A Hole in the World

Kate Flora: A year ago, in March, my sister-in-law, Emily, who more like a sister and was a close friend, was diagnosed with acute leukemia. After many months, most of them spent in the hospital, they were unable to find a bone marrow donor, so she opted to try a cord blood transfer instead. It didn’t work, and last September, Emily died. At her memorial service, I read this piece Mark Twain wrote wrote about loss and grief:

The mind has a dim sense of vast loss–that is all. It will take mind and memory months and possibly years to gather the details and thus learn and know the whole extent of the loss. A man’s house burns down. The smoking wreckage represents only a ruined home that was dear through years of use and pleasant associations. By and by, as the days and weeks go on, first he missed this, then that, then the other thing. And when he casts about for it, he finds that it was in that house. Always it is an essential–there was but one of its kind. It cannot be replaced. It was in that house. It is irrevocably lost. He did not realize it was essential when he had it; he only discovers it now when he finds himself balked, hampered by its absence. It will be years before the tale of lost essentials is complete, and not till then can he truly know the magnitude of his disaster.

That piece has stayed with me through the months. There was cooking for Christmas, which we always did together. And the many, many times I was doing my holiday shopping and thought, “That would be perfect for Emily,” and had to leave the store. As her best friend Molly said, “Emily gave great presents.” This year, there were none of Emily’s perfect gifts, wrapped in amazing paper, under the tree. And every time I tied on the hilarious “sexy cops” apron she made for me, I mentally sent her thanks even as I realized that it would be my last Emily apron.

Then the New Year’s Eve party. She and I have decades of planning and making that dinner together. The days of poring over cookbooks, picking out the menu. The three cheese and wild mushroom lasagna? Sweet potato and corn soup with smoked oysters? Her mother’s recipe for World’s Fair Chicken? The trip to the grocery store for the ingredients somehow always became a hilarious expedition, maybe because being together was one of the few times we actually laughed our way through the day. Then there were the hours together in the kitchen, chopping and stirring, and consulting. Then the arrival of house guests and other friends, and everyone emerging glamorous for the pleasure of an evening most of us have share since before our babies were born. There was a moment, just before midnight, for Emily.

Taking a walk in New York

Mark Twain was so right. The loss is both immediate, and long lasting. The months are filled with aspects of her loss and memories of the years together. March, because she was always with us in Florida. June and July, when she and I would sometimes sneak away for a “girls only” vacation week at a spa in Mexico where we laughed our way through a week of hiking and dancing and fitness classes and aerobic bingo. August and September, when she would come to Maine, and we would go antiquing, or on photography expeditions. September, when we would celebrate her birthday.

We called each other “twin,” because although I was actually born in July, we were both supposed to be born in September.

Emily and Ken

I always said that she was my “signing bonus” when I married her brother. I didn’t just get a husband and a great new family, I got a sister. Since I lost my own sister more than twenty years ago, having that special “extra” sister has been very important.

It might seem crass to remember a person through things, but when someone has been a part of life for more than four decades, their gifts, and the things purchased on shared vacations, shopping expeditions, or while antiquing, accumulate and become part of everyday life.

My blueberry tablecloth. We also have one with potato chips.

When I sharpen a knife with knife sharpener Emily gave me, I am reminded of how very particular she was about sharp knives. When I do a book event, I will be using one of the novelty tablecloths that she made. Right now I have library cats, handcuffs, and sexy cats. My co-writer, Roger Gray, has the one with yellow, chocolate, and black labs. At home, we have blueberries.

I wear her favorite necklace because every time I put it on, I feel closer to her.

I believe that it is important for the people we’ve lost to be remembered often.

Today, as you are reading this, Ken and I are in New York, dedicating a bench in Washington Square Park, her favorite park in New York. The people who sit there won’t have known Emily, but I hope they’ll read the plaque, and think about who she was.


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16 Responses to A Hole in the World

  1. Mo Walsh says:

    Such a beautiful and touching tribute to Emily! Thanks so much for sharing, Kate.

    I hope everyone will go to their Red Cross Donor Center and be typed for the Marrow Match Registry while giving blood. I have been in the system for 20+ years and have not been called on yet, but you never know who is waiting for just what you’ve got. Most marrow donations now use blood stem cells, not cells extracted from the hip bone. Get more information here: http://www.everything.movie/press/bone-marrow-statistics/?gclid=CJyH-fe3vNMCFdhXDQodeHgHLg.

  2. You’ve painted a portrait of a truly special person, Kate. Your description of Emily leaves us feeling like we knew her, too. She sounds like the kind of friend we all long to be.

  3. dragons3 says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your sister in love.

  4. Lisa Beecher says:

    Kate, thank you for sharing this deeply touching tribute. How wonderful to have experienced a relationship so exquisitely full of love and and soul-deep connection. Your words impart feelings of loss that are equally exquisite in their intensity and ability to pierce your heart, even as you remember the good times.

  5. This is a beautiful and loving memorial to a lovely woman. You filled out each other’s lives. She’s fortunate to be remembered so well by you and others.

  6. Lea Wait says:

    I teared up as I read this beautiful tribute, Kate. How lucky you and Emily were to have each other. Friends and loved ones … and how wonderful when they are the same! … truly are forever. I’m so sorry that Emily was lost to you, and you to her, but that all those memories remain. May we all have friends as close, and memories so dear … and remember to make those memories when we still can. Peace to you and Ken.

  7. Barb Ross says:

    What a lovely tribute.

  8. vy kava says:

    What a beautiful memorial to Emily. You both were so lucky to have time together and for her to leave you with so many wonderful memories and now for you to let her memory live on in her favorite place. I’m positive that everyone that sits on that bench will feel her touch.

  9. Nancy McJennett says:

    You describe both Emily and the experience of loss perfectly. Thanks for this moving piece. xoxo

  10. Tina Swift says:

    Your Emily touched my heart through your words.

  11. Beth Clark says:

    What a lovely tribute to Emily and beautifully captured perspective on the effect of loss.

  12. Kate Flora says:

    Thanks, everyone, for your very kind comments. It was a sad, but nice, gathering in the park today with people who loved Em.

  13. A beautiful and touching tribute. You two were truly sisters, and the memories will always be bittersweet. I hope writing this and dedicating the bench will help ease the pain.

  14. Nancy says:

    This is such a beautiful tribute. I’m crying but I really appreciate your sharing the special memories of your sister. That kind of friendship is always worth celebrating. Thank you.

  15. Beautiful, heartfelt tribute, Kate. Though I didn’t know her, you made her live with your words. Thank you for posting.

  16. Donna L. says:

    What a stunningly beautiful tribute to your “twin”. Your heartfelt writing made me feel her loss intensely, although I did not know her. How fortunate for both of you to have had such a friendship! As you know, she lives on in your memories, your traditions, and always in your heart.

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