Monday, January 5, 2015

Layers of Loss

My mother, Bervelee, and my sister, Debra

I awakened this morning, on the last day of 2014, with the images of my sister and mother on my heart. They died 6 and 7 years ago, respectively, during the holiday season, and I realised I had done nothing, this year, to mark their lives and deaths—not a picture or a mention, anywhere. I have been so consumed with the loss of my beloved that memories of them sifted into the dusty corners of my consciousness.

 It is said that people die as they lived, and, in my mother and sister’s case, this saying surely rings true.

My sister became diabetic at the age of 14, and she defied all the rules that were set for her around it, as teenagers tend to do. Her blood sugars skyrocketed and plummeted throughout her life with frightening frequency, sometimes sending her into diabetic shock. As she aged, she began to build mountains of possessions around her, until the home she shared with my mother became a bunker, of sorts, with lumps of clothing and boxes of books lining the walls and stacked to the ceiling, a small pathway carved through the middle that the two of them could barely navigate their way through.

When she got sick, she sloughed off those possessions like a snake sloughs its skin, leaving them behind without a backward glance.

She died in Hospice House, with a cancer that spread through her body like wildfire, bumps and tumours poking out from her thighs to her shoulder blades, visible and painful to the touch.

Her last breaths were strained and rattled, interspersed with pleading moans.

My sister did not go gentle into that good night.

She left behind a son, a beloved granddaughter, some grandchildren she had yet to meet, an array of holiday hats and socks, and hundreds of people who cherished her wild and troubled spirit.

Her name was Debra, and she died on the 12th of December, 2007. She was 56.

I did not forget.

My mother was sweet, and small, and often afraid. I did not recognise her quiet strength until I learned to view her through the eyes of a mother, rather than those of an angry child. She lived in poverty for most of her life, first on a farm in Kansas, where she carried milk buckets through snow swept fields and pulled weeds from the garden in the hot summer sun, looking to the skies and pining for a bigger life than the one into which she was born. She worked hard in school and travelled a little before she met my father, whose charm and humour took her by surprise. He was a wise spirit, but he drank a bit and dreamed a lot, moving her from the poverty of the farm to a suburban deprivation that left her disconsolate and ashamed.

My mother did her best to tame the roller coaster life my father lived, and to help her four children settle somewhere near the ground. She canned vegetables in summer and made grape jelly in the fall, stoked the fire with coal when we had some, in winter, tacked scraps of carpet to splintered floors, and sent us to scouts and swimming lessons and bible school. She sang tenor in the church choir every Sunday, her low and haunting voice blending in harmony with those who stood in the forefront.

My mother had surgery to repair a hernia seven months after my sister died. The doctors cut a hole in her throat that left her unable to tell someone when she had to go to the toilet or to ask for a drink of water to quench her thirst. They left my mother without a voice. Speechless.

Later, when they plugged the hole, the experience had so traumatised her that she could not eat, and she became so malnourished that her feet swelled like puffer fish, and she couldn’t remember if she had to pee, or where she was, or why she was still alive. The doctors put a tube up her nose and down her throat to feed her, then. She moved from the hospital to my home and back again, for four months, and when she lay in that hospital bed, she did not once ring the bell to ask for help. She did not want to disturb anyone.

My mother died at Hospice House, two doors down and eleven months from where she had watched her daughter take her last breath. My brother said that her breaths slowed quietly and when they stopped, he felt her spirit fill the room. My mother was tired of being voiceless. She was ready to leave the life that had, only occasionally, been kind to her.

She left behind two sons, a host of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, boxes upon boxes of photos and letters, sweet stories of her childhood, and a daughter with a shattered heart.

Her name was Bervelee Jean, but people called her BJ, and she let them, because it was easier to pronounce, though she never liked it, much.  She died on the 15th of November, 2008. She was 82.

I did not forget.

My husband came into my life on a whirlwind, and we travelled our road together with passion and joy, joined by a seemingly boundless love. He invited me into his rich world of green hills, bathed by evening’s light, and bordered by walls of stone, a bustling family of sisters and children and grandchildren, and a multitude of of friends. He taught me about music and dance, patience and calm, and how to search out rabbits in the snow.

Now it is the 1st day of 2015, and I have moved into a new year without him in it. I try to believe that I will carry him with me into this new year, that I will bring him alive in how I open to the people around me, the way he did, in how I speak his name, when I think of him, in how I rejoice in the man that he was to all who are willing to listen.

But he is not here, in the physical realm, and I will never again be able to kiss him or wrap my arms around him or hold his warm, strong hand. And it makes me sad and sore with longing.

My husband died in a whirlwind, in an instant, walking out the door of the chapel at the funeral of his son. I wish it had been different. I wish we had time to say goodbye, to fluff his pillows, and soothe his pain, and wipe his forehead with a cool cloth. It would have been easier for us. But it would have been the worst way to die, for him. He lived his life, fully, and died without warning. Too soon. Far too soon.

His name was Stanley Jan Kukalowicz, and he died on the 9th of June, 2014. He left me with his beautiful family, a century old house, these striking hills, a thousand friends who loved him dearly, and the gift of a deep and expansive love.

He was 63.

I will not forget.


  1. Thank you for writing.
    Maria O.

  2. This was heartbreaking and yet stunningly beautiful. Thank you for sharing your soul.

  3. What a beautiful tribute, Tricia. It's a powerful reminder of all the souls who have gone before us, what often difficult lives they've led and how, at the end of the day, we can count our blessings even through the tears. Sending you hugs and support from afar in this new year. It is painful to see the calendar change without them.

  4. I will not forget your story of your sister, your mother, your husband. Peace be with you.

  5. Your experiences breaks my heart open. Written from the perspective of a mother, not a child. Deprivation instills such suffering. Its lessons are painful, and I'm still trying to appreciate deprivation. Are its lessons necessary to get our attention to be here for each other?

  6. Thank you all for your kind comments. I feel like the best way for me to honour them is to grow, and reach out, and live. For awhile after Stan died I didn't want to live. I just wanted to go where he was. But now I am going to give it a try.

  7. Tricia, I'm at the 8th month anniversary of my soul mate's sudden death... as much as I have good days... the bad ones are still present... It takes occupying your mind with other things to help you along this journey... I'm 73.....not much to occupy my mind but the loss of him...

    1. So very sorry for your loss. 8 months is no time at all. It is 7 months tomorrow, for me. Sometimes it feels like just yesterday. We are still so 'new' on this journey. I wish you well.

  8. You bring us into the heart of your life, your loved ones, your joys, and your losses. I hope the joy sustains you and I ache for your losses. Much love to you, Tricia.

  9. Thank you for these images of love, dear Tricia. No, we will not forget. My mom died a year before my husband. Her death after many years of Alzheimer's was a relief. His was not. I remember both of them. My brother is sick with cancer and the list will grow. It feels very important to witness and remember. And, right now, I'm the one my brother can talk to about his situation of incurable cancer when his family flinches and tries to avoid the issue when he does just a little better for a while. This is an important way for me to remember.