One winter day in the early morning hours when darkness surrenders to light, the demon of bi-polar disease came and stole the gift of life that was my sister. My sister died alone, sitting on the edge of a dirty old mattress, riddled with cigarette holes, in the oldest house on the block, down the street and around the corner from mommy’s house. “Maybe,” they said, “She had been dead a week before she was found.”
Old and ugly, decrepit and scaring looking, the house is still there, my sister is not. But if you had walked by it last summer, you would have caught a glimpse of who my sister was. In the front yard, growing around an old rusty light post whose light has long ago ceased to shine, bloomed big beautiful star-shaped white flowers attached to a chaotic arrangement of green vines. The vine of flowers was breathtakingly beautiful. My sister told me it was a clematis vine. My sister planted it. My sister said that a clematis vine is the most aristocratic of all flowers. She said with all its queenly beauty, the clematis vine is very delicate. She said a clematis vine has to have support to bloom and grow properly, or it will die.
If you walked past the oldest house on the block with the breathtakingly beautiful clematis vine, last summer and the window was open in the living room you would have seen the delicate white lace curtains my sister had hung, seductively dancing in the gently breeze. You would have heard the sweet melodic yet melancholy sounds of my sister’s flute. You might have stopped to listen. Many often did. My sister played so well. You would have felt something pure and good, rich, and beautiful stir your soul. The music might invoke a sense of sadness but you would have left with a good feeling too, because each note resonated beautifully from the depth of her heart.
I loved her. It was not easy.
I miss her more now than I missed her when she was living even though we lived over eight hundred miles apart. That’s the kind of distance I thought I needed to continue to love her. That’s the deception of bi-polar disease. In order to continue to love someone you believe you have to put distance between you. Either that or you must have an extraordinary amount of the God kind of love inside of you.
If my sister were alive, I would wash and comb her hair again. I did that the last time I saw her, a year ago. I wanted to do it. I braided it too. It needed to be combed and braided. Her hair stopped being a priority many years ago so it always looked like that. It was matted and pressed to her head on the side she slept on.
I would bathe her, if she were alive. I did that the last time I saw her. She let me bathe her. She didn’t let me touch her very often. Sometimes touching made her mad. I didn’t want to touch her very often. It made me mad. I didn’t want to be around her very often. She made me mad. But the last time I saw her, I wanted to bathe her. I wanted to clean that nasty rusty bathtub and fill it with clean fresh water. I knelt on the black tile that was supposed to be white and washed her back. I rubbed lotion all over the rubbery skin that clung to her frail thin body. I put baby powder on her and a little perfume too. I did that, the last time I saw her. I slipped a clean fresh cotton gown over her head and gently bent her frail little arms to help her get the gown on. I did that the last time I saw her. I touched her face. I looked into her eyes. She looked into mine. There were no words spoken, none that you could hear. I loved my sister and she loved me. It was not easy for either of us, without God.
The last time I saw her, I packed up thirty-eight large trash bags of dirty filthy clothing that had accumulated in that old house and Son and I threw them in the trash. I threw out bottles too numerous to count that was once filled with alcohol. I turned over the filthy sheet less mattress she slept on, the last time I saw her. I saw that her cigarettes had burned clear through to the other side but I didn’t tell her not to smoke in bed. I put the clean fresh sheets that Mommy had bought for her on the bed. I sprinkled baby powder on the sheets and I told my sister to lie down now and get some rest. She let her big sister boss her around, the last time I saw her. I pulled the covers up and tucked them up under her chin. I kissed her and I told her I loved her. She let me.
I went into the filthy kitchen and tried to figure out where to begin to clean. I rattled some of the dishes in the overcrowded sink. I needed to remove the dishes and clean the sink before I could begin to wash the dishes. I had brought Lysol and bleach, baking powder and Greased Lightning, so I could clean that old house, the last time I saw her.
“You’re making me nervous,” I heard my sister call out from the bedroom. Her voice was low and sweet sounding. This time. Kind of rhythmical, sing songie, like. I never heard her talk like that before.
“I’m just gonna clean your kitchen, then I’ll head back to Mommy’s,” I called back to her.
When she replied, in that sing song like voice, “You’re making me nervous”, the second time, I froze for a second, my soapy hands suspended in time, over the sink. Fear crept up and down my spine. Recovering, I tilted my head to the side to listen for the muffled sound of footsteps, scurrying across the hardwood floors coming from the direction of the bedroom, sounds that would signal danger. The last time I heard the sound of footsteps sliding across hardwood floors, my sister tried to push me down a flight of stairs. Hearing none, I quickly dried my hands on my jeans and grabbed my purse from the doorknob where I had hung it when I first got there and I left my sister all alone.
Therein lays the deception about bi-polar disease. You hear the things that are not spoken, or things spoken but might not mean what you think it means. You learn to hear and interpret what is really being said. You learn or you might get hurt. You learn to listen to the sounds and interpret the movements. I heard my sister the last time I saw her. In that sing song like voice, she told me she loved me but she might hurt me. She told me she didn’t want to; but she might. In that sing song like voice, she loved me enough to warn me. That’s the God kind of love.
We did not understand the forces that would cause a beautiful intelligent talented woman to walk naked down a darken street. We did not understand the forces that made her rant and rave one minute then cry uncontrollably, with such a heart wrenching sorrowful wail the next. Bi-polar was two opposites fighting against each other, in thought and behavior, within the frailness of my sister’s body. This disease progressively wreaked such havoc on her thinking process that alcohol was the only medication she believed would weaken the process and bring a form of stability to a mind that would not keep still. Not meant to be a cure-all, alcohol, overtime, too, deceived her and eventually, eroded her liver. My sister died alone.
We did not understand what she tried to make us understand because her actions so often offended and assaulted every sensibility that we possessed. She stopped trying to tell us. When communication failed, she went away from us to her own little hole, a place where she could go and lick her wounds and not embarrass us anymore. My sister retreated to the oldest house on the block, down the street and around the corner from mommy’s house. There she planted, around an old rusty light post whose light had long ago ceased to shine, a chaotic arrangement of green vines that brought forth big beautiful star-shaped white flowers. She retreated to the only place she could freely communicate the vestige of her heart through her music. She loved us when she was unlovable. She loved us when we were unlovable. That’s why she went away. To the oldest house on the block. She played the flute and planted a clematis vine. She never asked for anything more. She died alone.
I loved my sister and I miss her. Like the clematis vine, she was beautiful and delicate. Like the clematis vine, without support, its pattern of growth is chaotic. My sister needed my support to live. But it takes the God kind of love to love someone unlovable. I wish I could have had that extraordinary amount of the God kind of love inside of me that I could summon up when I needed to, when she needed me to.
I finally cleaned her house but she was no longer there. I wanted to do it. I wanted to do it alone. I brought Lysol and bleach, baking powder and Greased Lightning. I opened her closet. Unlike the madness evidenced in every room in her house, the clothes in her closet, were arranged neatly and orderly by color. That’s the deception of bi-polar disease. If only we could have seen behind the closet of her mind, beyond the chaos of her actions; we could have seen the order that was there to see. But, it takes the God kind of love.
Among the dirty filthy clothing that once again had accumulated on the floor in her bedroom, I found a reminder of who she once was. I found her gold charm bracelet with a solitary little gold heart with her initials and her birthday inscribed thereon. It dangles from my wrist now. I never take it off. I found her flute. She played so well. I took her collection of CD’s. Surprisingly, I found only songs of praise and worship. Now, eight hundred miles away from the oldest house on the block, down the street and around the corner from mommy’s house, I play them, and I raise my arms in gratitude to a holy and merciful God because I know He knows. I loved my sister and I miss her. I wish I could have had that extraordinary amount of the God kind of love inside of me that I could summon up when I needed to, when she needed me too.
Down the street and around the corner, from Mommy’s house, there is a solitary grave among many where my sister rests. You cannot miss it. Look for the vine with little white star-shaped blooms. It is a clematis vine. It is the queen of all flowers. There is no light post to support the vine, only a tombstone.
It takes the God kind of love.
Less we forget
I want to remember your smile
Not your tears
I want to remember your smile
Not your fears
I want to remember
I want to remember
That there was joy
In your life
Then I will not forget
As it was in yours
So it was in mine
Because you were there
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
John 15: 4,5