Tuesday, May 23, 2006

I remember hearing that my sister had been killed in a car accident...

I was 18, it was 1984, and I was working in Banff all summer as a chambermaid and evening desk clerk. One morning as we were getting ready for work (all us chambermaids lived in the same house), my boss, Ralph, came to the door. This was highly unusual; he NEVER came over to the house, especially not in the morning. One of my roommates came and said, "Ralph wants to talk to you, Paula". I think we all thought that I was going to get fired, though I couldn't for the life of me think of what I had done to deserve being fired.

Ralph looked so uncomfortable, I knew something terrible had happened. "Paula, your father called the hotel this morning. Your sister and her husband were killed in a car accident." He chose his words so carefully...

I started crying immediately, uncontrollably. "Which sister?"

Ralph looked like he was going to be sick. "I'm sorry, I don't know. Your father is coming to pick you up so you can be with your family. Your job is safe here, don't worry about us at all."

I stumbled to my room and grabbed my photo album and began looking at the pictures of my older sisters. Kathy and Jim or Carol and Bill? Kathy or Carol? Which sister was dead? I sat there crying for hours. It takes a long time to drive from Vauxhall to Banff, it takes hours and hours. As my dad drove to get me, I sat there crying over my photo album, not daring to pick which sister I'd rather live without. I had never felt so alone in all my life.

When Dad arrived, he smothered me in a tearful hug before I could say anything. I pulled away. "Dad, Ralph didn't know...which sister of mine is dead?"

"It was Carol. Carol and Bill."

It felt a little better to know who I was grieving for. Those three or four hours where I knew I had experienced a loss but didn't know who was gone were very strange. Very strange. I wouldn't wish that on anybody.

If anyone chooses to comment, you don't have to tell me how sorry you are or anything. Carol was 28 when she died...she would have been 50 on May 20th. I miss her still, but life goes on, doesn't it? I passed the 28 year mark, and I almost felt guilty for outliving Carol. It felt like uncharted territory, being older than my oldest sister. I realize that these are illogical thing to feel, but when emotions are involved, logic often takes a coffee break. Grieving is a strange, strange cloak, and once you've been given it to wear, it is always a part of your wardrobe, and on some days, you take it out and try it on just to see if it still fits...it usually does. It's the one piece of clothing I don't think you ever outgrow.

10 comments:

troll said...

i never knew Carol, but i had a close friend (Dave) who was deeply affected by death -- and consequently had an abiding affection for Paula, her sister. i had an affection for Paula just from knowing Paula, and this strange, but wonderful, almost mystical attitude that Dave had always fascinated me -- there was some connection to Carol through knowing Paula. Not in some morbid, daytime TV way, but in the some way grieving Carol, missing her, and yet acknowledging the effect she had in his life. Made me want to know Carol and Bill ...... and that would never happen. it's quite wonderful to read Paula's memories ........ thank you for sharing -- tears are never wasted (even when cried so many years later for someone i never knew) ......

Karin said...

Sometimes the cloak of grief just floats over me in ways that surprise me. It feels familiar but not all that comfortable. It usually brings "I wish....." to mind.
Mum died 21 years ago last Monday, the day came and went and it was this morning I remembered when I heard the song of the wren. The tears came when I read your story. Tears for you and your family, tears for my own grief.
Ron's sister and her son were killed in a car crash 3 months after Mum died. Mum was older, ill with ALS. Gloria and Gordon were so young.
There is no way to compare grief. No one can really understand what someone else is feeling. I guess death will always be the enemy.

Spoke said...

Dad died. We knew he would. Emphazima got him years after he quit smoking. Dad's death was freedom, he had given up. I recuscitated him once before...just. The paramedics thought he was finished. When I left the island after helping mum with all of those horrible death details and rude people, grief hit me in the face while I was on the ferry.
He didn't want a funeral, so there was no funeral...nothing.
I slumped against a railing watching the ship's white foamed wash disappear. No funeral, no closure.
I cried like a madman. As if my sanity had been stolen. I was alone. I felt 13, not 30 something.
No funeral, no grave site. Ashes behind mum's chair..for now.
Sometimes its as though he isn't dead...its all unfinished in my mind.
There should have been a funeral.

annacond said...

Losing someone you love as dearly as that is tragic enough. Not knowing WHICH sister is gone, wow. Can't even begin to imagine what those hours must have been like for you. What stuns me the most though is that your Dad was able to drive that distance alone. That's supernatural, it's gotta be.

Delynne said...

Your description of grief is so apt. When it is a fresh cloak people accept it, but if you keep wearing it, they get uncomfortable. I found it hard to take off, for a long time.

Pondering Pig said...

God bless you, dearest sister. I wish we hadn't met in the family bonds of grief, but there it is. My brother went to work, I went to school. He never came home. An Episcolalian priest came to my second period choir class and fetched me out. My bro was in the hospital with a fractured skull, thrown out of his car when an old guy ran a stop sign and broadsided him. And my life has never ever and can never ever be the same. I have felt and known those strange guilts of outliving my brother, and not being able to bear even thinking about it - and nearly fifty years later and I think about him and miss him and I know you understand and are the same.

Anonymous said...

Joanne said: Death, facing our own mortality, its one thing no one can escape. I didn't understand death when it happened to me, I was 4 my brother died of cancer then the next year my Mom died of cancer. My Dad remarried a year later and its like my Mom became someone that never existed, never mentioned in the house, never talked about, except when Dad was drunk, I never grieved her loss, not until I was 30 some. God knew I needed to face a loss/grieve instead of saying its no big deal, she was sick people die all the time.. I don't understand the age thing, but for me 45 is this haunting number, so strange, like if I get past that I will have beat something, that's how old mom was when she died. I know God knows the number of my days on earth, yet when Oct. comes around it comes to mind. I don't think real life begins until we face our own mortality, until we shift our confidence from ourselves to God. That's my thoughts.

papa herman said...

i remember when i worked for a church here in walla walla...

it was a sunday afternoon and i was working in the office. a man came to the door and so i let him in. he wanted to go inside of the church.

after a bit we talked... he shared how he and his wife were married at this church, but how she has since died.

he then shared something with me that i have not forgotten: he shared how people will say that it (the loss) will get better. he told me that it doesn't get better, it just gets different.

i have yet to experience a significant loss in my life; but when i do i hope to remember in the weeks and years those words shared to me that day, from a man who learned them from his own experience.

Karin said...

Thank you Papa Herman.

Sarah said...

I do feel sad - that is a very sad story and heartbreaking. My best friend is just coming up to the age when her Mum died, suddenly of an aneurism (her late 30s) She has always been very stoic, pragmatic and rational about the loss of her Mum and I always admired that. As a friend, that is very easy to get along with. Now, something is happening and her life is turning upside down. And so much of it comes back to her Mum and grief and curiosity and life unlived and that she looks like her. Very very strange the way these losses manifest themselves. The stuff of life.