AUS -> LAX

This entry is being composed from the Austin airport where a gaggle of Buddhist monks just breezed by. Seeing them reminds me of my place in the universe.

Upon my arrival to the gate this morning, half an hour before departure, I learned my flight home to Los Angeles was delayed by 7 hours. Rage filled in my eyes and I fought back tears. Embarrassing as this is to admit, for a single moment I wanted simultaneously to lay down on the floor in the fetal position and to violently lash out at an effigy of the airlines. But it was a moment of no incident. A pretty insignificant moment, except that I am reminded of my humanity. You’re crazy, remember? Oh yeah. Bummer.

How we react in times of adversity defines us and not being a total dick all the time takes a lot of practice. Plus, rage passes. Just like the monks. Only I remain.

 

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Excerpt From Jessica’s Diary

October 17, 2000

I just had one of those daydream/nightmares that I always get before I travel. Life is so wonderful right now that I tend to feel vulnerable to an omnipresent force that exists for the sole purpose of tragedy. For one of those ultra-sad obituaries that you read: she had everything going for her, the education, the career, the opportunity to expand any horizon… but then pure tragedy… which becomes one of those inspirational after school specials to teach people to value each day and to appreciate all that you have. I guess I just assume that life is ultimately unfair and that we shouldn’t be too happy at any stretch of time. Sure we can be happy at certain instances and jubilant and so excited that your heart pounds in your chest and seems to rupture your ears, but who can be happy consistently over a long period of time. So I guess that sometimes I just get afraid that at some point in my life I’ll be a victim of some tragedy. It seems a bit melodramatic but I guess I’m a bit of an actress in my daily life.

This was written when she was 24 years old and before she met David. She was working in finance and had (I think) just purchased her first condo in West Hollywood on Sunset & Sweetzer, down the street from where I am working now. I decided against posting more from her diary and wish I’d lose that argument with myself because it would be fantastic to share the real stuff. Jessica was indeed an actress in her daily life and she took care in her performance, as successful women need to do. This was her brand. Her brand was — and still is — Wonder Woman.

Jessica admired the comic figure having grown up believing she couldn’t achieve much. Later in her diary, she mentions that her boss at JP Morgan during junior year, Terry Cook, inspired Jessica to become Wonder Woman. Of course I’m paraphrasing. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I disagree with how everyone remembers her because it’s not a complete picture. In point of fact, those closest to her will admit that she betrayed her own brand by being too genuine. As much as she seemed confident, determined, and successful, my favorite parts of her were more human than she is credited for. I loved her for the qualities that have been muted after her death, as she is transformed into a real-life fictional character.

On a personal note, I am not feeling The Holidays this year, which is usually my favorite time of year. My family isn’t an ABC Family kind of crew so it always took my sister to rally everyone for the holidays. This time last year Jessie was feeling pretty shitty and didn’t feel like having anyone over or going anywhere. Excitedly, I invited my family over for a Christmas breakfast where they could smoke cigarettes, get drunk, or do whatever without judgement. But then she changed her mind. Exactly one year ago she left me a voice mail:

Hey, Linds, it’s me – Jess. It’s 11 on Christmas Eve day and, um, I just wanted to check in with you because you sounded so excited in your message to have it at your house and then when I mentioned something about moving it, I think you seemed disappointed, so. I just want to double check with you and see what you really want to do because if you really want to have it at your house then, um, I will try to figure out a way to come down there. I don’t think Trish and Lee Jay are coming over to our house until 10 or 10:30 anyway. So give me a call when you get the message! Have a good day.

In the end, I don’t even remember last Christmas. We just hung out the way we always did and I have frequent dreams of us doing just that. Christmas never really mattered. The dreams are so vivid that I still get to hang out with her. But then I wake up and remember all over again that she’s gone, which isn’t as depressing as it sounds. After all, as an Atheist I did my share in preparing my sister for the bleakness of life and death. After all, it’s pretty amazing that I’m even typing this given that I’m alive to begin with and that the atoms in my body were once just star dust.

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Post-Radio-Silence Post

Fast-approaching the 3 month anniversary of Jessica’s death and I couldn’t tell you if the fog is lifting or if it’s just a little less dense than it used to be. But here I sit doing what can be best described as writing. I’ve started about a dozen blog entries that still exist somewhere in cyberspace, labeled draft. I will be surprised if these words are published. Each time I attempted to write, I hoped to arrive at some kind of closure or find meaning in the journey. How naïve of me.

The real problem is that I don’t even know where to start. I suppose the biggest issue isn’t that I am dealing with loss; the biggest issue is that I am an objective observer of how I’m dealing with it. Alarmingly, I do not recognize the person I am or have become. So every day I focus on the things I can control and do my best to take the pressure off when I do something out of character.

For instance: I usually internalize and over-analyze everything before letting others’ opinions shape my understanding of something. Doesn’t that sound exhausting? The best advice I could give to myself is to return some calls and let people in. But I’m just not at that point yet. Although I’ve let go of my anger (because it leads to the dark side), there’s no dealing with this in moderation. Talking to loved ones about it means the exhaustion of sheer emotional chaos.

Part of the issue is that my experience of loss is through a godless lens that most people can’t fathom. It makes the general conversation pretty uncomfortable. I assume. Usually when people say they’re praying for my family or that Jessica can hear me, I have to keep my comments to myself. Seems pretty rude and ungrateful to declare that nobody is listening to my silent cries to wake up from this nightmare. Not Jessica, not god. Honestly it seems more likely that another Jessica from a different timeline will visit me through a freak wormhole in the space-time continuum and present herself as a ghost than it seems likely that god exists. But I guess people are just trying to be nice because they don’t know what else to say.

The shit of it all is that I never planned to live this long. Jessica was always the one with the plan. We were very different that way. While she was busy planning and executing her life’s vision, I was busy doing drugs, going to shows, and avoiding any real commitments. It occurred to me last night that I relied on her to plan my life, too, and that I need to take ownership now. She knew where I should live, what my wedding should be like, and what jobs best suited me. Guess I’d better get getting?

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Mrs. Berman

Jessica (left) and me (right)

She’s gone.

It happened 9 days ago on a Sunday night when I wasn’t there. The only thing my mind could grasp as my mom told me over the phone was that Jessie still needed to get a pedicure.

The prior Thursday I left work early for a meeting with a consultant on the hemp oil. A woman arrived at the front door of the enormous Palisades home with a small dog in her arms. I was full of hope and energy as she told us about her 20-year history administering and using the oil. She claimed to be cancer-free, which is not a term the cancer community uses when someone is in remission. Some doctors will call a patient cured of cancer if she is in remission for 5 years or more, despite cancer cells still present in the body. Most of us have cancer calls in our bodies that are not activated. Despite all this, The Oil Lady claimed she was cancer-free; she was brought back from the grips of Stage 4 all thanks to hemp oil. I don’t really understand the science (1) but it has something to do with the cannabinoids in the human system being the same as in hemp and so on. I’ll share my future findings but, for now, all I can say is that much of what surrounds the oil is still illegal (or so I’ve been told). All I know for sure is that the oil can work. That Thursday was the last time I had hope. On Sunday she died.

Wednesday’s cloudless sky hung low above the Earth as the Sun shifted toward autumn. The last time I stood on the grass at Hillside Memorial was when Jessica buried her 3-month-old son, Bennett. I felt true loss for the first time there when I saw his tiny coffin and I wept for my sister because her pain was unfathomable. We did not know then that cancer was with her as she grieved. This time around, the coffin was not tiny.

The ripple effects of our loss are far-reaching and surreal. From what I can tell, the surrealism truly began after The Hemp Oil Lady left my sister’s home. Reality seized optimism with every logical question David posed about this snake-oil deal and it finally set in that Jessica’s liver was too weak for our hail-Mary play. I was eight all over again and coming to grips with the concept that God does not exist. I was hiding from reality when Sunday took my sister.

The mortuary provided overflow for the burdened, overfilled chapel. The crowd gathered out front in the hot morning sun while I secretly admired how sweetly they arranged her unmanicured hands atop her engagement party dress. Jessica Mitford’s The Embalming of Mr. Jones came to me and I was disappointed at how Jessie reposed. If they knew her then they would have not given her such a subtle smile. Three touching speeches later, I was free of regret for not being able to stand in front of 300. If our places were reversed, she could’ve eulogized me. But she was always stronger than I am.

Only the family was there for the burial. I felt for David when they handed him a biodegradable box with a bow on top. It was Bennett, exhumed so he could lay to rest with his mother. His box was placed atop his mother’s coffin and they both disappeared into the Earth and it reached out to accept them. I was wearing her heels and they sunk into the ground.

Jessica was my sister, my best friend, my role model, and my biggest fan. I was her maid of honor at her wedding and her pallbearer at her funeral. With almost decade of life experience between us, she was my counselor and trusted adviser. Because she was not automatically impressed with anything I did the way a mother would be, all of my hard work was for her. The extent of my love for my sister can only be matched by the extent of my grief for having lost her.

Thank you to everyone who came to the service and supported either my sister or her family. The most any of us can hope for is to be so remembered when our time comes.

(1) This link will summarize the linked study above, if you’re interested

I Procrastinated Writing So Hard That I Accidentally Worked Out

No News is good news! But here’s the news anyway because I am unpredictable and dangerous. News through narrative. I’m a terrible, self-degrading news reporter. Go on. Keep reading.

I finally caught Jess between naps yesterday. The change in season was evident, midday, in the master bedroom. I knocked gently because I already knew she had been awake a few minutes prior. 30 hours and already my memory has replaced the afternoon light with champagne. To the left, a pile of sheets stirred on the bed and I waited to see if she would kick me out. She peered out at me through the morphine and hemp oil and I approached.

When we last met, I let you in the middle of a battle; today I will leave you with no resolve. But you know what? Starfleet created the Kobayashi Maru test to be a no-win scenario so that Starfleet Officers will learn to face their fears, or some shit. Go watch The Wrath of Khan, nerd. We need a class like that for life. But this isn’t about me. Or you. We’re getting ahead of ourselves, though.

Jessie isn’t chatty these days so my list of small talk ended in a few minutes with a few monosyllabic answers. In the silence I noticed that her skin looked a bit dry and she seemed eager for a lotion bath of the least offensive-smelling lotion I could find. Being very particular with smells was a thing even before the cancer. Her legs glistened in the champagne light and I remarked to Jessica how angry it makes me that her Doctors are just trying to keep her comfortable. She laughed in agreement. The last Doctor we spoke to said that once she stopped taking in fluids, it would be 7-10 days. A week ago she wasn’t eating more than 200 calories per day and none of us were ready to place bets on the outcome. But this isn’t about us, is it?

“If she wants wine, give her wine,” the doctor says. But it was better advice for the living. “Just keep her comfortable.”

Jess would never get the Kobyashi Maru analogy but she’s a lot like Captain Kirk. He was the only one at Starfleet to ever beat the Kobyashi Maru. Circumstantially a little different, neither one believes in a no-win scenario.

I rubbed her feet with pain-relieving salve and told her she needed a pedicure, which she agreed with also. Threatening to take her down the street didn’t seem to inspire sudden superpower strength but at least we got a good laugh. She remembered that someone was bringing her food and I offered to go down to get it. I left the champagne-colored room and told her I would see her later.

My mom later remarked that it was like nobody told Jess she was dying. The more I learn about the medical “hopelessness” of her situation, the more apparent her fighting becomes. When her Doctors threw in the towel, she asked for the scraps and made a charcoal pack out of it. My sister is running her own medicinal practice from her death bed. It’s pretty incredible to watch.

 

A Shot In Hell

Jo March has always been a character I could relate to. It’s wasteful to spend too much time thinking about the past but, if I try, one of the earliest memories I have is watching the 1949 version of Little Women. I really identified with Jo as a little girl. In the roughly 25 years since, I’ve drawn from Jo quite a few times. Now is one of those times.

Last week Greg and I were driving up and down the Big Sur coast on our first vacation in over 2 years. I told Jessica about it exactly one month ago on our date to see The National Canadian Ballet perform Romeo and Juliet. There in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, seated on the ledge of the planter, we were two sisters in the center of a hurricane of purple jumpsuits. She told me about the hemp oil and I told her about my vacation. Three weeks later at a rest stop in Carmel, I finally got cell service. A text from my mom had come in on Tuesday while Greg and I camped in Big Sur, laying in the sun and eating nuts and olives. That exact moment wasn’t so peaceful about 6 hours south in Los Angeles. I had to read the text twice:

Hey family I just want to give you a heads up on what’s going on with Jess. The tumors have taken over 50% of her liver and she is starting to lose her liver function. They gave her an ultrasound this morning to see if it is possible to place a stint to help her liver continue to function at it’s already minimum capacity. The doctor said that based on her last tests that the progression of the disease is more likely the case and for them to set up hospice care. Jessica asked her nurse to give her straight talk to know what she would be experiencing and how long she has. She said she has seen the deterioration come in as soon as 3 weeks. She also said that once the liver starts to shut down (so to speak) that she will lose her awareness of what’s going on around her. She’s at home resting and she’s tired from fighting this FUCKING disease!!!! I can’t speak for how she feels about having company so if y’all want to text her to say “hey” I know she would like to know you care and are thinking of her.

In the story, Jo leaves for home from New York in haste after learning her youngest sister, Beth, is dying of Scarlett Fever. The next day I was on the road back to LA.

The hemp oil (Rick Simpson Oil) was doing wonders for Jess. At the ballet, she had already been using for about three weeks and being “gangster high” is hard work, especially when you have metastatic cancer. Or so I have been told. The week before I left for Big Sur, my mom explained that there was a trial she qualified for (her blog talks more about it) but was told she would need to stop taking the  hemp oil. Once she did, her tumor markers grew and the technical stuff gets hazy from there but the short version is that there’s a shot in hell. I’m officially taking the positive stance on the matter, but I’m not religious, so it’s kind of all I have. It’s all any of us have. Western medicine has told us that we should keep her comfortable until her organs shut down. Jess is taking an offensive move by following protocols of people who have beat cancer even in stage four, though I don’t know how much of what I hear is true.

We arrived on Friday afternoon in sandals and dirty summer clothes, skin still warm from the desert sun. The house was quiet and we found David and Ashely on 2nd floor balcony, overlooking the back yard. Jess was asleep on a bench in the sunlight. Ashely arrived earlier that week with research in-hand and worked with the family and the staff to put together Jessica’s protocol, as dictated by Jess. Sunlight is part of her protocol. Over the next few days, we were witches working our brews and potions until everyone found a good rhythm for making sure Jess gets what she needs. And now we wait and see.

If you’re reading this then thanks for the support! You give a shit! That’s why I wrote this blog. Thanks to those of you who reached out already. If you haven’t, don’t feel badly. Just do whatever your religion tells you will fix this situation and that will be all the help we need.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YgSVTdAtNYE

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