To the outside world we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each others hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time. ~Clara Ortega
The only person in my life, who has known me, before I was even born, is my sister, Linda.
I have read that it only takes a “good enough” parent to raise an emotionally healthy person. Eight years my senior, Linda was my “good enough” parent. Linda became my other mother when our mother’s alcoholism prevented her from fully engaging in that role. Linda fixed my “boo-boos,” and put up with my nightly stealth missions, which consisted of me sneaking into her bed. My sister was my refuge from fear during dark and scary nights.
Over the years, when her friends were hanging out in the neighborhood, my sister showed up with me in tow because there was no one else to watch me. I was her chaperone when cute guys came to call, because she was responsible for watching me. Her care-taking was the foundation that helped me become a healthy adult.
One morning when I was six, I woke to find our parents drowned in the family swimming pool. I didn’t know what else to do but go get my sister. Without hesitation, Linda jumped into the pool. Somehow we managed to get my father’s body onto the deck. We did not have the strength to get my mother’s body out of the pool. Linda phoned for help. It turned out that our parents blood alcohol level was .42, and they accidentally drowned. My sister and I were forever bonded by this shared personal holocaust, and we never lived under the same roof again.
We had moments, growing up, when we got to spend some time together, and we reconnected again when we were adults. By this time, Linda was living in Los Angeles, and I was living in San Diego.
We came together for family weddings, and funerals, wrote letters, talked on the phone, and swapped homemade Christmas gifts.
We raised our families, and life went on, until Linda was diagnosed with CLL: Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. Suddenly, life had an expiration date of 13-15 years.
This is year 13, and Linda is gravely ill in the ICU. At one point, they actually gave her two hours to live. That was two days ago. My sister likes to do things on her own terms, and this is no different.
I had an opportunity to spend a couple of days with her in the ICU. I held her hand for a few hours, and talked to her while she lapsed in and out of sleep. Evey three hours or so, someone from her medical team would come in to perform various medical tests, including neurological checks. They would ask her if she knew her name, ask her what time it said on the wall clock, and ask if she knew where she was. The last question was always the same: “Is anyone here with you? ” Linda would answer all of their questions and would always end with, “Yes, my sister is here with me.”
I knitted, and she slept; the Long Island Medium, one of my sister’s favorite programs, played on in the background of our, now surreal, lives.
Day turned into night, and I became accustomed to the various alarms on her monitor. Yellow, blue, red. Each color having an escalating level of importance; each with its own identifying melody of crisis. Time ticked by, as I sat watching, watching, watching the numbers of her blood saturation, respirations, and heart beats.
I would occasionally venture out to use the restroom, in the waiting room, where I would overhear conversations of other people holding vigual with loved ones in the ICU. They would be comparing notes about what they had heard from the Doctors. Brain dead, organ donation. Grim, frightening conversations; every patient in the ICU being in the perilous situation of having one foot in heaven and one foot remaining on earth.
I still can’t totally wrap my mind around the idea of my sister not being here. She has been a constant in my life and I am not letting go of her very easily. I want to be valiant and nobly tell her that it is okay if she lets go, but on the inside, every one of my cells is screaming for her to wake up, knock this crap off and get better already.
I am so grateful for the love we have shared over all these years. I am in awe of the love her husband has shown her during this terrible illness; his dedication to her being his number one priority. I am proud to be the aunt of such resilient nieces and nephews as they walk this journey with their mother.
Life is messy. Sometimes life seems to be unfair. Life is precious. Sometimes, like this moment, life is really, painfully real.
So, dear sister of mine, while time is standing perilously still, this song is for you. You have left a handprint on my heart, and I love you, today, tomorrow, and for always. (What I want most is for you to get well, hit me in the arm, and tell me to knock this mushy crap off. )