Announcements and a letter from the archives
Wow! Thank you for sharing this throwback, Cheryl. It hit me in the heart, (in the best way), as my husband and I are delicately navigating our first holiday season as bereaved parents. Since losing our seven-year-old son in January, we sold our home in Colorado and moved to the PNW on a grief-stricken, get-us-the-fuck-outta-here whim. We're lost together—everything is currently upside down—but we keep coming back to "what is." I'm going to keep your advice to "Undecided" close to my heart as we eventually find our bearings in how to move forward in life, whilst honoring our little Leo. Thank you and happy holidays to you and your fam! <3
Though I still have family technically-- a brother and a mom who are still living-- I've never had the sort of family that made returning home for the holidays joyful, or even vaguely attractive. Our love for each other was too fraught and tended towards anger and violence, which would be inevitably followed by gaslighting. Growing up that way wasn't without its usefulness, however. It taught me to pay attention to systems and dynamics, to always try to attend to why people are the way they are, the complicated reasons they do the things they do. It's also made me grateful for family whenever I get a chance to enjoy it. Both my chosen family and other people's.
I went to my honey's family for Thanksgiving this year. It was the first time I'd met his parents, and the first time they'd had all three of their children, plus everyone's significant others and also some of the grandchildren in the same place at the same time for years and years. It was exactly the kind of extended family holiday that I don't get and have sometimes mourned the absence of deeply. At the same time, though I won't say that any of them take their family for granted, it was clear that they'd never thought deeply about what they have or why they interact the way they do. Everything was just an unreflected-upon given.
In a conversation with the two sons and their parents about the family dynamics and my partner's younger sister's periodic crankiness about the proceedings I offered that maybe she's put off, since she lives near their parents all the time, at having her golden big brothers show up and suck all of the air out of the room. Maybe, like younger siblings everywhere, she's just trying to grasp at some feeling of power, some sense of agency in the face of personalities that feel overwhelming to her. It was like they'd never thought there might be a why to how she is or who she is. They'd never tried to place themselves inside her reality to find some greater understanding or empathy. They love her, but they've also in some ways dismissed her as "just being difficult."
I didn't get the kind of extended family who happily gathers together at the holidays, and I was so glad to be able to borrow one for this last weekend. But I did get a more thoughtful, reflective, and empathetic eye, which I wouldn't trade at this point in order to have a different family than the one I have. Every single path has its tragedies and gifts, whether chosen or received by chance.
I love the concept of a "sister life." I find it really comforting, rather than framing it as regrets of roads not traveled, to think about a twin sister making different decisions than I did. Thank you for this.
I turn 67 next week. 8 years ago I married a wonderful man who just happened to have MS. Making the decision to marry him was one of my sister life decisions. His MS seemed fairly mild at the time, but the neurologist’s warning rang in my ears…”It’s going to catch up with you someday, Jon. It always does.” And he was right, the MS has caught up with Jon, and, as his wife, now caregiver, with me as well. Our life now is nothing like I imagined it would be, and I grieve what could have been. And right beside that grief sits a feeling I never could have anticipated. Honor. I feel honored to be of sound mind and sound body to be able to care for him as the MS progresses. I feel honored to be with him during this difficult leg of the journey. I feel grateful that he doesn’t have to travel this way alone. I did not see that coming.
My experience with sister lives is the obvious, that you cannot know what you have gained until the choice is made and you live the life of one or the other. I think there will be more decision points along the way. All the way, actually. I’ll try to remember that either way I go, I can only connect the dots from the other side of the decision.
This is the most beautiful, sensible response to the child-question that I've heard. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart!
Goodness, even contemplating completely different future-life decisions than whether or not to have a baby (I already have them), this is so relevant and helpful and beautiful and sad, at once. A perfect post thanksgiving read. These words: “We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours.” Wonderful.
I love this- “Our web gets to be a wide and loose and multi-colored one, woven with beloved friends around the world who are our chosen family.”
And thank you for sharing the throwback letter- it connected so many blank spots I didn’t even know I had. It offers the fullness of a thought process that people may not know how to navigate otherwise. Beautiful, thank you 🙏🏼
This always has been, and always will be, one of my favorite essays. I think about it anytime I come to a crossroads in life. I’m so grateful for this one.
"It was the ghost ship that didn't carry us." : )
My experience exactly. Having a child was the most frightening decision to make and the most viscerally right decision I ever made in my life. The life I have had has been infinitely more satisfying with him than it would have been without him. We dragged him all over the world with us, which, I believe has made him a more empathetic and kind human.
I love the process of the huge sheet of white paper. It's very cerebral, but at the end, you know what you FEEL. What a mystery!!!
This is always a relevant reminder and an excellent way to make decisions. It is especially great when finding oneself in a different place than expected or planned, it’s less exhausting than trying to think there is only one way and instead to think would I feel I was missing out. Thinking of it as I navigate life with a college freshman living on the other coast who is wondering if moving closer to home is a good idea or enduring and growing or maybe there will be chances to do both? Thank you.
I have read your essay response on the ghost ships again and again over the years. I get something new each time I read it for different stages in my life. I thought deeply about it as I got married, as we bought a house instead of traveling to Italy, as we considered having a child, and decided against doing it again (it broke me in so many ways that I didn’t want to ruin my one daughter’s early childhood with her mother falling apart). Thank you for reviving it, it’s such a beautiful piece.
One of my all time favorite essays and a clarion call to people at every stage of their sister lives. 💕💕Wishing you the warmest holidays, Cheryl.
This hits home in so many ways ❤️❤️
Listen to “ The Mother” song by Brandi Carlile.