Gina Luongo

I write because I lost my leg and my sister within two years of each other. Fighting cancer and surviving a suicide wiped away any trace of life wisdom I thought I had. Loss after loss left me empty and confused and angry. A pen became my sword. It thrust my pain to the surface of the paper from the recesses of my heart. Words flowed. Memories of my last conversation with my sister alive, I recorded quickly after her death. Carrying a journal to every doctor’s appointment calmed me in the endless hours of waiting. Paper was the channel and writing was the balm.

My two sisters and I, left motherless as young teenagers by our mother’s death, coped with our loss in our own ways. The eldest sister, Kathy, plunged herself into a world of hard work and perfectionism. She hid behind her bedroom door drowning her sorrow by exceeding schoolwork demands. Daniela, the youngest, bottled her grief deep inside for fear of burdening her older sisters with it. I, the middle child, should’ve written about my sadness all those years ago instead of burying it in my body where it later exposed itself in the form of a rare cancer. An outlet was what we needed.

My love affair with the pen began as early as four years old when I discovered the black pen chained to the desk at the bank my mother used to take me to. Escaping into an imaginary world each week, I’d scribble stories onto those green deposit slips piled on the desk. There I learned I had a private inner world accessible through pen and paper. When, over forty years later, life delivered cancer and suicide to my door, I turned to the pen in a different way. But the years in between the pen was always there, journaling, documenting, celebrating a busy life. Writing was like that friend I’d call when I wanted to talk, catch up, or reminisce.

When misfortune struck twice and pain amplified, only the pen could tame the angry beast within me. There was only so much rehashing of heartache I could share with my friends who listened with a grace and patience I’ll never forget. So I turned to my safest listener, my journal, and I drew up a list of everything I wished I’d done to help Kathy more. I wrote apology letters to her for missing the signals she’d been sending. On paper, I vented my fury at the disease that hijacked my life. In writing, I felt free from judgment.

Reading my writing from these times is evidence I’m healing. I’m able to now see how far I’ve come from that moment of crisis when the coroner’s truck pulled up on Kathy’s driveway that night. I’m watching my anger at Kathy leaving us gradually diffuse into an acceptance of our new life without her. Everyday I write to remind myself to let go. I write to bring me peace.

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