A Love So Deep It Required Scuba Gear

“No one could quiet the need for a laugh like she could. She made it so simple, so lean. Addicted to her humor, I needed more than most, and as long as she was at my side, I was fixed. She was my fix. Now she needs to be fixed. But with what? By whom? She steps forward in a shoe she doesn’t recognize—that doesn’t register on her foot. She feels exposed and swears she’s walking on broken glass (which, by the way, she’s made sure there’s plenty of). I swept that floor ‘til they had to pry the broom from my hands and lock it in a vault beneath the sea. And in just a few short weeks, I was contemplating scuba lessons.”

Turns out I couldn’t fix her, nor could she fix herself, but damn, did we try. My brilliant, intoxicating, funnier-than-thou sister, Diane Hope, with her over-the-top combination of OCD, PTSD, and anxiety disorder, passed away nine years ago due to liver failure from Hepatitis C. She repeatedly said that no matter how life-threatening the Hep C became, it was the OCD she couldn’t live with anymore. I understood, yet it was excruciating to let her go. As if I could’ve stopped her.

Diane and I were both scarred by our father’s sexual and emotional abuse, I less so, yet as time passed, I became nestled in our neuroses, unable to decipher mine from hers. And so it went in our world of zero boundaries and overgrown connective tissue, where our daily ritual was mistaken for deep healing rather than the application of a series of hilarious, coated band-aids (sugar-free at her request). She’d annoyingly end up in my soup and I’d have to say, “Diane! Get your own soup!” But sometimes she simply couldn’t.

Around 1996, clutching paper, pencils, paint—and for her, glitter—we started an incredible collaboration—not on a common piece, but purpose: to heal. For eight good years, we played with words, paint, miscellaneous debris, and each other. We wrote extensively, read to each other, praised each other up the ass, and laughed like we were dying from the joy of one another. As our storylines morphed into even funnier, more exaggerated parodies of us, up sprang Pondering Pool, my card line, with its odd, humorous characters who lovingly show us that being different isn’t a flaw but a blessing. Though I created the Pool, it overflows with Diane’s heart and muse.

As time went on and Diane grew more ill, we became even closer to one being, the boundaries far less distinguishable, and it was imperative I’d have to unlatch or go down. The unlatching was for my own good, said the family, and by then I hadn’t the strength to deny it. I had nothing left to give and she still needed a damned miracle.

When I unlatched, we both went down. Before I knew it, we were stuck in a quasi–tough love scenario. Diane, writhing with anger and hurt at my perceived desertion, refused to speak to me unless I maintained my role as her life support. We went from total immersion to zero contact for two looooong years. It was the worst pain I’d ever suffered. We’d always been there for each other. I quieted her in the throes of her obsessions, and she showed me strength: how one survives in spite of herself.

The estrangement felt like a cruel joke. She was dying and I couldn’t see her?! But she was so scared! And who knew how much time she had left! Why couldn’t I be strong enough to soothe her and still hold my form?

Seven months before she passed, we reunited. She’d left a shaky, handwritten note in her car where I was to deposit some items she needed: “Can you come in? I won’t bite.” I think my heart actually stopped for a bit. God, how long I’d prayed for this.

Our relationship never returned to so-called “normal.” We danced along the periphery, around the remaining distrust, anger, fear, guilt, sadness, and confusion, never honestly able to talk about it, but our otherworldly bond was still intact and we were together. Somehow I kept sight of that barely visible line between caring for myself and taking care of her. Watching her deteriorate, seeing her enormous spark diminish, was a whole different kind of pain. But her humor never abandoned her, and neither did I. Diane Hope passed July 31, 2008, with the family at her side.

“She came to me as a sack of bones tied with a strand of hope and a barely legible note written in longhand by her spirit. She wanted to know if I’d ever healed anyone like her before, with a body and soul so confused it agonizingly stretched in all directions, trying to reach symmetry.”

“She left me with accolades much larger than me, and as I stood within their vibration, they shook loose any misgivings I had that I wasn’t smart enough, creative enough, funny enough, loving enough, or deserving enough to receive them.”

Susan will be posting more about this story on her blog, Living In and Under the Playbox, https://www.ponderingpool.com/blog.

 

Susan Mrosek

About the Author | Susan Mrosek

Artist and writer Susan Mrosek is widely known for her humorous, thought-provoking insights as depicted in her internationally sold card line, Pondering Pool. She’s currently writing a book relaying the poignant story of herself and her sister, Diane Hope, who passed in 2008, and who suffered from severe OCD. Susan lives and creates in her tiny Tucson, AZ, studio.

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16 comments to "A Love So Deep It Required Scuba Gear"

  • Virginia Jylkka

    I was in full tears by the end of this beautiful post. My sister and I also share an incredible bond. We have always loved your cards and have shared them with many people. It started when I saw your “Laughed to Death” card and bought the enlarged print for her! We both see ourselves in that picture. Thank you for the joy that has given us. Now that I know your back story, your cards take on a whole new depth and meaning. Thank you so much for sharing your lovely and incredibly painful past with your sister.
    Wishing you joy, laughter and peace in the near year and always. We look forward to many new cards!

    • Susan

      Virginia, thanks so much for your kind words. How fabulous that you share that bond with your sister. In case it isn’t obvious, “Laughed to death” depicts Diane and me. No surprise it resonated with you two. I was unsure which part of our relationship to write about when suddenly this story materialized. Apparently it needed sharing.

      Much joy, laughter, and peace to you, as well…always.

  • Maureen

    Susan life and artistic work has touched my life for so long. And she doesn’t even know me. She is a hero as is her sister’s strength in struggle. Thank you so much.

    • Susan

      Nice to meet you, Maureen. I’m always amazed by the reach of my work (I never expected such a thing) and am truly happy it touches you.

      Thanks so much for chiming in.

  • Mary Ellen Manning

    How wonderful to read this. I’m sorry for the pain and loss you have experienced, yet your sister sounds like such a part of you. As someone who has five sisters, I understand the boundaries and challenges that flow and then abate .
    I have loved your cards for years now, and adore the “aging” series, esp. as I add numbers to this journey here on Planet Earth!

    • Susan

      Thank you, Mary Ellen. I actually feel like I’m channeling Diane much of the time – always have. Sounds like you were ahead of the game. My sisters (four in all) and I never understood boundaries until later in life. Understanding is one thing, constructing and protecting them is quite another.

      So glad you’ve been enjoying my cards. You’re in good and ample company as those numbers add.

  • Lynne

    Susan, this will touch so many. I have more than a million unspoken words to utter, but the two that matter are simply “thank you.”

  • Jill

    Thank you Susan for writing about your sister and for your wonderful cards and images. I too have a sister who shares a her story of sexual abuse. I am also an artist with a mixed media studio in Pine, Az as is my sis with a fiber arts studio in Tucson. Humor and a creative spirit…power of the best kind. I appreciated so deeply your sharing the painful process of “unlatching” to take care of yourself. My sis and I both had to do that with our alcoholic mom and sexual abuser -her father and my step father. We have two brothers who also sexually abused children. The pain and shame of all that her story has had 60 years of living inside both of us. Art and humor continue to carry us through. Doors and keys show up often in my artwork. Here is a poem by Yehuda HaLevi for you-
    ‘‘Tis a fearful thing to love what death can touch
    A fearful thing to love, to hope, to dream, to be-
    To be,
    And oh, to lose.

    A thing for fools, this,
    And a holy thing,
    A Holy thing to love.

    For your life has lived in me,
    Your laugh once lifted me,
    Your word was gift to me.

    To remember this brings painful joy.

    ‘Tis a human thing, to love,
    A holy thing to love
    What death has touched.

    • Susan

      Jill, thanks for sharing a bit of your story. I’m so sorry about what your entire family’s been through. Those are some enormous challenges to overcome. Seriously, thank God for art and humor. I often wonder about the unlatching, and whether if Diane were here now I’d be able to maintain my boundaries. I hope you and your sis have nailed that. You mentioned fiber arts and mixed media. Have either of you done any writing? Of all the media in which I’ve indulged, writing has been the most cathartic. If you don’t yet know, you might find out what’s behind the doors!

      I love the poem – felt it to the bone. Thank you. Remembering brings painful joy – exactly.

  • Paula

    Thanks for sharing this love story. It is beautiful. You have been blessed to have loved and been loved so in kind. An eternal love. The picture of you two as children is so important to your story, as it came to be. It’s worth a long look. Amazing work as usual. Hope to read the whole story soon.

    • Susan

      Paula, thanks for reminding me it is a love story, in every sense of those words. It’s so like you to help me see that. BTW, that picture wasn’t my first choice, but it feels exactly right.

  • Claudia Miller

    When I first found your cards years ago, it was clear to me that there was something very special in your creations. Isn’t it amazing to be blessed with the ability to process and heal through your art? Thank you for telling your story.

    • Susan

      Thanks for reading my story, Claudia. I feel exceedingly fortunate to be able to express myself through art — can’t imagine life without it.

  • Mary Eaton

    Thank you for sharing Susan, you are baring your soul in doing so. Also, many thanks for sharing your artistic talent with so many. I have to admit, sometimes I don’t “get” some of the designs and their intent/words that you express to go along with the scene, but the gals on my receiving end do! HaHa

    Happy New Year.

    • Susan

      Hi Mary. Too funny. I understand my words/images aren’t for everyone. In fact, I wasn’t sure anyone would “get” them, initially. I’m glad your friends are among those who do. Thanks for sharing my work and for reading my story.