“You should write about this…” she said, her voice like gravel on a back country road. “…about what we are talking about right now.”
She looked at me then. Her usual luminous brown eyes with its new veil of sadness. Her body was breaking down right before my very eyes, and it took every single piece of will within me to not look away. Her once virile frame had been ravaged by a disease that had a greater strength than a thousand armies. Its voracious grasp had my dear sister now by her slight throat. She pretended to not feel the firmness and tightness of the hold, but I know that the pressure that was slowly building up within her was taking her breath away.
I wanted to scream out loud. I wanted to stand up from my casual perch atop the weathered leather armchair that sat beside her bed with its automation and its scent of finality.
I don’t want to write about anything, I said inside my mind, the volume shrill and deafening though inaudible to anyone but me. I don’t want to record the details of our last few interactions because I want to continue to have conversations for many, many years to come.
My sister always had the keen sense to detect when my internal monologues were beginning to clock in at full speed. Even at that moment when the last vestiges of her illness were literally consuming whatever healthy tissue lay within her battered body, she was able to see that my brain was moving at such a steady clip that my thoughts were going to escape like smoke out of my oddly shaped ears.
“I don’t want to go, but I have to,” she said. The eloquence and smooth articulation that she had adopted during these last few months never ceased to amaze me. Her newfound talent to speak about her position, and about her wishes, transcended ages and races. The night nurse who intercepted me on my way in that afternoon told me that she could listen to my sister rattle on for hours about nothing because the truth and beauty in her words were riveting. I wish I could hear those words right now.
“I know,” I finally replied, not knowing what else to say. What could I have told her at that moment when I knew our talks were so limited? How could I explain to her that the conversations we had had throughout all of the years of our co-existence were now slowly coming to a definitive end? How could I tell her that my own selfish needs dictated my wanting for her to stay, to listen to my trivial problems, and to tell me that everything was going to be ok?
“Who would have thought we would be here like this?” she continued. She visibly getting tired now. Sometimes she would fall asleep in mid-sentence because the invader within her body was merciless in its hostile takeover. At other times, she would set her gaze upon the maple tree that stood behind the window, its leaves and marked trunk acting as a one-sided mirror to my sister’s soul.
“Do you feel like you’re ready to go?” I asked like she was waiting for her plane to take off from an imaginable runway that led from her hospital bed to wherever the ultimately destination was to be. What was going to be her estimated time of arrival?
I had been trying to research as much as I possibly could about what it must feel like for someone to know that they are literally on death’s door. How do you keep on going when you know there is no chance of a happy ending? From how deep within do you have reach to project the bravado for those around you that will be left behind when you aren’t here anymore?
I heard a laugh escape her lips. It sounded like a sweet little piece of heaven. Every time she graced the world around her with her infectious chuckles, stresses just seemed to melt way, evaporating instantly from icebergs to calming pools. How I would miss those sounds.
“No, I’m not ready to go,” she responded, a smile upon her lips. They were dry and painfully chapped, regardless of the heaps of Vaseline she rubbed into them constantly. The dimple in her right cheek stood out prominently, reminding me of the warm smiles she gave me throughout my entire life that comforted me on so many levels. I couldn’t help but think that now I was the one who had to do the reassuring, and how much I did not want to adopt this role.
“It’s like I have a maze of thoughts running through my head all of the time. I worry about what will happen to my kids. I worry about how mom is going to be. I worry about it all.” Her voice sounded small and meek, the underlying raspiness causing her to cough ever so slightly. She reached her newly emaciated arm to the artificially wooden nightstand and took a sip from the glass that looked like it weighed heavier than her diminished frame. I watched intently, eager to listen to her more, and unsure how to really be there for her and to listen to her.
“I have these really vivid dreams where these beautiful birds are flying right there,” she said, pointing to the end of the right of the bed where her white blanket had gathered. “They’re all gathered together like a flock and they’re feathers are comprised of the most beautiful purples and vivid blues that I’ve ever seen. They’re just sort of hovering there, their little wings flurrying but not making any sound. It’s so peaceful and serene. But it scares me, too.”
“Why does it scare you?” I asked, my curiosity clearly getting the best of me. I often times had a hard go of keeping my ‘inside voice’ silent.
I saw her looking at the end of the bed as though the birds she spoke of were flying there right at that moment, a cacophony of tiny, soundless wings. Their imaginary whirlwind of activity seemingly captured my sisters hampered attention span. I glanced over at the invisible spectacle, wishing I could participate in my sister’s obviously compelling vision.
“I’m scared because I think it means I’m going.” It was at that moment I saw that there were tears forming in her deep brown eyes.
I felt like there was a tiny blade thrust into my heart. I thought I could feel the blood spooling out of my beating life force. I felt awash in the multitude of emotions that had been plaguing me since I had first found out of the gravity of my sister’s illness.
I sat up from the faux leather chair. I guess I had been sweating because the material stuck slightly to my arm as I lifted it and walked the short distance to my sister’s hospital bed. I sat beside her, careful not to shift any of the network of wires that seemed to spew out of her like an external venous system.
“I’m dying, you see.” The tears had begun to pool on her alabaster skin, its smoothness the epitome of perfection. Her olive tone, which now had a slight yellow undertone, still shone. How could she be so close to death and still look so beautiful? I silently thought.
“I am so sorry that you have to go through this,” was all I could mutter. Nothing I could say would make her feel better. How could it? I couldn’t do anything to soothe her fiery pain. I wish I could have taken just a tiny fragment of pain and wear it for her, almost like a badge of honor, to let her be able to rest her frail body.
“I know, hon” she said. Hon. The memory of her saying that word now in my head brings tears to my eyes and a tightness in my chest. When will I hear her say that word again? What am I going to do when life throws me a curveball and it is only her voice and reasoning that calms me down and lets me see that everything works itself out. Selfish thoughts.
I don’t know how long we just sat there. It was like time had stopped ticking. The sun beyond the large bay windows just a few feet away did not change its brightness nor its firm stance in the blue sky that surrounded it. There was a feeling of peace and calmness in the room around us after my sister’s statement. It was a moment that I will carry with me forever. I miss her every single day. And I hope she misses me.
NOTE: My sister passed away from pancreatic cancer on December 5, 2014. She was only 38. She left behind five beautiful children, ranging in age from 5 to 21. It hurts to think they will probably forget the powerful woman that was their mother.