless, it’s food for thought.  Once I answered, yes, I consider myself a feminist, the question arose…How do you define feminism?  I pose that same question to you, the reader.

One dictionary definition of feminism is:  “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities…” A second definition:  ” Organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests.”

Then I elaborate.  I think that it’s important to realize that in 1787 when the US Constitution was ratified, where it says that “all men are created equal” it refers to educated white males.  Though women in this country were granted the right to vote as of August 18, 1920, the mentality that classed women as property and inferior to men exists to this day.  Within the mindsets of both women and men, women continue to have less status than men in this country–and throughout most of the civilized and third world countries.  Is it changing?

We hear examples of this inequality around the world daily.  Though it is less explicit in this country, wherever women are objectified–popular men’s magazines (like Playboy), sitcoms and movies that portray women as “dumb,” crimes against women that aren’t effectively addressed, the lack of education that would enhance women’s self-esteem and re-educating men to foster respect for the contributions of womankind, up close and personal and globally–the very roots of change that are being undermined today contribute to this inequality.

Truly, the personal is political.  One thought that I would add in defining feminism is this:  Women do have gender-specific abilities, responsibilities, qualities that men obviously don’t have.  One cannot command respect.  That said, a reframing of the intrinsic value of women’s work both to a household and its benefits to a society should not go unrecognized and unappreciated.  That the tasks that are particular to her gender, specifically, childbearing, nurturing, intuiting, nourishing and any other innately feminine traits be honored as worthy and equal to any work that a man does out in the world  boosts esteem.  Different but equal was a phrase commonly used in the sixties when women were burning their bras.  I don’t think that what that statement means is reflected in our policies yet today.

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Are you a feminist?
How do you define feminism?
A good discussion topic with your friends?

In the groove

When you write regularly, you can write regularly.  When there are stops and starts between your writing, whether poetry or prose, the flow is interrupted.  Working with the poet/teacher Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge over a period of several days, the poetry kept coming.  Writing (and reading) this poem, I enter the surreal world that poetry can create without making excuses for itself.

Ocean Eyes
©by Christine O’Brien

I have ocean eyes
roving, moving
looking for home
cathedrals in Toledo Spain
cafes that stay open all night
laughing voices
lifting on warm breezes.
Whose experience can I engage
to make a better-seeming life?
Is it best to go North
is truth to be found there?
Or to the center?
Every day, I fall into
some rabbit hole
and a greedy fear seizes me.
I reside here so often,
it feels like a second home.

Tonight, at 7:30 p.m. precisely,
I put on my pajamas
entered the cave
and danced ecstatically,
among the stalactites.
They’ve discovered gold in Spain
let’s join the rush
pack up our stereos, leave the car keys
and go!
Don’t break the mirrors on your way out
or do break them.

I’m late again.  When I arrive,
the gold is all gone
or was it only a hoax,
something concocted by those
crazy, grazing cows on the side of the road
late last night
grazing right into my dreams
their big cow heads
shoving down between
blades of sleep,
I patted them
and felt their spindly
slobber on my bare breast.

Rain fell like ocean spray
and I entered through
this center of gravity
again too late to reap the reward.
The prize eternally moving,
just out of reach.
It’s the journey, not the prize
that matters
the white rabbit bellows
and I tweak his whiskers for being
such a smart ass.
My house is portable
My home is me
Oh woman of the Moon
on the move.

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I realize that a surreal poem is not unlike an abstract painting.  Go for it!