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You Can Never Have Too Many Dress Rehearsals For A Swan Song

September 9, 2012

Author’s note: This post was orignally posted on 09/09/2009. It is being reposted on the anniversary of my sister’s passing.

Parrish ‘n’ Me

As I have mentioned in previous posts, my sister Parrish passed away from brain cancer two years ago.  Two years ago today in fact.  My family chooses to remember her in different ways.  Today we have all altered our Facebook statuses as a 21st century reminder to friends and family that she is gone but not forgotten.  My mother will spend much of the day in front of the shrine she has erected to Parrish and weep.  My nieces will spend another day lamenting that both of their parents are deceased and wondering what the fuck they did to deserve being orphaned before they were 18. My sister Helen, the more spiritual of us and whose youngest child is home with Swine Flu, will perform some kind of spiritual ceremony at sunset involving Tamiflu, Nyquil, bird feathers, beads, rocks, sage, talking in tongues and the drinking of dark beer.  My other sister Terese will spend the day with her fiancé Elizabeth and their dogs – and will hopefully be mulling over life, love, and my most recent proposals for their wedding plans.  I, for my part, will remember her by telling you all about the day she died.

Parrish’s passing was, as I have previously described, a rather long and sometimes tedious affair and time was passed with TV, lots of food, and arts and crafts.  About 3 days before she officially died, Parrish began the process of making a departure.  She lay in the living room of the house in a hospital bed and as we all took turns sitting by her bedside talking, reading, and at night sleeping. For the most part, she was unconscious and I am pretty sure, already gone or halfway between here and there for most of the three days.

My sister Terese, the nurse, and my sister Helen, the mother hen, in tandem with our own mother did the heavy lifting for medicine and hygiene.  I don’t have kids, or professional training, so I don’t do diapers or baby wipes and I really shouldn’t handle a hypodermic under any circumstances. And since at this point, she was long past eating, my job of keeping her fed was over and I tended to the care and feeding of the flock of people who came in and out. I was also in charge of procuring beer and wine which was consumed in a steady flow.  My sister’s friends, “The God Damn Hippies” as I called them were responsible for procuring the bong loads of weed that were, not too subtly, being smoked on the upstairs deck.

During the three days leading up to Parrish’s death we had a number of “false alarms”.  Her breathing would falter or grow shallow, and a call would go out through the house with everyone gathering around her bed to be there for the final good-bye.  Dress rehearsals for a swan song can get quite dramatic.  Particularly when you’ve got a greatest hits of world religions meeting in a small room. It should be noted that I have no great capacity for faith.  I don’t believe in God, organized religion, yoga, reincarnation, spirit guides, or voodoo dolls.  The only thing I really have faith in is that if you follow the instructions it’s pretty hard to fuck up Nestlé Toll House cookies. My family on the other hand…

There was one particular dress rehearsal that will forever be etched in my memory.  Parrish’s breathing had become loud.  She was making a huge gasping sound and had paroxysmal body spasms.  It was an alarming site and the ever calm and kind hospice nurse who sat quietly in the corner, told us that it might be a good time to gather.  So gather we did.  My mother was at Parrish’s head, her boyfriend Jeff at her feet.  Her daughters at her sides holding her hands, my sister Helen at one shoulder, our Tia Consuelo at the other, her mother-in-law and I by her legs.  At first everyone was quiet and respectful, but as her labored breath became more intense, the non-denominational chorus of prayers became more vocal.  There were Buddhist chants, rosaries and Hail Mary’s, Wiccan  incantations, and Ancient Inca prayers said. Jeff was grabbing her feet and telling her she could go; Tia Consuelo was waving a candle in her face and pleading with  her to “Go into the light”; my sister Helen was trying to clear her heart chakra with prayers and a feather; and my mother was cradling her head telling her that her daughters would be okay.  There was much wailing and shedding of tears on all fronts.  Then suddenly my sister Helen, in the midst of all these simultaneous mantras and  in somewhat of a state of panic, shouts “Mom!  Stop it! You’re  blocking her crown chakra!” as though my mother’s hands on Parrish’s head was all that was keeping her from reaching the afterlife.  This was when I started to laugh uncontrollably.  I stepped back, bent double, and nearly hyperventilated myself with laughter. I could only imagine Parrish floating above this scene wondering what the fuck we all thought we were all doing.  Five minutes later, with no final curtain call, we were back on the deck smoking cigarettes, weed, and having cocktails waiting for the next dress rehearsal.

By the time my husband arrived from LA in the late afternoon, we had repeated this tragically comical scenario about a half dozen times and some of us, me in particular, were getting slap happy and jovially asking each person who came out on the deck – “Is it time for the grand finale yet?”

After the sun had set, the end finally came.  This time it was quiet.  No loud dramatic breathing, no frenzied prayers and arcane rituals.  Some of us gathered close to the bed, others stood back and watched from a distance and we all quietly wept.  In the end she left gracefully and peacefully.

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