Tag Archives: sisters



I think I’ll plant daffodils around their headstone. I was in Arkansas this weekend at the small country cemetery where my mother and father’s ashes will one day be buried. Dad was born around here; a sister of mine lived down the road. Daffodils were blooming everywhere, covering yards in thick clusters, and that sister, now gone, was much on my mind. We all planted dozens of bulbs in her yard for her during her last autumn, a few months before she left us forever. Days before she was taken to the hospital—a place from which we all knew she would not return alive—I walked with my daughter to look at the green daffodil stalks in my sister’s yard. They represented love for her. In those months before her dying, we would have done anything for her, bought her anything she wanted, taken her anywhere she wanted to go. There were parts of her that were the best of us.


My daughter was in her 20s; my sister’s daughters were 11 and 5. I remember realizing that she would never do this simple thing I was doing—walking with a grown daughter. The pain around that was sharp like a honed blade and achy dull at the same time.


She didn’t live to see her daffodils or her daughters bloom. When I see those flowers in this place near where she had her home and family, she lives again in me; her final, bittersweet leaving is daffodil fragrant inside.  Mom and Dad will like having them nodding their yellow heads around their grave, I think. I think my sister will like it, too.



Because I’m tired

Because I’m tried of mean politics delivered in gosh darn accents, because the stock market and depression talk of last week scared me (the cats say it scared everybody), because friends did something so kind and heartfelt I haven’t words for it yet, because I feel rudderless and writing the ending of this fourth book is hard, because I feel empty today………I offer an old journal entry.

The writing prompt was from a workshop in which there was a reading about life putting bags of gold in one’s path. The question was, did you recognize them or not.

My response: I’m in my bathroom, which is connected to my bedroom, and I can hear my sister very clearly as she speaks to her two young daughters. What do you do if Daddy is sad? she asks. We hug him, they answer. Yes, you give him a big old hug, she responds. Hugs cure anything.

I look around the bathroom, at towels, toothpaste, some spiritual saying on the wall. The moment is frozen. It’s a saber-toothed tiger of a moment, a mastadon wrapped in deep glacier ice,  the glacier of all that is happening. For my sister is dying, and we all know it–her, me, her children, our brothers and sisters, our children, our mother. The cancer, dorment for six precious years, has metastasized in her brain and lungs.

She seems normal now, but in six months from this moment, we’ll go to her funeral service on an appropriately cold and rainy day.

Grief is in me–only I don’t yet recognize its full face–and later, when I name it, love will follow, and I’ll say the love and see my sister model nothing else in her last months.

Poems will come later, slipping out of me like easy births. Grief for her will push me to new tenderness and depth. Do I know this in that suspended moment in my bathroom? I know there’s gold but all I can feel is pain–later the gold will be made shiny with tears and regrets from my deepest heart. 

Writing tip: Don’t be afraid of griefs or joys. Write them. Explore them. Give them to characters. My sister died in 1995. In 2006, when I wrote a certain death scene, I realized  that I was yet again writing my experience in her dying, the wound clean finally but not yet healed, pink tender still.

Listen, listen, listen

My sister Carmen, to whom this site is dedicated (see first post), has been on the scene lately. She died in 1995, and so I find the following stories very interesting and very moving. Here are the Carmen sightings of late….

My youngest sister, who was very close to Carmen and who helped so much with all the financial and hospital details of Carmen’s last days, reports that she felt Carmen’s presence so strongly on a day recently when she was doing church board work that all she could do was weep. A friend who sees things others don’t says to my sister that Carmen is there, hovering. My sister thinks, this hurts my heart so, and words come to her, my children’s hearts hurt, too. My younger sister has a strong sense that she must check in on Carmen’s children.

The day that my youngest sister tells me this story, Carmen’s daughter tells another, not because we’re talking about Carmen. In fact, we haven’t shared the first story at all.  Carmen’s daughter has a two-year-old son. He was looking at a family picture taken when Carmen was alive. Carmen is in the photo. There’s Papa, he says, pointing to Carmen’s husband and my niece’s father. There’s Uncle Gene, pointing to an uncle who is especially close to him. And then he points to Carmen. And there’s my angel, he says. My niece smiles when she tells me this. I find out she hasn’t taught him that, that more than likely he’s not seen a photo of Carmen before.

And finally, that being told, my niece has another story, of one of her brothers, very close to Carmen, her oldest. This son of Carmen has small daughters under five. One of the daughters touches his back in a place his mother–my sister, Carmen–used to touch often, an affectionate scratching place of old, a certain exact spot. (We mothers often scratch our sons’ backs because it is the only way they let us touch them after a certain age.) She told me to touch this and say hello, his lisping daughter tells him, and he becomes so upset–no one knows of this but him and his mother––that he jumps in his car and drives away as fast as he can.

There’s a song from the group Honey in the Rock. The dead are not dead, the lyrics go. They are in the fire that is dying, in the grasses that weep, in the whimpering rocks. Listen, listen, listen, the lyrics say. Carmen, we’re listening.

For you, Carmen

CarmenMy second novel was just reprinted, and it gives me another chance to say, I love you, little sister, this is for you. My sister died in 1995. She was 42 and left six children behind her, the youngest five, the oldest 20. I’ve never seen anyone die finer than she did. No blame, no recriminations, just a digging in to love harder.This new edition of Now Face to Face (it came out in January from Three Rivers Press) includes scenes I took out of the original manuscript. They were about a character dying, and I couldn’t bear for my sister, who really was dying, to read my imaginary death scenes. So I reworked the book and deleted those scenes.But now it’s been ten years. And there is a reprint. So the scenes are included in an afterward, which I dedicated to my sister. And this, too, this blog, this writing life, is for you, Carmen. You were beautiful. I love you. Karleen