“Your sister is done, everything went as expected but she’s still sleeping. I just checked on her, she looks quite peaceful if you want to wait.”
She said it as if I was picking her up from a massage in a resort playing beautiful sounds from the far east. We were in a hospital with my niece anxiously waiting at home.
I didn’t want to wait.
I followed a brief path of stale, beige-colored corridors, trying to avoid eye contact with souls transmitting any sense of despair.
Hugging the corner to see without being seen, my sister was stationed in the sheet bay that enabled me to get a straight look at her. Peaceful she was. Her upper body was softly arching down allowing her head to rest on her right fist. It was our signature nap posture.
I stopped to take her in. To feel her from our short distance.
Her peacefully rested state was emitting a sense of surrender. It was as if her soul already knew what her body was quickly catching up to. Things were now out of her hands.
I took a deep breath in hopes it would locate the perfect words for dousing this dismal setting with some sunshine.
Instead, tears welled up as my sunshined-hopes embraced my sister, my person, my cheerleader, my funny-laughter-mate, laying in a hospital bed. There was no hiding or escaping that feeling that was anchored deep in my gut — this was the beginning of the end.
All I wanted to do was crawl up next to her and cry my eyes out.
I somehow toughened up, swallowed the tears, and chose to awaken her with sunshine.
It didn’t take much time to find ourselves sitting across from a man whose name was encased in letters that made him the important one in the mahogany-rich office. With kind eyes, peering through smart glasses, he braced himself to project what was written in the manilla folder marked with my sister’s name.
Anticipating what was about to be read, it made me wonder if there’s some sort of stoplight code for differentiating the massive stack of folders found on the desk of an oncologist. Like a code to warn the doctor of the heaviness they’re about to carry or are they truly these superhuman stoics unaffected by the frequency of which they bear such loads?
I wished I asked.
That knowing sense, tightly wrapped in anxiety and paralyzing fear, unraveled as it was confirmed with a diagnosis that went from bad to worse-than-expected.
I sat beside my sister, only 46 years old, as a death sentence was delivered in polite words such as inoperable and incurable.
I kept my head forward, my spine as straight as an arrow, while my eyes stretched as far left as they could without busting through the walls of my eye socket.
I needed to see her. I needed to feel her as this news formed her new reality.
Like a strong little girl, grown to be an emotional warrior, she curled inward as her hand came up to shield me from seeing what crushing fear looks like.
But I did see her. I always did.
The bearer and the witness walked out of that room with a faint memory of who they were when they walked in.
In a tone of saddened defeat, my sister declared something I later realized how intuitively wise it actually was. “I’m sick because my insides are rotting. I’ve kept everything in and it’s literally eating me alive.”
I felt recognition of truth to her extrapolation as I lightly knew of things my sister went through that were heavy, deep and, I imagine, haunting. These trapped stories would make a subtle appearance in misplaced moments as if begging to be unearthed. But no one dared.
Like most of us, we learned to sweep the ugly things under the carpet and to pretend we don’t feel them crawling around as we try to go about our everyday lives.
To not poke the hornet’s nest of an inner world that isn’t your own.
To be strong and to keep going.
I regrettably abandoned her calling to let it out while it (unknowingly) pollinated my own garden of purpose.
In good soldier form, we marched into her treatment planning determined to find a miracle. Always fascinated by the supernatural power of the human body, I felt called to more alternative, less popular ideas, to help support the depletions of chemo and radiation.
I spent much of my time researching the body, mind, and spirit as I was quasi-obsessed with becoming my sister’s savior and shield.
So began my journey of learning words like “ojas”.
I suppose if I’m to be really honest I think it started as a need to busy myself with doing instead of feeling. If I allowed myself to feel, my empathetic heart was afraid it would die alongside her.
So too began my journey of perfecting how to shut off and soldier on.
As fate would dictate, I was no match for brain-metastasized cancer. All efforts to give her body what it needed were a day late and a dollar short.
Ultimately six months turned into three arduous years of cancer slowly ravaging every cell of her being and the hearts of those who loved her.
Nothing changes the wishing things were different.
Wishing she was still a phone call away.
Wishing she was here to meet me on one of my adventures.
Wishing she could see our family now.
Wishing she was the voice to remind me of who I am when my heart is broken.
Wishing all our inside jokes had a place to laugh.
Wishing she had a chance to grow from what her most difficult chapter taught her.
In death, there’s a lot of wishing left behind. But one wishing sewn into the fabric of my being was settled as a promise to not allow silence to fill invitations for deeper connections.
To learn how to have real conversations. To say hard things that simultaneously make someone else feel seen.
To listen to rotting insides when they ask to be heard.
I was too scared to make a mistake, that I didn’t know enough, that I wasn’t an expert, and that I’d say something too upsetting for my sister to face. There was enough grief on the table and I certainly didn’t want to incite more of it.
However, what I’ve learned since is when we’re coming from love with a desire to love, the only wrong conversations we can have are the ones we don’t have.
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