Forks in the Road: Chosen and Not Chosen

Sandra Neily here.

It’s been a month of choices and transitions, of learning, loss, and loving what might be small and also so very huge.

I will start with the smaller ones. And then get to Rupert.

Yes. close up of coleslaw.

I’ve made progress learning how to avoid the store by buying 3 weeks of food at once, letting dry goods “rest” to decontaminate, and (wearing gloves) “processing” the rest at the sink. My plan to have salads no matter what, works well with coleslaw to finish out the last week. (Red and green cabbage, shredded carrots, raisins, any dead veggies that need to disappear.)

Raven, our Labrahound (Lab and Blue Tick hound: lab indoors; hunting dog outside where furry things run from her), has taken to leaning against walls in what I can only think is regression from the two years she lived in a crate before she was rescued.

The used, small camper trailer we bought (before the stock market ate much of our retirement funds), arrived on a truck because by the end of February we’d read up on what was happening in China and Europe. Read up enough to know the virus was already a silent spreader everywhere we’d planned to go. Knew that people who did not have symptoms were spreaders. Knew that it could float in the air.

We were so right.

Much of the fun I used to have with my granddaughter, is now limited to various kinds of outdoor tag where I run fast enough so she really can’t catch me. Unless she’s on her bike. I miss our dress-up sessions and reading cuddles. (Yes, I am very lucky to live near enough to have outdoor playtimes, but she does not understand why her “Moomoo” can’t “come in and play.”)

In early May, it snowed on 3 cords of wood we thought we were so smart to get in before an early fall snow might catch us lazy and unprepared.

Rupert Neily III

All that pales to losing my brother a few weeks ago. We knew it was coming. It was a long, cruel illness. Three of us have led exceptionally clean, careful lives in order to be with him as we knew we could not have hospice caregivers coming and going, and we were not going to send him to a hospital where he would be alone without loved ones to surround him.

My last real chat with him was over literature. “Are you still able to read a bit?” I asked.

He pointed to a book and said it was “mush.”

“Why mush?” I asked.

He could only do a few words at a time. He frowned.  “Too general.”

I picked up When We Were the Kennedys by Monica Wood. “I think you’ll like this one,” I said.  “It’s an unusual Maine memoir. Alive and real every time I return to it. Nothing mush-y about it. Everyone just leaps off the page. I’ll read it to you and see what you think.”

He loved it. We didn’t finish it, but he loved it the way I loved it: for its depiction of working-class Maine life in a mill town in the 1960’s. He loved it for how Wood essentially recreated all our own childhoods of that era, even as she gave us hers, unvarnished and full of life, confusion, and loss.

I read to him for hours that first day. And the next week, only a few days before he went on his final ramble (Rupert was a great rambler), I sat next to him and said, “I could read some more if you want.” He wasn’t talking by then.

“Or I could just read it and annoy you as I have for decades,” I said with a smile.

He heard the smile, raised both hands and gave me two thumbs up. I thought about skipping the parts where Wood’s father’s death exploded her family, but realized that was probably why he was also drawn to her story. It is very much a book about life and death.  And by the time I read it to him, his life and death were also delicately balanced.

That we could come together over the Maine we love and know … the Maine of small towns and big woods where much is lost, even as much remains that we must work hard to conserve … was very, very special. As people everywhere learned of his passing, they wrote to say how grateful they were for all his big-hearted efforts to conserve the best of Maine.

I will close with a few passages from what we put in the paper.

“Rupert’s first and enduring love was the Maine woods, lakes, streams, hills and coast. They were his botanical garden. He avidly explored them on foot, bike and rowing and sailing his beloved Whitehall, his eye ever roaming to an alluring ridgeline. He learned how to find his way in the woods as a boy hunting with his father. He learned how to find spiritual nourishment from the mystery of nature all on his own, most especially during his recovery from a bone marrow transplant from his sister Sandy for leukemia in 1998. …

Rupert was mischievous, loved to trespass, was perplexed by rules and so generally avoided them. He found signs everywhere, layers of meaning unseen by the rest of us. He collected “icons,” things he found in his path, put there for some reason that was his work to figure out. A favorite was a fork flattened by a car tire, which became ‘he fork in the road.’

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, Are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, The world offers itself to your imagination, Calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – Over and over announcing your place in the family of things. (excerpt from “Wild Geese’ by Mary Oliver: one of his favorites)

Contributions in Rupert’s memory may be made to the Kennebec Land Trust (www.tklt.org) or the Boothbay Region Land Trust (www.bbrlt.org). A time for remembrance will be found in the future.”

Sandy’s novel, “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine,” won a national Mystery Writers of America award, was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, and she’s been a finalist for a Maine Literary Award. Find her novel at all Shermans Books and on Amazon. Find more info on the video trailer and Sandy’s website.  The second Mystery in Maine, “Deadly Turn,” is available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle and the paperback will be ready for purchase July 1st! 

About Sandra Neily

Sandy’s novel “Deadly Trespass” received a Mystery Writers of America award, was named a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, a finalist in the Mslexia international novel competition, a runner- up in Maine’s Joy of the Pen competition, and recently, an international SPR fiction finalist. Sandy lives in the woods of Maine and says she’d rather be “fly fishing cold streams, skiing remote trails, paddling near loons, or just generally out there—unless I’m sharing vanishing worlds with my readers. "
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19 Responses to Forks in the Road: Chosen and Not Chosen

  1. bereksennebec says:

    Very moving. Tough to lose a loved one at any time, but during this scary situation swirling around us, it must be three times more difficult. Thank you for sharing this.

    Like

    • Sandra Neily says:

      Thank you Dick. It was extra tough having to be the receptacle and communicator of all the messages, phone calls and videos that came from family and friends who could not visit during his last days. But it also was a constant reminder how lucky three of were to surround him with familiar care. And FYI: your earlier comment about crime work seeming “pale” compared to larger crimes of the past few years, hit home with me. Thanks!

      Like

  2. ROSEMARY Ann FORSTROM says:

    I am so sorry that you and your family lost this good man. Being with him was a gift for all of you. Please continue to tell his story.

    Like

  3. Robin Facer says:

    What a breathtakingly beautiful tribute to your brother and the Maine he loved. I’m glad to have started today by reading it.

    xx
    Robin (fellow Mainer and Rising Star finalist 😊)

    Like

    • Sandra Neily says:

      Robin, that you so very much for your message. And hearing that it opened your day with inspiration was extra special. Thank you! And hearing you too were a Rising Star finalist is also meaningful because we both know the competition was very tough. Sending you Congrats. Sandy

      Like

  4. Your brother was indeed a remarkable man, who I had the good fortune to have met through the land trust community in Maine. I wish I’d known him better. All week long, remembrances of Rupert have flooded the statewide conservation listserve, so many people testifying to his deep connection with the outdoors and its creatures, his all-the-way-to-the-roots love of Maine and her people. How perfect that you chose Monica Wood’s powerful, gentle book to read to him in his last days. I like picturing that.

    Thank you for taking the opportunity here to write of your deep love for your brother. My condolences to you and your family, and his wide family of friends and admirers. The likes of him do not cross our paths often, and we feel blessed when they do.

    Like

    • Sandra Neily says:

      Brenda, your message was so powerful and generous. (And thank you, too, for the earlier email; came at a a good time.) It’s been so helpful to be surrounded with Rupert accolades and appreciation. Sometimes, when there’s a long decline, caregivers need that fresh window to savor all a person’s lifetime gifts. And you delivered that so powerfully, today. Much appreciated, Brenda.

      Like

  5. Julianne Spreng says:

    Sandra: I’m so sorry that his was a long decline. He was truly blessed by family that stood so firmly by his side. I know from experience that it can be physically hard and emotionally draining to provide such care, but you gave him an end to his life that honored the life he had lived.

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    • sandy neily says:

      Julianne, thank you so very much for sharing back on the post. And knowing how a long decline can be such a challenge. It was heart-warming to have your message. My best!

      Like

    • Sandra Neily says:

      Thanks Julianne, for reaching out and also sharing how draining it can be to be there for someone over a long period of time. These are gifts we can give though. Your message was heart-felt and appreciated. Sandy

      Like

  6. Hey, Sandra. I’m so sorry for your loss. What a blessing you could be with your brother at the end. So many haven’t been able to do that. This is a moving post. God bless.

    Like

    • Sandra Neily says:

      Thank you, Marsha, for reaching out and sharing back on my post. It was heart-warming today. We were determined to do what we had to do to be with him, so we became his hospice team. Thank you!

      Like

  7. Hector Griswold says:

    Sandy, so sorry to hear about your loss. I love Rupert’s visage of the fork in the road, what a great thought. Just the other night I heard Bill McKibben talking about how this current epidemic is a fork in the road and an opportunity to take a road lesser traveled. Oh, I will now always remember your brother. Thank you and your brother for bringing a giggle to my life.

    Like

  8. Lynda Bernacki says:

    We met at the Boothbay R/R Maine authors weekend last year and you gave me some wonderful information regarding Moosehead Lake area adventures. (Thank you!) Discovered Rupert was your brother when he walked up to your table. The closeness and humor you both shared was immediately tangible “my talented family “ he said and then leaned into you face to face and said “see the resemblance!”
    In the short time I’ve met you and Rupert (who was briefly my neighbor) you both have been fun sources of endless fascinating information about Maine, nature and some of the interesting characters that live here.
    What a blessing it is he was surrounded by such loving family and friends until his ‘last ramble’. He will be missed.
    Looking forward to your book. Rupert was very so proud of you. Take care

    Like

  9. Diane says:

    Sandy, It was unexpected to read your sad but beautiful words about Rupie’s passing on to new woods and bays and inlets. While still reading the replies of others, my watch chimed, a reminder to stop and breath for one minute. With my eyes closed, I felt warm tears flowing down my cheeks. He was so fortunate to have had meaningful work in conservation, four exceptional sisters who adord him, and a son he was so very proud of. I would like to share memories of adventures we had with you and the sisters. Please know i am thinking of you all. With love Diane

    Like

  10. Diane says:

    Sandy, I am so remiss in not mentioning Leslie in the above note, such an important person in his life. I apologize. DPB

    Like

  11. monica wood says:

    Sandy, that my book eased your experience of your dear brother’s passing leaves me grateful and deeply humbled. I, too, recently lost a beloved sibling, and I share your sense of loss in a very personal way. Your brother sounds like a treasure. May his spirit rest in others and give them peace.

    Like

  12. Fred Johnson says:

    “Rupee” was my best friend. Lots of stories to tell and no one to experience them – firsthand. I’ll miss him…memories will remain.

    Like

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