Category Archives: Grieving

@ awkward intersections in my brain

0280_0065117080 (2)When talking about my family,  siblings and birth order invariably come up in conversation.

Ever since my older sister Ellen died suddenly two years ago,  so much has changed. That includes the “birth order” convo.

Now, when it comes up, I now find myself reaching an an awkward intersection inside my brain–every time.

I’ve always been interested in the subject of birth order, and eventually bring it up with all my friends and colleagues. (How could you not be?)

“I’m one of eight kids; five brothers and two sisters. I was fourth,” I say. Sometimes, I’ll add in a p.s.—“I was the quintessential bitter middle child.”

Other times, when reminiscing about my father, I’ll share this anecdote: “My dad was a lawyer, and absolutely loved it. He wanted all eight of his kids to be lawyers, too. He’d tell me, ‘Lefty, there are so many f**** a******* who are lawyers. You can be one, too.’” (Was that a compliment or an insult?)

I then go on to say that he ended up with four lawyers out of 8— 50%; not bad at all. And it’s at that exact moment that I now  pause and mull it over in my mind:  Should I add the caveat?

I am one of eight—but now we are seven. He did have four kids who grew up to be lawyers–but now there are three.

A little over two years ago, our sister Ellen Marguerite O’Hara, died suddenly. Getting used to speaking of her in the past tense?

It’s taking longer than I’d anticipated.

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Ellen’s playlist p.s.

e and me 2013

It’s been six months now.

I’m getting more used to talking about her in the past tense.

I’m getting used to saying I now have five brothers and one sister.

I’m getting used to stopping myself as a pick up the phone to text or call her.

I’m getting used to living with the fact that my older sister, Ellen Marguerite O’Hara, is dead.

Her birthday is coming up—October 10th. She would have been 57. Would have been.

It was a late evening  this past April, about a month after she’d died. I had wandered up to bed; my younger sister, Regan, was still downstairs watching TV.

As I dozed off, I heard in the distance a series of loud thumps. Probably a few boxes falling, I thought.

Several moments passed, and then the door to the room opened. Regan, my younger sister, limped in, sobbing hysterically. She collapsed onto the bed, crying out: “I think I broke my f-ing ankle! I can’t believe this. I fell down the stairs!”

I helped her hobble to her bed, and sat down beside her. She was in tremendous pain, and it seemed to be escalating. “We’re going to the hospital,” I decided.

15 minutes later, there we were — in the emergency room of Spokane’s Sacred Heart Hospital. There we were, in the very ER where Regan had rushed Ellen just the month before. There we were, in the very building where Ellen had died after five horrendous days.

Regan was lying on a cot in an exam room, ice on her ankle, awaiting the results of the x-ray. We’d both calmed down, and were quietly commiserating over the fall. In a moment of sentimentality, she had scooped up JoJo, Ellen’s infinitely annoying little white dog. “That f-ing dog! Why did I decide to carry that f-ing dog!” We looked at each other and chuckled quietly.

A few seconds later, we heard sounds. Music, coming from somewhere in the exam room.  We both fell silent and listened intently. The music was coming from my purse, which I’d stashed in the corner of the room.

I reached over and fished inside for my phone. It had turned on by itself — without the required 4-digit security code — and my Pandora app had begun playing.

It was a song I’d never heard before — “Black & Blue” by Miike Snow. We looked at each other, eyes wide. Next up was “Take a Walk” by Passion Pit, followed by “Walking with a Ghost” by Tegan and Sarah.

We laughed, then cried — and knew without any possible doubt that our big sister was most assuredly still around.

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