When you lose a loved one, doctors, therapists, counselors, relatives, friends, and even strangers will tell you to talk to that person. I have resisted this idea for nine years. I have tried talking to my sister Adrienne at Hollywood Forever. When I stare at her tombstone surrounded by its beautiful garden, the words sound false, as if I’m having a conversation with the universe instead of her. However, I speak to Adrienne in my head all the time. I say a prayer to her every night. But I don’t actually talk out loud to her. To do so would be an acknowledgment that she is never coming back—a fact that is irrefutable but impossible for me to accept. However, several weeks ago I talked to Adrienne.
I own a beautiful painting of my sister—perhaps one of the greatest gifts that I have ever received; it hangs above our fireplace. I don’t know what possessed me to look at the painting and start speaking to Adrienne as if she were in the room. The words tumbled out of me like a small child running downhill—fearless, free, unstoppable. I kept talking and talking and talking until my voice reached the bottom of the hill and collapsed. I exhaled, but I don’t remember holding my breath. I swallowed, but I don’t remember my throat drying up. I touched my wet face, but I don’t remember crying. I looked at the clock; five minutes had passed. Then I heard her voice. You’re making him live with a ghost. I didn’t actually hear Adrienne’s voice (although that would have been amazing), but I felt her presence and those words were hers, not mine. They seeped into my skin like lotion until I heard her again. You’re making him live with a ghost, Sissy. I felt compelled to stand up. I walked to the front door. I stood there. I became a stranger in my home. I looked around at the photographs because that is what I do when I enter someone’s house for the first time.
On the fireplace mantle, I see the mandatory wedding photo, a sick Adrienne, a healthy Adrienne and me, and two photos of my husband’s family. On top of the entertainment center, I spot my husband’s baby picture and another photo of Adrienne and me from my 27th birthday party. On the bookshelves, I see Adrienne in sixth grade, Adrienne and my ex’s son asleep in the car, my godson’s first Christmas, and a group shot of me and my bridesmaids from my wedding. I almost miss the framed photographic collage of Adrienne on top of our CD case. I realize there is only one picture of my husband and me in our living room. You’re making him live with a ghost.
The pictures on the bookshelves seem to be the biggest villains: I don’t see my godson or my ex’s son anymore, I am no longer close to two of my bridesmaids, and Adrienne didn’t even like her sixth grade photo. I have a sudden urge to knock them off in one sweeping gesture until I think about the possibility of broken glass. You can scrapbook the pictures, I tell myself. As for the others, I’ll leave my favorite photo of Adrienne and me in the living room, but the rest belong in the guest room, which was her room. My husband likes the painting so it will remain in its place. As I make these decisions, I feel Adrienne’s presence fade—her job is done.
I sit down and I think how incredibly patient my husband has been with me:
- My husband was on the fence about having children, but he compromised for my sake. I can’t do it all over again. Even though I didn’t gain custody of Adrienne until she was eight years old, I practically raised her from birth to age four. I love babies, but I have never wanted to be pregnant. However, I am opening up to the idea of adopting a young teenager, someone who needs good parents and a good home.
- My husband moved into a house that he didn’t like—a house where my sister died and where I lived with another man. The house grew on him over time, but he only moved in because I refused to leave. I didn’t think I would ever want to move away from this home, but now I am ready. I finally realize that leaving here doesn’t mean leaving Adrienne behind; the memories will travel with me.
- My husband has never said one word to me about the numerous photos of Adrienne in our living room. He has mentioned wanting more pictures of us around the house, but he has never pushed. If he had, it would have backfired. Instead, he waited. He let me become ready; he let me figure it out for myself with a little help from Adrienne.
My husband understood what all of those well-intentioned people didn’t. Coping with loss takes time. Last year, I couldn’t say the “d” words as they related to my sister. Over two years ago, I wrote a poem titled Living on Euphemisms. The first time I read it aloud, I barely got through it. It seems fitting that just before the anniversary of Adrienne’s death (October 9), I was finally able to talk to her. I know Adrienne is happy that I listened because ever since our conversation I’ve heard her voice in my head quoting one of her favorite bands Queen. Sissy—I guarantee you’ll blow their minds.
A Blue Clamp composed of many people holds my aching heart together. What happened to my sister is not okay, it will never be okay, but now I can say, “Adrienne died.” Today, I’m talking to the dead.
P.S. From Adrienne to all of you, Happy Halloween (her favorite holiday) and if you celebrate Día de los Muertos (another holiday Adrienne enjoyed), my thoughts are with you and your loved ones.
Originally published on October 20, 2010 on my previous blog titled Pondering happiness, hope, wisdom