Monday, April 28, 2008


We arrived at our local hospital at dawn. Fred was to get injections in his neck again. As we waited for him to go in for his procedure, I looked out the window across a courtyard to a row of windows on the other side. I thought of my sister and her last days in a hospital. Through each of those windows is a life, a person with family, a person fearful and in pain. What untold suffering is contained in this building where I stand? Lord, have mercy on your people.

I hate hospitals. I feel contaminated by illness just being here. The air is polluted with disease and despair. I tell the girls not to touch anything and I want to take their young healthy bodies and run out the door far from the decay I feel here. My sister, with her job in the lab, spent her whole adult life working in a hospital. Then she died in the same place. She didn't want that and had asked her husband not to take her to the hospital when the end was near, but in his fear he did what he thought best.

I worked in a hospital for several years in my former life as a nurse. I know the suffering and pain, the dying and death. As a young woman, it terrified me and I never got used to it. Big events happen in hospitals--people are made unconscious and their bodies cut and probed. Invisible rays are blasted into brains and lungs and bones. Babies enter the world, but not always into ideal circumstances. Fearful mothers, fathers, husbands and wives surround bedsides of those they love to comfort and to wait--for life or for healing or for death.

The girls and I are in Paneras again having breakfast while we wait for Fred. The early morning sun bursts boldly across our table. People with fresh faces order coffee and bagels and laugh and talk about their upcoming day. Death looms only a couple of blocks away. We all ignore it. We know our ultimate fate but turn our eyes away and live our lives--for me, with gratitude for each day we have the people we love with us, for each day we have good health. We can't dwell on death, but the black cloud hanging at the horizon reminds us to embrace the life God's given us, for each of the unknown number of days we have.

"If a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all, but let him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many. " Ecclesiastes 11:8.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Baby sister

I called my sister Easter Sunday, with hesitation but resolve. She has been tolerant of me these past few weeks, but I always feel she doesn't really want to talk and that I'm bothering her. Still, I persist. She is my sister and I promised her I would be here for her. A couple of weeks ago she expressed a great deal of anger about our past. She's suffered so much. I can't just give up on her, so I called once again. Maybe her husband would answer the phone and I would find out how she was doing that way. Maybe I could convince him to let me come down and take care of her. Instead, she answered.

She was making jello for Easter dinner. Sitting down on the couch. She can't get around much anymore. Amazingly, she was cheerful and glad I called. This time we didn't talk of serious issues, just our families, our plans for the day. Her husband and son were out buying a new toilet seat. We laughed about that. We laughed about many things that afternoon. My sister has a great sense of humor and even in her illness her laugh was honest and uninhibited. We talked about an hour and my guests started arriving for dinner. I left them to Fred, not wanting to hang up. She didn't want to stop talking either but finally I realized I'd forgotten to put my ham in the oven and said I had to go. I told her I loved her and hoped she had a nice dinner with her family. It was our last conversation. I thank God for giving me that gift.

My dear, precious baby sister left this earth last night. Even though I haven't seen her for years, I have a gaping hole in my heart. I found her again at Christmas, only to lose her forever. She was the keeper of our memories. She told me she remembers everything and we talked of so many things these last couple of months. But she'll never again remind me of hilarious stories of our childhood. I'll never hear her laugh again.

My sister's isolated little family of three has become only two. Her 22-year-old son could hardly speak in his grief. Her husband I hardly know graciously let me into their private world. Between sobs of despair he gave me a detailed account of her last days and then shared funny anecdotes from their long marriage. Precious stories of the adult sister I never really understood until now.

I can't imagine how my mother can bear to lose her child. I wish we were together so I could hold her and cry with her. I need my siblings now to process these emotions. But there will be no funeral. My sister requested that. It was her wish to keep us all at bay and not let us share in her pain. We did as she asked.

After the news of my sister's death, I went to check on my daughters before I went to bed. I kissed my little Liana and then knelt by her bed weeping. Baby sister. Liana is the baby sister of this big clan. She is so loved, cherished, doted upon. My own baby sister didn't have that kind of love. How might her life have been different? Instead she bore the brunt of an alcoholic father's rage. Through our past few conversations I realized how this overshadowed her entire life and stole her joy. She was surprised one time when I told her how much Fred adores his girls. She never knew a father's love. Neither did I, but I see it in my own husband and I see how my daughters bloom and flourish in it.

I hope that my sister now knows an even greater love and that she is in the arms of Jesus.