Two weeks ago, I took my usual Saturday trip to Halifax to see my sister.

I leave my home at 5:30 in the morning. I board a plane. I arrive in a city 1600 kilometres from home. I drive to a nursing home and spend the day with my sister, listening to her talking about her life, listening to her talking about her death. Then I travel backward and, at the end of the day, I am home in time for dinner.

I have cornered my grief into one day of the week. I get up in my own bed and then sleep the same day in the my own bed as if it has just been a long day. I am managing. My sister is always happy to see me. I am managing.

Except…except that, I am beginning to feel reality sitting next to me on the journey. I know this because two weeks ago, I took my raincoat with me. The forecast was for rain at home in Ottawa and for rain in Halifax. I might need a raincoat. I might need a raincoat even though I am dropped off and picked up under the plexiglass awning of the Ottawa airport. I might need a raincoat even though I never have to leave the airport building to get a car in Halifax. I walk 50 metres from the car into the nursing home. I come back the same way.

But I am travelling 1600 kilometres from home. It will likely rain in both cities. I need a raincoat.

For the past year, I have visited my sister at least every month and she is dying. She gets weaker every time I see her. She is getting more tired, and more and more often she talks of dying. I bring books to read that she loves, I send flowers – she loves to get flowers – and I bring her favourite cookies and scones. I am managing.

But this Saturday when I see her, my sister is crying. She talks to me about dying. Cookies and stories and flowers do not help. I put my raincoat in her closet in her room.

The grief is escaping from its corner. All the raincoat can protect me from is rain. I hold my weeping sister in my arms. I pray that she is managing.

At the end of the day, I walk the 50 metres to the car with my raincoat over my arm. The rain is pouring as my plane approaches Ottawa. I might need my raincoat.
I am managing.

(Note: I have developed this post with the assistance of writing group participants at #HarvardWriters2018. They have been an inspiration to me and I hope that this post captures some of their advice.)

12 thoughts on “A Raincoat for Grief

  1. I was moved by this piece! I also am so sorry I didn’t meet you at the conference! I find it’s such an amazing supportive inspiring event. Maybe next year!

    1. drgailbeck says:

      Oh my goodness, you were at Harvard Writers – I would love to have have met you. Thank you for reading this – my writing group helped a lot.

  2. Dr. Mom says:

    A beautiful reflective piece. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Wendy Nuttall says:

    Gail, this is such a heartfelt memoir. It feels like a lifetime of love wrapped into one long day.

    1. drgailbeck says:

      Thank you, Wendy!

  4. Christine Koubek says:

    I understand,even if I lived with my mom and was her caregiver,I know what you feel. Your words such beautiful words hit me to the core.

    1. drgailbeck says:

      Thank you, Christine! This means a lot because you know Nan.

  5. Audrey Lawrence says:

    I was very touched by your well-written story. Yes, grief.. It does snag in the the most unexpected ways. I tell myself I am managing too and then the smallest of things brings it all back and it just seems so much to cope with. You are so wonderful with your sister. Caring arms and flowers!Your thoughts will linger in my head.

    1. drgailbeck says:

      Audrey, I am so grateful that you read my blog so regularly.

  6. Siobhan Muldowney says:

    Beautiful. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. drgailbeck says:

      Thank you for reading this, Siobhan.

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