I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Life cycle musings

Deception Pass bridge in the rain
You might almost think this picture was taken in black and white, it's so colorless. That was our view of the bridge last Thursday during our Senior Trailblazer hike. We also didn't spend as much time as usual walking along the beach, because the tide was at its highest level for the day. Plus it was just plain wet and we were ready to get out of the elements. Still, I enjoyed the day for many reasons, not the least of which was because of the fine companions who joined me. We always hope for the best but go out anyway. I'll miss next week's hike because I'll be in Florida.

I've been thinking about the cycles of life, ever since I learned that last Friday begins the Chinese New Year, this one with the same animal that was in the sky when I was born: the Horse. I also learned, for the first time, that each animal is also associated with one of five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water). I was born during a Water Horse year. I found this interesting article on Wikipedia that contains a chart comparing the sixty-year cycle of the Chinese lunar years for 1924–2043 to find out what occurred in my life during previous Horse years.

The first really interesting thing that stands out to me is that when I was almost sixty, in a Water Horse year, my son Chris died. That was an event that changed the trajectory of my life quite dramatically. Suddenly I was no longer a mother of any living children, and I remember the sense of loss that permeated my days during that time. Grief, like any other part of life, is strongest at first and gradually begins to release its grip as other aspects of life take over. It's been long enough now to look back at his life with love and appreciation for the years we did have together, rather than at a deep wound that hurts to touch. I notice that I can look at pictures of him and remember times we shared without pain, and I marvel that I didn't even realize it until one day when I was smiling at a picture of us together.

The last Wood Horse year was 1954, which was when I was a young girl entering puberty. I discovered boys around that time. The next twelve-year cycle was Fire Horse in 1966, which was a very memorable year in the United States: among other events, Medicare was begun and the first Star Trek episode was released (and I'm still a fan). Now I am a Medicare recipient. Not much happened to me that I remember during the Earth Horse year in 1978. Both of my parents were still alive, and I had discovered the joys of outdoor exercise. I lived in Boulder then and had started running and climbing mountains.

During the Metal Horse year in 1990, I discovered skydiving and my life changed dramatically. I ended up making more than 300 skydives during that year, and every single aspect of my days revolved around the sport. I met Smart Guy in 1992 and we married in freefall in 1994, so I guess you could say my life trajectory changed completely during a Horse year. And as I said before, it was 2002 and a Water Horse year when I had another major change when Chris died.

And now we are in Wood Horse year 2014. You will not believe what just happened as I was writing this post about life cycles: I received a call from Norma Jean that my sister PJ died during the night. Several flurries of phone calls later, and it's been decided that I will go ahead and travel to Florida tomorrow and she and I will then travel to Texas to be with our family. PJ had a massive stroke last night and was rushed to the hospital, where they were unable to revive her. She died at midnight. Her husband Stewart said she had just had the best week since her heart attack last fall, and she didn't suffer. She was scared of being on machines at the end of her life. I am reeling with the shock of it, although we really all knew it was coming eventually. You hope it will be far in the future, though.
Patricia June Stewart Merrill 1950-2014
I was seven years old when PJ was born. I remember the day, because I climbed a tree and said out loud that my sister was born that day and I was seven years old and I would never forget the moment. Funny how certain memories stand out among all the others. PJ is now with Mama and Daddy. I'll end this here, since I can't find any words to say; nothing is adequate. In time I will write about her, about her special gifts, but not today.

30 comments:

Rian said...

DJan... don't know what to say except that my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family this morning.

KH said...

So sorry to read the news of your sister's death. I'm glad you will soon be in Florida with family. This blogging "sister" is sending thoughts of compassion & encouragement your way this morning. Safe travels - Kim

gigihawaii said...

I am so sorry for your loss, DJan. Please accept my condolences.

BLissed-Out Grandma said...

I'm so sorry. It's a blessing that she didn't suffer, but that is no consolation to you and your family as you cope with your sudden loss. Safe travels, DJan.

Deb Shucka said...

Oh, DJan, I'm so so sorry for your loss. How strange for that to be the end of this particular story. Safe travels. Sending prayers and love and light with you. May you find comfort in the company of others who also loved your sister.

Olga said...

I am sorry for your loss.

Linda Myers said...

Traveling mercies, friend.

Mersad said...

I am really sorry for your loss. Life can be so cruel. And then, the loss of your son too. I know that they say that time heals wounds, but I also know (from personal family experiences) that the pain lingers and pushes out from time to time. And that's ok too. It's life, it's what we go through. I wish you all the strength in the world.

Gigi said...

Oh Djan! I am so sorry to hear of your loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

Safe travels, my friend.

Cynthia said...

I am so sorry for the loss of your sister. May you find comfort in drawing together with your family and sharing memories and love.

Mel said...

I'm so sorry to hear the news of your sister, my condolences and hugs to you as you process this grief.
I'm glad to hear she did not suffer, and that her last week was a good one, that is a small gift amid the loss.
I'm curious about the Chinese calendar and will investigate the link you posted, and I will think of you, and Norma Jean as you gather the family around to bid PJ farewell.
xxoo

Red said...

My sympathy to you for the loss of your sister. It's easy to say sister but there is so much more that we lose. You give an example with your seven year old announcement that your sister was born. Once I again I will be thinking about you and your loss.

The Furry Gnome said...

So sorry to hear of your sister. I hope you find a moment to celebrate with your fancy fingernails though, your sister would have expected you to!

Weekend-Windup said...

Sorry to hear about the news.Let prayers keep all things good...

Teri said...

I am sorry for your loss.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

I'm so sorry to hear this, DJan. My thoughts are with you.

Meryl Baer said...

Condolences on the loss of your sister. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Dee said...

Dear DJan, my thoughts and prayers are with you as you re-enter the valley of sorrow and grief. At these times, other losses we've experienced resurface and so you may find yourself thinking of the death of your mom and dad and of Chris. I hope that you will feel all the love they and PJ shared with you throughout your life. Please rest in that love and be gracious to yourself as you live through another loss. I'm relieved that you will be traveling with Norma Jean. The two of you will be able to share memories of PJ and find, I hope, solace in that. Peace.

amanda | wildly simple said...

My thoughts are with you, DJan.
Love & Peace & Strength to you & your family. And safe travels, my friend.

Lorna said...

Dear DJan --- I am so sorry to hear of your sister's passing but glad that she did not suffer. Travel safe.

Lorna

Rita said...

What shocking news!! And right as you were reflecting on life. I'm glad you and Norma Jean will go together and that PJ didn't suffer. *love and hugs*

#1Nana said...

I'm so, so sorry for your loss. I'm glad that you will be with family. It's a very small consolation that she went as she wished, not lingering or hooked up to machines. Safe travels, I'll be thinking of you.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I am so sorry. I know you had been concerned about her from time to time. Sending you a hug..safe travels:)

Linda Reeder said...

Life cycles, indeed. This is far more than irony or coincidence. My thoughts are with you.

Retired English Teacher said...

Oh, DJan, I'm shocked over this news. I am so sorry to hear of the passing of your sister. She was so young. I am happy that she did not suffer. I will be thinking of you as you go to be with your sis. Hugs to you both. I am sending you my most sincere condolences.

Glenda C. Beall said...

DJan, my deepest sympathy for the loss of your dear sister. I have one sister left now and I love her so much as I know you love your sisters. Hug each other and remember the good times.We are never ready to let them go.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, I'm sorry to hear about your sister. May I wish you strength, comfort, and peace as you move through this difficult time. I really do feel fortunate to have found your blog. You seem to have an unusually fine sense of where you've been and where you're going in life. It's a real pleasure to read your weekly musings. Take care and have a safe trip. John

Keicha Christiansen said...

Oh DJan. I'm so very sorry for your loss. What a shock. Reading your words about the day she was born brought tears to my eyes. I know you're all too familiar with loss, but the loss of a sister is something I can especially relate to. Please know that you're in my thoughts and in my heart in the coming days. XO

WordsPoeticallyWorth said...

Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

CiCi said...

That changed pretty much everything about your trip, didn't it? I do look forward to reading more about your sister in future posts. In the meantime, hug your dear siblings and stay in touch with them even more after your return home. Will be thinking you.