The weeks after Harvey has been, let’s say, a crash course in patience.
Patience in and with FEMA.
Patience in myself and my own healing.
Patience in the new normal.
Patience. So much of it.
And then, without warning, or maybe with some warning, my sister in Cuba dies. She dies after the hurricane it but her death was a long time coming. As most Fernandez do, she suffered from high blood pressure and there was no medicine on the island.
Let me repeat that, an island with the best doctors in the world, the same that found treatment for a specific type of cancer, did not have blood pressure medicine for my sister. So she died after not being able to take her blood pressure medicine. She’s buried in Havana.
This was my Harvey aftermath. At first, I was mourning in private and then when I couldn’t anymore, I went to my Facebook page and announced her death.
They say, when you are mourning, it’s important to take time and mourn. It’s important to have a routine so you take comfort in it once you are done mourning enough.
Mourning enough? Who says what is enough? How do you mourn when a piece of your flesh and blood is in the ground?
I’ve cried enough tears to flood Houston all over again. I’ve yelled enough to make ears bleed. But I feel like it’s not enough.
So I go about my business, teaching my online classes, grading, running errands only because they have to get done. And when I drive around, I remember something I want to tell my sister. I begin to make a mental note to tell her the next time I call and then I remember. There’s no one to call.
When those times happen, I open up my bullet journal for the week she died. In the to-do list, my guilt is marked in black ink, the proof of how bad of a sister I truly was. I was supposed to email her the Monday before she died. But I scratched it out and moved it further in the week. But I didn’t end up emailing her. I was busy…with other people’s shit. Busy enough not to take 20 minutes to email her. Busy enough, just enough, to put her on my to-do list right next to “FEMA” and “finalize beginning online lessons”. Busy enough to write the words on paper but not do the action.
I had moved my sister’s return email three times that week — Monday, Tuesday, Friday — remembering her last email “Everything is fine. We’re okay. Don’t worry. Write me back.”
That’s when I cry the most. When I remember how bad of a person I was to her.
But patience. In this new normal. I live with regrets like boulders. They sit on my chest. They crush me in the moments that I forget. Forgiveness right now is just a word in the dictionary, as foreign a concept as I have ever encountered.
But patience. This passes slowly, this grief, this guilt. These flashbacks of the one and only time I met my sister in Cuba. She was so happy to meet us (my blood sister and I). Hermanas. She always called us that. Not Icess. Not Leslie. But her hermanas. No names needed. Blood recognized blood.
But patience. When I hear her voice still in my ear. The Skype call surprisingly clear. Her reminding me she was an old woman. Me reminding her that we were ageless.
But patience. When I place my fingers on the keyboard and nothing comes out. I want to write about her, immortalize her in words with a poem, a story, a memory. My fingers freeze. My mind punishes me with blankness. Bad sisters don’t deserve to use their gifts.
But patience. Hiding my tears from my own mother, who is afraid I’ll go into a depressive state again. Mourning but not fully mourning. The agony of keeping it hidden is a kind of atonement.
But patience. Adding my beautiful sister to our family altar. The act of buying her flowers. The act of lighting her white candle. The sucker punch to your throat and you yelling to God and all the Saints how it was too early. The candle is too early. The white roses are too early. Her picture next to dad’s is too early. Not getting a response back.
But patience. A message. Dad, please take care of my sister. Watch out for her in the hereafter. Tell her that I love her. Tell her that I’m sorry.
But patience. Opening windows to sunlight is a kind of unexpected healing, just like the first time I saw the sun after Harvey. The world continues but in a different way and yet somehow you’re grateful.
The new normal is a reminder that life starts over again and again. Usually without warning. Always in the most inconvenient of times. And even here you must have patience. You must move in the world slowly but deliberately. You must take care of yourself if only just enough. Your moments are deliberate. Your anger will subside. Your bargaining will stop. Acceptance? Only when you’re ready. You will know when. To hell with the world, you will know when.
The lesson is to be present beyond mindfulness. It’s the small things that bring you the most comfort. A message from a friend. Time with a loved one. The invites to attend events, even if you can’t, even if you’re still dying on the inside. The first time you smile or laugh is the biggest relief. The second biggest is, of course, remembering to breathe.
All this requires patience. And it will come, as it always does, when you least expect.
Like in a simple ray of sunshine after a storm.