A Raincoat for Grief

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.)