Thursday, October 02, 2008


Twenty years ago today, my older sister was murdered.

Twenty years ago today my phone rang late in the evening and I heard my father's voice. Given the hour, I knew this was not a good news call. My mother had been sick for a long time and I expected him to tell me that there was some emergency regarding her health. Instead he said, "Carole's dead." I think it took a while for those words to sink in. I don't remember much about the conversation. I don't know how much my father knew at that point. I'm sure he knew that she had been stabbed to death while putting groceries in the car. I don't think he knew much else than that she had died quickly shortly after arriving at the hospital. I don't remember if I called my brother or if my father had already spoken to him. I know I called my brother-in-law, who was in shock and not sure what to do. I think I advised him to talk to Carole's pastor about making funeral arrangements. At some point I called a friend of mine. Most of my conversations with her tended to be one-sided with me listening and her talking about herself. Old habits die hard and I didn't want to be rude. I listened for a while and when she finally took a breath, I told her that my sister had been murdered. I don't know why she was the first person I called after family. She was always stunned that I let her talk and then told her. I don't think I was really very aware of anything really.

I remember that the next day I had some kind of errand I had to do for my parents in preparation for going up to my sister's house and the funeral. I have no idea what it was any more. What I remember is feeling as though everything was strange and like I was walking under water. Even though it didn't make any sense, I wondered how everyone on the bus could be acting so normal - could be laughing and talking and arguing - when my sister was so suddenly and violently dead. The next day my brother and my parents and I drove up north to Carole's house. My brother and I were fairly recently estranged. I remember the added horror of having to be around him. I remember being angry that he was alive and my sister was dead. I don't often talk about my brother. It's a long, complicated story and not a happy one.

To write the whole story of the next days would take too long. I had never been to a funeral before. My sister's body was in an open casket for the wake. I had always thought funerals and wakes were foolish, but in this case, I think it made it all more real. It allowed for some kind of goodbye. I know it helped my sister's children. My niece Diana has written beautifully about it. What I remember about that moment was my sister's hands. The body/face - so still - didn't look like my sister to me. But her hands - which were always in motion when she talked - were hers. Because Carole's death was a murder the funeral had the surreal air of a pagent... I don't remember much about it. I remember that our car broke down on the way to the burial. My father was in a panic that we wouldn't get there. We did. I think someone gave us a ride.

I walked under water for a long time. I went through a phase where I had (literally had) to tell everyone I met that my sister was dead and that she had been murdered. I'm not sure why. Maybe to make it real. Maybe as a way of processing it. I've written a number of things about it which you can read here if you would like to.

But let me tell you a little bit about Carole. She was a wonderful person. She was a wonderful mother and her children are a reflection of her goodness and her capacity to love. They didn't have a perfect life - who does - but I think they always knew they were loved.

Carole was 10 years older than me. There's so much to say about her but there isn't really room or time in this format. She was a very good big sister. She gave me my first real book, KING OF THE WIND by Marguerite Henry. I have very few memories of my childhood, but I remember my sister sitting on the end of my bed and reading that book with me. She had a funny way of helping me correct my grammar. Every time I would say "Me and you" or "me and whoever," instead of the correct "You and me," she would pretend to cry and say "You called me mean." For some reason that turned into her being the Mean Queen. When she went away to college, she wrote to me often and many of her letters were from the Mean Queen. She encouraged my writing. The rest of the family encouraged me by criticizing me and telling me not to quit my day job. Carole bought me books about how to get published.

In later years it was my job to try and get my sister out of bed in the morning. This was not an easy task. "I'm awake," she would moan, clearly not the least bit awake. "I'm up."

Carole was passionate about politics and history and music and ideas. She introduced me to The Weavers and Odetta and to many others whose names won't come to me at the moment. She gave me books to read like John Brown's Body (worth reading the preface even if you don't read the rest) and Cry the Beloved Country and the poetry of e.e. cummings. She took me to Europe with her when I was a sophomore in college. How many big sisters would do that? And she gave birth to three people who are among my favorite humans on the earth. I didn't always (often, ever?) feel acceptable to my parents. I think I knew that they loved me in their way. But Carole loved me. She opened worlds to me and she saw me and she liked me anyway. I loved her very much. I miss her still. And yet she is very much a part of me. It's hard to believe that it has been twenty years since she died.

I'm writing this too late at night. October 2nd caught me by surprise this year. I guess that's a good thing. I have always tried to recognize the day by doing something I consider to be "life affirming," so that I celebrate the life of the beautiful soul who was my big sister rather than wallowing in the ugliness of how she died.

Today is also Gandhi's birthday. I like that. I like that the anniversary of my generous, passionate, compassionate, intelligent, thoughtful, peace-loving sister's death is the birthday of someone who stood for peace and non-violence.

I was going to go to bed early tonight and then I realized that it was October 2nd and I suddenly had to write this. Why it couldn't wait until morning, I don't know. It's 3:00 am. I'm not going to re-read it. I'm just going to post it and hope that it honors my sister as it is meant to. Maybe I'll fix it in the morning. But for some reason I need to post it before I go to sleep.

I miss you Carole. I love you. You were the best sister anyone could have had.


Melli said...

Awwwwwwww Raven... that is sO sweet... and it does honor her JUST the way you meant it to! I bet this was the beginning of your fear of the outside world... no? No wonder! How sad it is to lose the one person you really really felt close to, and in such a horrible way. She sounds like she was just the best big sister ever! I'm so sorry...

Raven said...

hi melli - it wasn't the beginning. According to therapists my I have two levels of agoraphobia. One that began when I was molested in childhood and sort of held at the a level where I could still function and go out and do things and a second which came in response to my sister's murder and a bunch of other things which happened in the space of 4 years. On the petty end I lost a job I had had for a long time and loved. I also started remembering the sexual abuse, I became estranged from my brother. My mother, who had already been sick for a long time became increasingly ill, she and my father both died two years after Carole. I attended the murder trial in Poughkeepsie. What finally finished me off was injuring my legs. That added a physical level to the anxiety that I just have not ever really overcome. Wow. Long response. Sorry. At some point - if I ever go back to the alphabet backwards. (when politics is behind us probably), I will write about agoraphobia.

Akelamalu said...

How tragic! It's bad enough to lose a loved one but to have them murdered is inconceivable. My thoughts are with you and Carole of course. x

Dianne said...

I remember that feeling of walking under water very vividly! Shock I suppose. And being personally reminded of how fragile the world is becomes a weight to heavy to bear.

When my sister died I had the same feeling of wanting to tell everyone. Years later my son, at a very wise 17, said he thought it was because we wanted everyone to know she had been here. And that she was NOT defined by her death. Imagine that - at 17 :)

And here you have told us all that Carole is. She was NOT defined by her death but by all she was and all she meant to you and her children and all who loved her.

Each time I think you can't possibly impress me more or make me more humbled by your talent you do exactly that.

Be at peace and joy Raven. I truly believe that Carole is on her other journey and we will all bump into each other one of these worlds :)

gabrielle said...

Deeply touched by your tribute to Carole. I do believe the best of her lives on through you and her children.
Also I appreciate your breaking the silence about the past. We have very similar histories.

San said...

Wow, Carole was such a beautiful, loving person. You deserved every drop of love and faith she poured into you. I cannot imagine the searing pain of losing a dear one in such an irrational, violent way.

Your tribute to Carole is perfect. I believe she somehow knows your words and is all the more radiant (in whatever corner of the Universe she is lighting now) for that knowledge.

Raven, you are a willing contributor to that light.

Kim said...

Through all I've read about Carol and through meeting you and her daughter, Diana, I feel as though I sort of know her a little...and if you and Diana are both products of her, she was indeed an awesome person!

Diana said...

I remember thinking how insensitive it was for tv stations to be playing shows and commercials that had mothers in them.

I love you and appreciate everything that you are.

Carletta said...

Raven - this is beautiful! I cried before I could finish and then I read Dianne's comment and cried a little more. I hope you both are somehow comforted.
Time passes quickly and twenty years go by.(My youngest brother died 24 years ago.)It makes no difference the time - it still and always will hurt.Like Dianne says one of these worlds we'll all be together.

SMM said...

Raven, I can;t even begin to think how painful it must have been for all of you, and I can still feel the pain as you wrote this.

There was a long time when I couldn't talk about my brother without crying. I went away to college about a year or so later after my brother's death. I told everyone that I was an only child rather than having to tell everyone about my brother's death and then having everyone nickname me crybaby. My mother put up a photo of his, but neither of my parents could see it without crying so they had to put it away. Today we talk about him once in a while on his birthday and on his death anniversary - its too painful otherwise.I told my husband the about the whole day only recently. I miss my brother on many days - when I got married, the ceremonies that a brother does was done by one of my cousins, when I had my first kiss, my first boyfriend, when I ran out of money in college everyone would call their elder siblings but I would only watch and then walk away, when it is Rakshabandhan (a festival celebrated for brother-sister relationships). I miss him and guess what the tears are rolling down my face.

Heather said...

unbelievable tragedy. I love the words that came to you at 3:00 am. 'She opened worlds to me and she saw me and she liked me anyway.'
Such unconditional love from your sister.

Dr.John said...

It is hard to lose a sister. It is harder still to lose one the way you did. It is hardest to lose one who is also your very best and closest friend.
You wrote a very good tribute to your sister. She would be proud of your use of those words.
God bless your memories of her.

Travis said...

I think it honored her just fine. And although I've only been coming here for a short time, I've seen that you honor her on a daily basis just by being the person you are.

Cindy said...

You are one of my favorite people too and your tribute is simply beautiful. I think she would have loved how wonderfully it is written.

MommyWizdom said...

O Raven, you write so beautifully. I cannot explain why sh** happens to good people. I am so sorry (for everything). Your tribute to your sister is beautiful. I know she knows how much you love her still. I am praying for you. God loves you unconditionally, like your sister did. You know that, right?

the teach said...

Katherine, It's obvious you loved your sister very much. I'm so sorry for all the difficulties but you have such a good heart in the face of it all. You know I appreciate your answering my e-mails about Sean and praying for him and sending reiki to him. Thank you, Katherine! :)

SnoopMurph said...

I loved Mrs. Kantor and my favorite memory was her driving me and Diana up to visit Cindy at her camp in upstate NY. I always remembering visiting and seeing her in the kitchen, always such wonderful memories of her. Now, I see her radiating through her children and grandchildren. It was a great privilege to know her and spend the little time that I did with her.

Raven said...

I want to thank everyone for your kind responses to this post. They means a great deal to me. My gratitude goes to all of you but I will make specific response to only a few. I hope the rest of you will not take offense at that.

dianne - your son is/was indeed wise. I think that is at the heart of my making the 2nd a day on which to do something life-affirming. It's such an odd feeling that walking underwater thing, isn't it? I do believe my sister is fine. Not long after Carole died, my mother had a dream in which my sister appeared to her looking beautiful and dressed in glowing white. They were on a ship and my sister wanted her to come with her but instead my mother fell overboard. I think my mother was terrified of death or she would have let go of life much sooner than she did.

carletta - I'm so sorry about your brother.

smm - it is so interesting that our responses were so different. Perhaps because I was much older than you were when you went through this terrible loss and because you may have been protecting your parents on some level. It really helped me to turn the anniversary of Carole's death into a day of affirming her life and all life in some way. It may have helped that she left three awesome children behind. Your brother was so very young. I'm sorry for the pain that is still so clearly with you.

mary/teach - I'm so sorry that you and your family are going through a great loss at the moment. I hold you in my prayers. For anyone else that reads this, the husband of Mary's niece - his name is Sean - was it by a car a few days ago and is not expected to live. I'm sure your prayers would be much appreciated for all of them - for a gentle passing for Sean and for peace and healing for mary and her family.

Linda (snoopmurph) - I'm glad you have such good memories of my sister.

Cindy and Diana, beloved nieces - you and your brother are each and all, such beautiful, unique and wonderful spirits/people. I see your mother reflected in you. I love you all so much and I know that your mother would be/IS so proud of you. You are awesome and I love you.

pabees said...

I cried. Here then gone. Loved and still. Eulogized just right.

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