Today begins the journey to help my sister. The last time there was a journey to help her it was because she was recovering from a stroke and needed me to help her with motor skill development, drive her to the doctor and physical therapy, and for general moral support. This time it is because she is dying of cancer. There are so many emotions flooding through me . . . anger, frustration, sadness . . . I never thought I’d be going through this with her. We were supposed to spend the next fifteen to twenty years together traveling, making works of art and jewelry, refinishing furniture and laughing. I never expected that I would get the call from her two weeks ago saying “I have the big C and only have a few months to live.” It is what I imagine running into a brick wall would feel like. The numbness overcame me as quickly as it took those words to come out of her mouth. I was left speechless and began to cry. My husband and I went the next weekend and told Mom. She appeared to handle it much better than I thought she would, much better than I did. That brings us to today and my journey.
The trip to Portland from Oklahoma took most of the day, much of it spent trying not to cry and occupying my mind with other things; reading, sleeping, staring out the window and avoiding conversations. There is always that one person waiting like a hawk to start up a conversation. I knew if I talked about it or thought about it too much I would begin to analyze it and then cry uncontrollably which would be uncomfortable and awkward when flying. If I sit very still maybe he won’t bother me. It didn’t work. That crazy man next to me kept talking incessantly about how he was moving again and about the bedbugs in his apartment, which of course made me start scratching and thinking “who tells someone else that anyway”. I tried to pretend to sleep but if I opened my eyes for even a nano second crazy man started talking to me. I heard all about all the things that were out the window, as if I really cared. I kept thinking of her.
What will she look like? Will she look different? Has she lost weight? She told me that she hadn’t but could I really believe that? Could she walk? Was she having difficulty breathing? There were so many questions racing through my mind that I almost felt like the plane was spinning. I needed cool air . . . and food . . . and a drink of water . . . and off the plane!
My nephew picked me up from the airport. We made idle chat for a while trying to avoid the real conversation. Finally I asked “so, how is she?” There was a deep, heavy sigh and then he told me how he had picked her up in Maryland and brought her across the country to Portland, how she hadn’t told him about the cancer until he went to help her pack thinking he was moving her Oklahoma. He told me that when they arrived in Oregon he took her to the doctor and that was when they were told that it had moved into her lungs and she would probably have only a few more months to live. He said that hospice was coming several days a week and that she was actually doing OK except that she was having difficulty breathing and therefore stayed upstairs most of the time. He said she had lost some weight but didn’t look frail. We both were teary eyed and sat in silence until he broke the silence by saying “IT SUCKS!” No arguing with that statement. What else can you say? It did suck, quite hugely. We rode in silence the rest of the way to his house thinking our private thoughts.
Going up the flight of stairs to her room was one of the hardest things I have ever done.It felt like I was walking up to a firing squad. My legs felt extremely heavy and it was hard to move. It caused everything to suddenly become quite real, it was no longer something that was being imagined. I wasn’t sure what to expect. As I turned the corner and saw her lying in that hospital bed I got a HUGE lump in my throat. She looked at me, smiled a big smile, held her arms out and said quite cheerfully “Babette!”, which is her nickname for me. I quickly went to her side and gave her a huge hug. We held each other close and tight for a moment before I became teary eyed and started to sniffle. She pulled away from me, pointed her finger and said “Don’t make me cry. I won’t be able to breathe.” That was it. I could not cry. I wanted to cry so very badly, but I had to hold it back. Unlike our mother, she had a very good reason for me not to cry.
We chatted for a while. She asked me how Mom reacted when we went to tell her. I told her considering the situation she did just fine; Mom was obviously upset but then took a deep breath and changed the subject which was so Mom. If we don’t discuss it, it will go away. It has always been that way, why should now be any different? After talking about my children and the things they were up to these days she said “I’m ready to watch a movie”. She chose something for us to watch but I have no idea what it was. My time was spent mostly watching her and wondering how much time we would have to spend with each other before she died.Would it be a few days, a few weeks, or a few months? I was in it for the long haul and didn’t plan on leaving until I had to report back to school in August or she died, whichever came first. I truly thought I’d have to go home because a new school year was ready to start.
We stayed up quite late watching TV and chatting occasionally. We did that a lot when I stayed with her when she had the stroke. She loves to watch movies and documentaries. At one point as we were watching she lifted her hand and said “this ring is yours. It is made from the diamonds from mom and grandmother’s wedding sets. I want you to have it but I’m not ready to give it to you yet.” I just said OK and held back my tears. Memories of the day Mom gave her that ring and the one I usually wear came to mind. It was during Mom’s “I’m too old to be alive” phase about ten years ago. She told us that she wanted to be able to watch us enjoy wearing the rings while she still had a little bit of time to enjoy it. Ten years later and she is still enjoying watching us wear the rings! We watched another movie and then about 12:30 my niece came in to give her “a drain” and show me how to do it in case Carol needed one when she wasn’t there. After watching I told Krista that she would have to be responsible for it because I didn’t think I could do it! The purpose of “the drain” is to help her breath easier by removing fluid from around the lungs. It did its job! We watched some more TV and finally I had to go to bed. The two hour time change was difficult on me especially since I had been up since 5:00AM, Oklahoma time! It made for a very long day. I felt totally exhausted.
As I lay in bed all I can hear is the rhythmic sound of the oxygen machine. I try to block it out but I just can’t seem to do it. It makes me cry. I will turn off the light and hope that I can fall asleep.