My sister had been battling cancer for many years and felt she wasn’t going to win this fight. It was everywhere now, even in her bone marrow. We sat against the bathtub next to the toilet, at Mom & Dad’s house, embraced in each other’s arms. She couldn’t keep food down and had a hard time just having an appetite to eat. The treatment, “chemo & rads” as she called it, was really taking its toll on her body. We talked about so many things. She made me promise that when it got really bad, I wouldn’t let her girls see her that way. She made me promise to always be there for them, she knew she wouldn’t be able to do that in body. My heart broke for her. I couldn’t imagine how she felt and so, I promised her.
As with most all families, there were issues. I talked with her at great length about the importance of making peace between her and her girls. The past was the past. I jokingly said to her “you don’t want them singing 3-part harmony of ding-dong the bitch is dead at your funeral, so you must do what you must to assure some kind of understanding with them before it’s too late”. She had hurt them, she had to talk to all of them and get them to understand her point of view and why she was so angry. She was angry that she had developed this disease. She was angry at what it had done to her. She was angry at what this was going to cost her. She knew it was going to cost her being there to see her girls marry, meeting her grandchildren or ever feeling the real love of a man again.
When I got the call from my niece that my sister had had a seizure and was taken to the hospital, I made it to her home in record time. When I arrived, she was just being brought back home and hospice had been notified. Friends were coming to see her, fearing it would be the last time. Each one came into her bedroom and felt sorry as they looked at my sister. Those repeated reactions started to bother me and then, I thought of my promise. I thought of how my sister might have been feeling about people seeing her this way, although she was comatose at this point. Looking at her, I knew what I had to do for her. So, I went out to the living room and told my nieces to gather all the photos they could of her and place them on the table. I said no one will be coming into her bedroom to see her, they will only be allowed to delve into the photos and share those memories of her as they last saw her, upright and breathing. Then, I returned to her room, bent down and whispered into her ear that I was here and we were having a girl’s weekend, something we always talked about doing when she got better. I filled her room with candles and roses and began playing all her favorite music, right from her own collection. I spoke to her about things while I gently massaged her entire body with perfumed lotion. It was our sister time.
They told me she was in a great deal of pain, little did they know about the pain she carried in her heart. They told me I had to massage liquid Morphine down her throat and insert Morphine suppositories regularly. Her body carried a number of Morphine patches as well. I had to change her position every 30 minutes to avoid bed sores. She was so frail, I was afraid I was going to hurt her. At the time, I did not know that pretty much every bone in her body had a fracture due to the treatment and the seizure. I was glad my oldest brother was in the room with me when I realized she had just taken her last breath. We embraced and told her how much we loved her. Now it was time for us to say good-bye to our “partner in crime”, our older sister. We told the family, returned to her room, joined hands around her bed and recited the Lord’s Prayer.
While funeral arrangements were being made, her daughter’s asked if I would take care of her make-up, clothes, etc. so that she’d be laid to rest as she would have wanted. When I arrived at the funeral home, the director asked if I’d ever done this before. He took me down to the room where she laid, waiting for preparation. Words cannot describe what that was like, I can only say it was certainly one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life. I was there with her for hours. She looked so at peace, so pain-free. When I was done, I felt I had done just what she would have wanted, she looked so beautiful.
I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay with her. I knew this would be our last time together, just us sisters. I didn’t want to let go of this final private time with her, but I knew I had to go. Driving back to her home, I had so much going through my mind, my heart. My sister was the only one that knew my secrets and what was about to happen in my own life. When I pulled onto her street, the song on the radio just hit me and the tears began. I had held them off so well, for so long to do what I had to do for her and her girls, but now I couldn’t stop them from forming. I pulled into her driveway, turned the car off and let them run their course. I sat there for well over an hour, unable to stop them, crying harder than I’ve ever cried in my life. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move. I knew no one would ever understand what I had just gone through. I knew there would be no more heart-to-heart chats in bed together, no more boy talks, beauty secrets or dreams shared as sisters. I knew she would never need me again.
Be thankful for every day you are given, regardless. Find a reason to smile, even if it’s just because you woke up today. Remember to live a little, each day, for those loved ones who are no longer here to do so for themselves and make each day count…for something.