December 18th.

"Michele" by Armand Merizon, 1963.

I am writing about my sister, Michele, who passed away 8 years ago today. You may think, 8

years is a long time. Certainly time enough to get over it. But death is not something you get over.

The older I get and the more life experiences I tuck into my psyche, the more I understand that losing

one you love is not a linear experience that fades off into the distance. The knowledge or emotion of

death and loss, changes, ebbs and flows, sharpens and softens in every manner of which way, and at

any time.

Michele was 53 when she died. It was in 2005 when she was diagnosed with uterine sarcoma and

another type of uterine cancer all in one horrible nightmare of a sentence. It was June 3, my mother's

birthday, the day that my next door neighbor, Heather,shot and killed herself in her basement because

her own cancer had returned.

Michele called me at Aimé's Paul Rose Road house where I was dog sitting for Aimé while she was

at Bear Lake Creative Writing Camp. She told me that she had been having a stomachache for the

past couple of weeks and was wondering if it could be diverticulitis, a condition that our mom had

dealt with. A condition that was bothersome and no fun, yet something that did not kill you.

Right here, I am ashamed to admit that I was irritated to receive such a call. After all I was

 on a vacation of sorts, way up in Frankfort, MI, out in the country, just enjoying myself with

Clovis and Honey, Aimé's doggies. I had not yet gotten the call from Wayne about Heather. I was

ignorantly blissful for a short time that morning. I did not want to think that my sister was ill. I did

not want to go there, as we all had just gotten over Aimé's bout with breast cancer, chemo and illness.

No, I did not want to hear it. I told Michele that she needed to go to the doctor, because the more she

talked the more alarmed I became. The details are a bit fuzzy to me now, but her description of

symptoms did not remind me of mom's divertickles as we would refer to moms occasional flair ups.

I remember, I was lying in the sun, out on Aimé's deck. It was particularly beautiful outside. The

summer sky was so blessed blue. The sun was warm and wonderful on my skin. But there was

something ominous. There were turkey vultures floating on the breeze. They would land on the big

dilapidated white barn every now and then for a break before gliding off over the orchards. I thought

they were fascinating. I did not feel that anything sinister was afoot.

Michele and Leah

There were a few back and forth calls between Michele and I and Leah. It was finally decided that

Leah was to head to Chelsea to take Michele to the doctor. I was relieved for just a short time before

I received the call from Wayne that our neighborhood in GR was surrounded with firetrucks, police

cars and ambulances. I jumped into my car and headed back downstate to pick Wayne up and bring

him back up to Aimés with me. I don't know why I did that now, but that is what happened.

Anyway as the days passed, the nightmare blossomed into full swing. Doctors and nurses, hospitals

from Chelsea to Lacks here in GR to Boston, back to Lacks. There were alternative healers involved,

special diets, chemo, radiation. It was an absolute surreal summer, that of 2005!

Michele lived part time here at my then parents house, part time at Leah's house and part time at

home in Chelsea. René jumped into action doing what she knew best and that was making huge

flower containers for Leah's deck so as to make Michele feel more at home. We were all just

heartbroken to see our girl, our second girl, lose all her hair, and grow thin and gray. Yet no one ever

spoke about the very real possibilities of Michele's dying. At least we couldn't speak about it in front

of her. She wasn't having any of it even though her whole life was disrupted, uprooted, all fucked up!

Up until then, our original family unit of 7 had remained intact. Death had touch near with the loss of

our brother Mark's wife Margaret and Aunt Beth, Aunt Jeanne and all of our grandparents, but we

still had our immediate family. I don't even really think that we could comprehend the idea that we

could actually lose one of our 7. If anyone, heaven forbid, surely it would be mom or daddy.

Certainly not one of us kids?!

Michele and Mom

Having Michele around was always exciting, so it was great having her over here on this side of the

state. (She had lived on the East side of Michigan ever since she was married back in the late 70's.)

 It was because of her unique curiosity of people and fun. She always had some great new idea or was

doing something out of the ordinary. Michele was always so full of life! When we we kids, at the

dinner table it was she who made all the funny faces that would cause us kids to laugh and giggle

with delight. If he were in a bad mood, daddy would yell at the ones laughing, not knowing who the

true rascal was! That was Michele!

"Michele" by Armand Merizon.

She dared to become a ballet dancer when the odds were against it due to her age and her height.

She got herself hired as a cook for a wealthy family once even though she did not have the first idea

how to make one single entré. That was Michele!

In October, less than 2 months before she died, she and my mother dressed all up as goblins and

went to the annual Ludema Halloween gig at the greenhouse. They seriously scared a lot of people!

Michele was such a creative person with so much imagination. She was always very generous and

giving. She was no good at saving money and didn't care to be. If she saw something she liked or

thought someone else would like, she would buy it. She bought my wedding dress for me as she

knew I didn't like to shop. She bought a painting from daddy once because she knew I loved it and

later let me make payments to her until the painting was mine.

Michele went to school and learned how to artificially inseminate cows, which she did for years,

traveling from farm to farm in the rolling hills near Ann Arbor.  She also was the best animal

photographer I have ever known, capturing the absolute soul of any animal that she pointed her

camera at.

painting by Armand Merizon, that Michele bought for me.

In the late fall of 2005 it became quite obvious that our girl's health was deteriorating rapidly.

Yet she still went Christmas shopping with her husband Lee for new work boots for herself.

At Thanksgiving she was in a lot of pain and had to lie on the couch while the rest of us ate.

It was strange. We acted like nothing was out of the ordinary, but yet our lives were about to be

altered forever.

The Tuesday before Michele died, she was pretty much bed ridden. Her voice had a sort of rasp that

had not been there before. I remember I made her a smoothie, and as she sipped it, she told me that

the hard part was here and we all needed to work extra hard to help her though this time. I know it

really doesn't make much sense, especially as I write it, but then, nothing really made much sense.

A few days later, Michele slipped into a deeper state of consciousness. Her speech became garbled

when she spoke but that was becoming rare.

All of this, and yet we still carried on. We had a pizza while all sitting around Michele's bed. Now I

can't even imagine such a thing. I mean, how in Gods name could we have a pizza party while our

girl was dying right in front of us? Gradually her breathing became labored and the chain stoking

or the death rattle began. I remember lying on Leah's couch listening to Michele breathing on the

baby monitor.  It still wasn't sinking in.

Early on Sunday morning, December 18th, Michele's breathing became quiet and still. Leah and

Aimé who were with her were suddenly aware of the silence in the room. She had crawled

out of that diseased body and once again became free. I will miss her forever with every fiber of

my being.  I love my big sister, Michele.