Friday, October 02, 2009


It's Gandhi's birthday today and it is once again the anniversary of my sister Carole's murder. It seems impossible that 21 years have passed since I last saw or spoke to my sister, since I received that horrible phone call from my father but the years, in that odd paradoxical way that time moves, have both flown by and crept along simultaneously.

Maybe because my brother is gone now too, Carole has been more on my mind this year. My mother was already ill - had been ill for quite some time - when it happened. I had just become estranged from my brother that summer. My sister had initially been if not angry with me for that at least a bit unhappy. We hadn't quarreled - that wasn't something we ever did - but I had felt a reserve in our conversations. I knew she didn't understand. To be honest, my family was all very happy having me be the one who was stuck dealing with my brother. It meant they didn't have to do it because they didn't really want to be around him either and I had always dealt with him on some level, even as a child. But anyway, God being kind, my sister and I had a wonderful conversation a couple of days before she was killed that let me know we had returned to normal. Oddly, I cried after that conversation and I didn't know why at the time, but I think some part of me knew that I was never going to talk to her again. I don't know why or how, but I think I knew. Not the how, but something... I've always been grateful for the gift of that call.

The time after Carole was killed is kind of a haze. The next days, (and probably weeks and months) felt like I was walking under water. There was something surreal about everything. I remember that I had some errands to run for my parents, though I have no idea what they were. I remember wanting to tell everyone on the bus that my sister had been murdered. I remember that even though I knew it was irrational, I thought they should not be happily going on with their lives as though nothing had happened. I remember that everything felt strange.

The next day I rode with my parents and my brother up from New York City to Carole's house for the wake and the funeral. I remember being furious that it was my sister who was dead, wishing that it had been Phil. Mercifully, I stayed at the house with Shelly and the kids, but that didn't spare me time at the motel where my parents and my brother were sharing a room. For some reason my brother had felt a need to be in his underwear (my parents were so oblivious) and even though he knew I suspected him of incest, at one point he asked me to help him put his legs onto the bed (he was already ill with Parkinson's). I remember feeling violated yet again, feeling helpless to say no. My parents were grieving their murdered daughter. How could I pick a fight, especially on such a taboo subject, especially at such a moment of grief and despair? I feel rage and violation still just writing about it. Writing all this feels like a violation of a piece intended to honor my sister, to remember her on a day she was taken from me. But this is a story that has to be told at some point. Or it feels like it must come out. It is what my spirit is telling me to write, so write it I must.

My mother was already very ill and very fragile at this point. Earlier in the day at the house she had been unable to cope and my father had taken her back to the motel to rest. My mother thought sex between consulting adults was a crime against God. How could I even hint that something so unspeakable might have happened between her own children (her golden son and her disappointing daughter), especially when I had no proof, just terror in my body and anger in my heart. At that time, it was always a war between my fear and my anger and my guilt that maybe I was wrong. Not that incest would have been the worst thing my brother did to me. He was subtly malevolent, ruled by brilliance and charm and sadism mixed. He could cut your heart out with such charm that you wouldn't realize he'd done it, you'd just wonder a few hours later where the odd scar in your chest had come from.

So mixed with my grief and love for my sister was deep anger that my brother - my tormentor - lived. I know the Universe has it's own purposes, but it seemed so unfair to me. My sister, my kind, generous, funny, loving sister taken and my cold selfish brother left to hurt everyone he came in contact with - or so it seemed to me. Such is life.

Much of the rest of those days are a haze. I remember the comfort of being around Carole's kids and how proud I was (and am) of them, the comfort of hoping that I was some comfort to them as well. I remember Shelly (her husband's) lost-ness. I remember the viewing vaguely in small images that I can see in my minds eye without quite seeing them. Chairs lined around the walls of the room, the coffin in front, center. Many sitting, many standing. I remember my sister not looking like my sister to me except for her hands. I remember her hands. My sister always talked with her hands in motion. Now they were still. I remember my brother walking around telling people. "I'm the brother" in this mordant tone like the day was about him. (no anger here)." I remember hating him even more.

Then - the next day, I guess - there was the church service. Huge church, packed with people. I remember feeling like a character in a play. Carole's murder was a random, it-could-have-been-anybody attack and the whole community was shaken. The service, which was lovely, was as much for the community as it was for the family. Such is the way of such things. I remember feeling like everyone was staring at us. We were "the family." We were being watched. I remember my father's car breaking down on the way to the cemetery and all of us in a panic that we wouldn't get there in time (like they would really have started without us). I remember my Uncle Jim stopping to help but I don't remember much after that. I have a vague image of the grave site but I don't know how real it is.

Then it was over and life was supposed to go on as usual. But how could it? My sister was gone. I spent months, maybe years telling every new person I met that my sister had been murdered. I literally couldn't stop myself even when it made no sense to do so, when I had to stretch logic and good manners to get it in. I don't think there's a cab driver in New York who doesn't know my sister was murdered. I think this is because something in me shattered with her death, especially on top of dealing with my mother's illness and the issues with my brother. The who I was of me had already begun to be on pretty shaky ground. Now, the one thing I knew about who I was is that I was the sister of my lost sister.

Carole was more than a sister in many ways. She was a friend, a mentor, an encourager. She was 10 years older than me and I think she was very much a mother to me as well. My mother's aspect of mothering was more about judgment and "constructive" criticism than affirmation; though I think her intention was to be nurturing, she just wasn't good at it. My sister's aspect of mothering was about love and support. I'm so glad she was part of my life. I'm so glad she left her three amazing children who still give me joy. I see her in each of them in different ways.

Way back when, I decided to make October 2nd a day on which I did something life-affirming so that Walter Anderson, the boy who killed the beautiful, generous spirit that was my sister, wouldn't win. I'm sort of ashamed to be writing such a mean-spirited piece today, but maybe in the end, expressing some of this anger IS life affirming. I hope so. I would hate to dishonor my sister's memory.

I miss Carole. I don't know if I miss her every single day any more, but I miss her often. I know she lives in my heart and she lives in her children. She was a gift to everyone who knew her. I am who I am - the better parts of myself - because of her. Maybe I appreciate just how much I loved her more for having lost her. I know I wish I could have her back. I wish she could have held her grandchildren, seen the amazing human beings her children have grown up to be. She would be so proud. She probably IS so proud, just on some other plane of existence.

So in my own tormented way, I hope this is an affirmation of life and that it honors my sister, even though it rather unmercifully trashes my brother. In his defense, I think he was sick. I don't think he could help being the person that he was. He is out of pain now, physical and emotional. Maybe he and my sister and parents are together, all their wounds healed, their sorrows and torments lifted. I loved them all in the end and I miss them, but my sister gave and taught me unconditional love, a gift beyond measure for which I am eternally grateful.

I love you, Carole. I miss you.


gabrielle said...

Beautiful tribute to you sister, Carole. Love is messy and complicated, but unmistakably permeates your words and your life. My love to you.

Kim said...

Your sister would be proud. Not only of her children, who you've helped shape. But of you...the person you've become and the loving aunt you've been to her children. You've trashed no one. You spoke honestly and from the heart. No shame in that!

DawnTreader said...

Seems to me (though I have not known you long) that you have come a long way in dealing with all this, being able to write about it. It must have been a horrible trauma to go through, and very difficult to share the full extent of it all while your brother was still alive. Your love for your sister and her children does come through!
-would insert a little heart here if I knew how-

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Tragic and unexpected death seems to always leave us with a emptiness that is so difficult to fill. Your words have touched me, as has your loss and pain.

My you find blessings on this special day.

Carletta said...

Raven, you write so beautifully and express so many feelings that you often leave me with misty eyes.
I think on that other plane of existence of which you speak that Carole knows and is proud not only of her children but you as well. I feel sure she was sitting right there on that bench outside with you a couple of weeks ago and saying 'way to go Raven.'
She will always be with you in your heart. Cherish that and may those wonderful loving memories warm and bless you on this day.

Deborah Godin said...

Both the pain and the love come through in your words. May you come to know the lessening of the pain, and a growing peace in the love.

Janie B said...

I am moved to tears at the depth of your sorrow. How blessed you were to have had such a sister and how cursed to have lost her so soon. I'm sorry for the loss of your brother, as well, and hope for your forgiveness as your own healing. Carletta is right about that bench. She was there with you. I hope you will meet her there again and often.

CJ said...

Raven, This was a touching tribute to your sister. I can't imagine the pain of knowing a relative was a murder victim. What a senseless act.

You obviously have had a traumatic life. I don't know if I would have survived what you went through.

My older sister, too, died in 1988, the victim of breast cancer. Until I read this, I didn't realize 21 years had already passed.

Ms. Fiddlesticks said...

I feel compelled to write these words to you-- No matter what we go through, remember God holds us in his hand, comforts us, shields us and always loves us. Even though we go through the unspeakable, He is always near. You have great strength whether you know it or not. May peace be with you. Thank you for sharing your feelings. You inspire me.

Raven said...

Thank you all for your kind words, thoughts and prayers. Carole's death was a deep wound but it also opened me to much healing.

CJ - I'm so sorry about your sister. Cancer is a cruel killer. I'm sorry for your loss.

Melissa K, Attorney, Author and Community Educator said...

Your sister sounds like such a blessed soul. I'm sorry for your loss.