Returning from Thanksgiving break, I saw that Emily over at The Waiting had added a new writing challenge in her Remember the Time Blog Hop series. I had missed it due to my trip East. The theme, ‘last days’ caught my eye. It was a bit uncanny, for I had just finished spending my last days with my sister. Emily’s blog about her father’s death is heart-wrenching, but it hit even harder after the week I had had. I commented that I was not yet ready to write about my own last days, but then I ran into this:
Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.
– William Shakespeare, Macbeth
Shakespeare convinced me that I had to at least try to write about the last week while it was fresh. Even though I am too late to make it into the hop, I am very thankful to Emily for pushing me to begin the process. I hope my dear friend Sunny will not mind me stealing her amazing perspective on my words. Hers fit perfectly at the front of what comes next.
Even in such times that you noted below, those memories of times past that are filled with such wonder, laughter and love, I find myself thinking that even they are part of our “..seeing in the mirror dimly..”; just a mere spark of the future sight, when what we now see seems more like we’re viewing through waxed paper and then face to face, we will have the gift of clarity and then see clearly (paraphrase). What a blessing to have hope of the fullness when skin is no longer needed and clay makes no claims. What clarity will be present in the Presence, even in the shadows with He Who Knows No Limits, yet chose to take on skin. On our behalf.
Sunny. Thank you for this hope that passes understanding.
May God bless you all as you share with me my last days. Note: The following is an account of my last days with my sister, not her last days on earth. She is now free from the pain and suffering of this life. Sometime around Midday EST on Thursday, December 19, she gave up the fight and began to experience what we can now only imagine: a face-to-face encounter with the Source of all life. Pure love, pure light. Boundless positive energy. I miss you, Ditty, more than I can ever express! I look forward to hearing about your adventures when next we meet.
~ ~ ~
November 25, 2013, Day 1
I had expected the smell. You know it: the familiar musty odor that pervades medical care facilities. But an unexpected sight met my eyes as my mother and I stepped into the room. My sister sat slouched in a lounge chair, head cocked to one side as if permanently askew. Her arms and legs twitched or shook uncontrollably, something I later understood was the involuntary response to the pain she was experiencing. I tentatively moved closer and spoke her name. She looked up at me sideways. I thought I detected recognition in her eyes, but her gaze immediately gave way to tears, then sobs.
If she understood our words of encouragement and comfort, she was unable to communicate it. We sat on either side of her, aching for some way to penetrate her heart with our love, even if her mind was out of reach. The occasional twitch of an arm or grimace that crossed her features unsettled me, as did the unintelligible words escaping her lips at odd moments.
Lunch arrived. Reticent to be the one holding the fork, I realized how unprepared I had been for this. I knew it was bad … I didn’t know it was this bad. Less than 5 months ago we had visited her home. Wordlessly she had taken me to the bedroom where her art supplies were stored. Several framed botanicals lay atop of the dresser. The work in those frames was but a shadow of her former talents. The tears I watched slipping down my Mother’s cheeks echoed the ones staining my heart.
November 26, 2013, Day 2
Tuesday the whole family came to visit. My sister’s tears appeared again, then ended as abruptly as they had begun. It dawned on me that seeing my once-vibrant sister in this condition was worse than heartbreaking. It just didn’t make any sense! She looked like a person who had been in a debilitating car accident involving a head injury.
How had her 57-yr. young mind & body been so completely decimated?
As we sat and talked to one another, we looked for ways to include her in the conversation. I could not stop thinking about the past 5 years of decline. It occurred to me to blame the last 18 months of cancer treatments for pushing my sister’s mind farther and farther from us. That day, leaving was harder than it had been the day before. When I had planned the trip, I had secretly hoped to find her already in God’s arms, free from suffering. Looking at her on Tuesday, I understood the prospect could take weeks – perhaps months – rather than days.
November 27, 2013, Day 3
Wednesday I tried to lighten the mood. I felt more comfortable with the situation and was encouraged by her lack of tears when we arrived. Her husband and I joked a bit and coaxed a familiar “Shu-up” from my sister’s chapped lips. How much of what we said did she understand? I doubted she remembered either of my previous visits. With her head still cocked to one side, she suddenly fixed me with a side-wise glance, and pronounced my name. My breath caught in my throat. Yes, it’s me. How can I help you? How can I reach you?? “That’s right, I’m here,” I said. “I’m not going anywhere.” But of course, I was going. Somewhere. Again I was reticent to feed her, but when I left that day, I promised myself I would sing to her before I went back home.
November 28, 2013, Day 4
On Thanksgiving Day we found her sleeping. Her previous two afternoons had been difficult, so we let her rest. God, please, let her rest, I thought.
November 29, 2013, Day 5
Things never seem to go as planned. And yet… even though I arrived a few minutes later than I had hoped, she greeted me with one of her most beautiful smiles. Alone for the first that week, I held her hand and whispered prayers against the pain. I begged for a peaceful end to her suffering. Then I turned off the television, pulled my guitar from its case, and tuned the strings. I didn’t hurry. There was no need. What place could impatience have in one so oblivious of time itself. My sister smiled contentedly, and murmured, “Yeah, yeah”.
For the next hour I sang the songs I love, while I watched her eyes shine with delight. I stared at her, hardly looking at the lead sheets I usually depended upon. I refused to miss a second of my time with her. I knew it would be gone in a blink, never to return.
My memory drifted back to days long gone … Christmas 4 years ago, surrounded by the family singing carols, while her grandchildren toddled to the music. When we struck up a lively worship tune, djembe and all, the adults began to dance too. I watched with delight as my 81-yr. old Father took my sister’s hand. They danced until they were breathless to a song neither of them knew.
Rewind further back to another Christmas … my sister distributing her intricate hand-made ornaments. Further still … my sister making perfect spoon bread. Further … a late-night excursion to a bar where she brandished her custom-made pool stick and proceeded to trounce us all. Yet further … my daughters prancing about in ballet costumes my sister had made especially for them. All the way to one of my earliest memories … my sister, seated at a drafting table, creating a pen and ink landscape using a technique called stippling. The breadth of her artistic talents will never cease to astound me! Suddenly my mind snapped back to the present. I found myself unable to reconcile the person before me with the one who lived in my memory.
On Friday I wielded the fork, the spoon, and the napkin. In that one small gesture of love for my sister I felt connected with her on a fundamental level that transcended the familiar banter that had characterized our relationship for almost as long as I could remember.
My sister’s youthful brokenness shattered my heart. I simply cannot understand it. But I know it enough to hate it. I hate that my Matron of Honor will never see any of my children walk the aisle; I hate that she will not hold her great-nieces & nephews in her arms the way that I held her infant sons; I hate that the spark in her, once blazing with creativity has gone out. I ache to talk with her about the turn my own talent has taken.
But Friday was our last day.
Since I cannot reach you now and I will not be able to see you when you go, I am making you a promise: One day soon I will stop talking and even thinking about our last days together. I swear that I will not remember you this way. Instead I choose to remember the vibrant loving person, the brilliant artist, and the caring wise older sister you are.
I promise never to forget the inspiration you have been in my life.
X X X O (kisses, kisses, kisses, HUG!)
I love you bunches and bunches and tons and tons!
Your Little Sister,
6 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
– 2 Corinthians 4:6-10
22 thoughts on “Words Fail”
Thank you for sharing your connection to your sister so vividly. It’s been 5 1/2 years since my only sister died of what was supposed to be easily cured leukemia. I could relate to so much of your post.
Love to you.
Oh – and December 19 is my birthday. I will think of you and your sister ❤️
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Wow! Thank you for sharing, Amy. So very sorry for your loss. I will think of YOU on December 19 this year. ❤
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I was looking for your recent Friday Fictioneer’s post, feeling like I’d missed something, when I found this. Cindy, I am so very sorry for your loss. Your post is so poignant and powerful. Having lost 4 family members to Huntington’s Disease (very similar in many respects), I really understand what you have been through, and I am deeply sorry to read of your sister’s death, at such a young age. It’s so challenging to not feel stuck with those last memories, but more and more I am working to replace the last ones of my Mom with the older, happier ones. Sending supportive, caring thoughts your way… as you work on healing, and allowing your grief to find its expression.
Thank you so much for your kind words. I actually have moved past (mostly) those last memories, and now when I think of my sister, I always see her smiling and laughing. But the grieving process for me has not been easy (I think that comes with the territory of someone accustomed to blocking out emotions – I’m a bit of a control freak which would be the understatement of the year).
Anyway, I have some ways to go, but I am learning it’s ok to take my time.
Thanks again. You are such a blessing to this community of bloggers!!
It has really not been much time yet, Cindy and trust me… grief takes its own sweet time! Just let it happen, as you’re ready. Control freak or not, it’s easiest when you just try not to fight it. I’m glad you’ve been able to move forward in your memories. And thanks for your kind words; that means a lot to me. (( hugs))
My mom was also a young 57 years old when she lost her battle with breast cancer. Thank you for writing this. Whether we lose our loved ones suddenly or through a prolonged illness–both are equally painful. I think one of the benefits of the latter is having the knowledge to appreciate and recognize these very special moments as they happen and not take them for granted.
So true! But whether it’s quick or lingering, more and more I remind myself that I better milk the time I have with them – we just never know what’s coming. The saddest thing about my sister’s lingering was she couldn’t communicate – I have no idea if she could understand. A question I’ll have to ask her one day. 🙂 Thanks so much for reading!
This is beautiful, Judah. I cannot get over the age of your sister. So young is an understatement. Wow.
I am happy you were with her – happy you were able to play for her – happy you shared your experience and feelings. Shakespeare got it right. Whether by talking or writing, grief and sorrow need words.
Blessings to you.
I just found your blog and wanted to let you know how much this poignant and loving tribute to your sister touched me. I think you were both so lucky to have each other!
Thank you, Jana, for your kind words. For sure I was the lucky one. My sister was an amazingly open and caring person. A great example to me over the years. I hope one day I can in some small way emulate her. God bless and thanks for stopping by! 🙂
I don’t know how I missed this post, but I just linked back from your most recent post and I am so so sorry for your loss. Your words convey so much of your love for her and your desire for her to be at peace. I don’t know what more to say other than that you are in my thoughts and I’m glad you have your family with you as you go through the process of grieving her.
Thanks, Aussa. We are together in spirit (and over the phone) but they are 700+ miles away. Still, I feel them near me because I know they are walking the same path of the heart. That’s a place where distance has no meaning.
I don’t feel qualified to say much. How dare I try to break into such extraordinary suffering? Incidentally (since you bring it up), I distrust the western medical approach to “health care” deeply and believe there are better, more comprehensive, understanding ways of fighting cancer than the point-blank blasting that wastes people and breeds other problems. But that’s neither here nor there at this point.
I hope this blesses you, Cindy:
(((Diana))) Thanks for your kind understanding. I too have huge issues with the western approach to medicine. However, I was not remotely in control of any of my sister’s care decisions, so it was pointless to fret about it. By the way, I just received the news that she left today. Thanks for your prayers for me and my family.
I will read your post when I have some time.
I knew you had no say/part in her treatmt.
I’m so sorry.
Thank you, Deborah. It’s tough, but she suffered so much. I’m happy she is at peace now.
Since I cannot reach you now and I won’t be able to see you when you go, I am making you a promise: One day soon I will stop talking and even thinking about our last days together. I promise not to remember you this way. Instead I will choose to remember the vibrant, loving person, the brilliant artist, and the caring and wise older sister you are.
Beautifully put. I was only able to do this in little bursts at first, but now . . . it feels so good to remember the life instead of its parting moments.
I am thinking of you and yours.
Thanks, Deborah. I think it will be more difficult in practice than in promise. Thanks for reminding me that it’s going to be a process.
Cindy, I wish that I had the words, but words often fall short of what the heart feels for someone. My heart aches for you, for the loss of your sister in this life. But the picture you painted of your time singing to her I will never forget. You have created a beautiful memory of your sister and of your family. Thank-you for sharing something so intimate and so precious and for reminding us all of how momentary our lives are in a way that encourages us to make the most of our time in such a beautiful way. How blessed you are to know she is home now and that one day you will see her again. We wait with uplifted eyes and hearts for the day when we no longer need ever again fear death or disease. My love and prayers to you dear Cindy.
My friend, thank you for your words. I was thinking about my sister’s home-going earlier tonight, as she is surely on her way even as I type (thankfully), and it occurred to me that she knew a bit about His love, but had never experienced the depths of it here. She knew, but didn’t know, if you get my meaning. I imagine that there will be a level of delightful surprise when she sees Him that I’m almost jealous of. I see her enfolded in the Presence with relief at her utter freedom from any fear of what face He may show. He is love incarnate, grace incalculable! She will know this in a way that I only now trust in by faith. What a SWEET reunion for one who lived so many years wondering. I absolutely cannot WAIT to hear about it!
I miss you and our long talks. I have plans to be in Macon May, 2014. Wonder if we might find time for a reunion? Grace and peace to you and yours, (((((Vicky)))).