Last year, I wrote a post called “Reality Check” and disclosed that my sister was sick. Sadly, I am writing to say that my sister passed. The thought of never seeing her, hearing her voice or touching her again is heart-breaking. That thought crushes my own sense of stability, leaving me extremely vulnerable and afraid. For that reason, I choose to grieve in pieces and muster the strength with every fiber of my being to focus on the lovely woman that I had the pleasure of having as my older sister, Debbie.
Debbie was a minister with a strong faith in God. She was the fifth of 10 children, the oldest of four girls. She and her husband had been together since she was 17 years old for a total of approximately 42 years. Her siblings respected and admired her, and her nieces and nephews adored her. She had this quiet demeanor and was always even-keel. She was creative whether it was with her cooking, braiding hair or coming up with ideas for home decorating. She was my primary go to person to babysit my kids when my then husband and I would take solo trips. When my kids were older, she remained a constant presence in their lives because she always made herself available to her family.
My sister had cancer. Although, the initial prognosis was not great, we were optimistic – the statistics indicated that she could live for up to 10 years. We held on to that statistic as if it was air for life. It was a glimmer of hope under dark circumstances.
Last year, when she left the hospital, she started on chemotherapy treatments. We would anxiously listen as she disclosed the results from her doctor visits, yearning for good news and good news is what she communicated. I admired how her husband accompanied her to the doctor visits and was just there for her; visibly carrying out their wedding vow “in sickness and in health.” Debbie never complained about anything during her illness. She never wanted sympathy or worry. Her faith provided her with a sense of calmness.
Debbie was keenly aware of her family’s concerned optimism regarding her recovery. She had been doing so well over the past 14 months. Based on her doctor’s prognosis, her life should resemble almost normalcy by the end of the summer. They made changes to her treatment to facilitate this transition. As a family, we were relieved and somewhat ecstatic. This probably contributed to Debbie’s reluctance to disclose the results from the scan that was completed to confirm this good news.
We watched as Debbie lost her appetite for food, lost weight and struggled with other situations that were uncomfortable. I told myself that this was just a setback; she will get her appetite soon and everything would be fine. I called her about her poor eating and scolded her on how this was not good for her recovery. She assured me that she was fine. We were oblivious to the fact that she was dying. How could we think that? We were busy planning her 60th birthday party. We couldn’t and didn’t want to see what was in plain sight because it was just too painful and our hope for her recovery – too great.
It didn’t help that Debbie stayed active and continued to maintain an attitude of positivity around her family. She continued to go to church, maybe missing a Sunday here or there because of a “sinus infection” or the side effects from a new medication.
On Sunday, May 7th, Debbie hosted a pre-Mother’s Day and Father’s Day program at her church. She cooked several food dishes and desserts. She was an excellent cook! I called her earlier as she was cooking and told her to “slow down” drilling her about how I need her to focus on her recovery. She again assured me that she would be fine and scolded me “Who told you I wasn’t eating?” as we went back and forth. We always ended our conversations with “I love you sissy” and then she would say “I love you too” and this time was no different. During Debbie’s church program, she wanted to do a presentation to our parents. Four days later, my parents would realize that her presentation to them was her goodbye. Debbie died on Thursday, May 11th.
I have many fond memories of Debbie that I will cherish for the rest of my life. However, my memory of how my sister handled her impending death is one that obviously is in the forefront. She handled it with grace and dignity. Her courage and strength was incredible. She was always positive in spirit and she wanted positivity around her. Her husband said during this period, he had never seen her cry, complain or be sad. On the day that she transitioned, she looked up at her husband and asked him if he was okay. She then closed her eyes and rested. She was remarkable and will be sorely missed.