Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sunday Dinner: Remembering Dawn

Dawn and Ryan (1987)
A sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves - a special kind of double.  ~Toni Morrison

With Easter comes a little melancholy for me. Twenty-five years ago on April 5, 1988 my sister Dawn died. She had been in a horrible car wreck and suffered multiple injuries. Her boyfriend had been drinking. They were only a mile or so away from home. He survived — she didn't.

I was angry for a long time. I didn't understand why she died. I watched my mother overcome with grief. My brothers, Dad, and I all wandered through life in a daze. We went through the motions of life doing what we were supposed to.

My family is not affectionate. When I had children, I would remind myself to hug, kiss, and tell them that I loved them. It wasn't difficult since I've been blessed with two affectionate kids. The last words my sister said to me were "I love you." Strange. I think it was the only time she ever said it to me.

Years later I would come to find that she also said that to our brother, Randall. Even stranger since those two fought all the time. 

My Mom had the most difficult time. You're not supposed to bury your child. Mom grieved. She cried. She spent many afternoons in the cemetery sitting by her daughter's grave.

Ten months after we lost Dawn, I gave birth to a daughter; I named her Amanda Dawn. In 2000, my brother Dennis and his wife had a daughter; they named her Elizabeth Dawn. It was our way of honoring and remembering the sister we loved and lost.

Grief comes in many forms. One brother doesn't like to talk about it. The other loves to relive the memories with funny stories. Each year on April 5, we would send our mother flowers. She needed a little brightness to help her through the day. 

Pink was Dawn's favorite color, but if you knew her in high school, you would remember her wearing black Ozzy Osbourne t-shirts, blue jeans, and an army jacket. It was just her style for that period of her life. I think she liked it in part because it drove our mother crazy. 

Dawn's favorite at Sunday dinner was macaroni and cheese and corn. Like me, Dawn spent many hours in the kitchen with Grandmother and Mom. Making Sunday dinner would often seem like an orchestrated ballet, we each knew what we needed to do and we worked together to get dinner on the table.

After my sister died, I realized just how much our mother loved us. Seeing her mourn, the tears, the pain, and the loss of herself. Mom was never quite the same again. She never shrugged her responsibilities, but for a long time she lost her joy. One morning, I went to visit Mom. It was early on a rainy Saturday morning. Despite the bleakness of the day, the hydrangeas were in full bloom — brilliant, bright, and blue against the gray day, and there tucked between them was my Mom. 

Mourning Dawn

As rain falls
on this gray morning,

my mother leans
against the peeling paint,
her body wedged

between two blue hydrangeas,

the only landscaping
in our bleak yard.

Her face, wet with tears
and rain,

mourning her daughter,

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