Friday, July 17, 2015

For my sister

The blogger at left, her big sister in the middle,
and our younger sister at right. Our brother
was not yet on the scene.
My big sister Elaine died yesterday.

When it comes to women and public speaking, Elaine was an introvert and more a private speaker than a public one, not inclined to speeches. But we came up during the women's rights movement in the 1970s, and were early feminists. To her, having a voice didn't necessarily mean employing a microphone. I never knew anyone who stood up for herself with more clarity and vigor than my big sister, and she was an important role model and coach for me, early on. She was lovely, smart, thoughtful. If anything, she doubted herself too much. We clashed, too, over the years. But we eventually made our peace and found solidarity. This was my first friend in life, and she leaves a big hole in mine with her passing.

She loved this blog and my work as a speaker coach, and even as cancer took its toll, she wanted to hear more about my work and clients, this blog and its readers. I don't know whether she read the posts--summarized here--about helping a dying cancer patient with a speech. But I do know Elaine would have given full-throated support to the theme of "Not dead yet." She herself proved a stubborn opponent for cancer, outliving predictions many times over. It was instructive for me to watch her turn away discussions about "moving on" in favor of fighting it out. She wasn't leaving until she was ready.

In our own world, we stretched private speaking to include all sorts of technology: I made recordings of myself reading things to her, we sent emails and made phone calls, all augmenting time in person. Some of the best speaking I've done in recent months has been in these very private exchanges. I'm grateful and proud to have found the right words at the right time for her. We recalled our earliest days, and our most recent. She sent me off to a business trip in California this week, urging me on to gain a new client.

I'm writing this within hours of learning of her death. I've often said to others that all deaths are sudden, even those long anticipated and this still feels like a punch to the gut, a hole in my life. I took comfort this day from the eloquent woman and writer Anne Lamott, who wrote:
You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.
Off to limp and dance in my sister's honor...