I wrote this post two years ago. I want to share it again. My sister died from cancer 10 years ago this past August. If you have lost a loved one from cancer or another awful disease, I am sure you can relate to these feelings while walking beside them. I miss my sister. It would have been her 78th birthday today.
It is interesting how our senses bring back old memories. Hearing a song from the past can put me right in a place of my youth. I remember and feel the feelings I had at the time.
Recently I made a recipe from Joanna Gain’s Magnolia cookbook. It was a pasta dish, and it was delicious. I commented to Dennis that I ordered a dish very similar from from a restaurant I used to go to. I could see the restaurant in my head, I could feel the feel of the place, but I couldn’t put a name to the restaurant. It was so frustrating. Last night I made the recipe again. I am glad I cut the recipe in half the first time because, although the recipe says it makes six servings, that was an understatement.
This recipe was so good, and once again the memory of that restaurant came but this time I looked up at Dennis and said, “Macaroni Grill.” Just out of the blue it came back to me. Dennis commented that I had taken him there a couple times before the restaurant closed all its locations in Missouri. I didn’t remember that we had gone there.
What I remembered was very significant. I told him the memory I had was right after my sister, Judy, was diagnosed with cancer, and was told they could only give her palliative care. For those who do not know what that means—they had no way to get rid of this cancer where it was located in her body and the type of cancer it was. They could try to slow its growth and make her comfortable, but in the end, the cancer would win. She was only 67 years old.
I vividly remember coming to the restaurant. Judy’s husband, Ev, was there already. Judy was coming with our other sister, Marilyn. Marilyn had flown to St. Louis from West Virginia to be with Judy when her treatments would begin. The two walked into the restaurant, and sat down across from Ev and me in the booth. Judy looked great—you couldn’t tell by looking at her that she had just been given this awful diagnosis.
As I told Dennis this memory, all the feelings I had that day came flooding back. I told him that Judy talked about the diagnosis, and then she stopped. She took a breathe. I could tell she was fighting back the tears. As I told Dennis this story, and was about to say how Judy reacted, I had to stop, I had to catch my breathe. My voice got shaky, and I had to fight the tears. It is happening as I write this. The emotions rose to the surface just remembering that evening. I looked at Judy, and quietly said, “It’s okay to cry.” She took another deep breathe, and then said with a smile on her face, “Not in the middle of a restaurant.” I will remember that line always.
Judy was four years older than me, and our other sister was six years older than me. Those two were best friends, and I was like the odd man out. There was a period of time, when I was Judy’s playmate. Marilyn was a young teenager, and Judy was still little and wanted to play. We became playmates. I remember playing paper dolls with her—which was one of my most favorite things—I had Lennon Sisters paper dolls, and Pat Boone paper dolls. (I had to have boy paper dolls—the girls needed boyfriends)! Our play time was short lived as Judy also became a teenager, and no longer needed a playmate.
My most fond memory of Judy was when I had my first child. She was a nurse at Missouri Baptist Hospital where I delivered all my babies. She had been a labor & delivery nurse, but had moved to the intensive care unit. On Sunday morning, September 10, 1972, I was in labor at the hospital. My husband was in Manhattan, Kansas, and was driving back to St. Louis when I told him I was in labor. My mom brought me to the hospital. Back then only husbands were allowed with the patients in labor and delivery.
Then Judy showed up at my bed. The nurses called her to tell her I was there. She took a quick break from her area, to come see me. She told me it was rather quiet that day, and since my husband wasn’t there, the nurse in charge told Judy that if she could take the time when I was ready to deliver, she could scrub in to be with me. I was good with that—I had no idea what to expect.
A couple hours later I was ready to deliver my first child. Back then the method of pain relief most used was a paracervical block. The doctor would use a long needle syringe to reach the cervix. Only the tip of the needle was inserted, and the pain medication was administered. Well, the first one was wearing off, and they doctor administered a 2nd dose. I could feel all the pressure but not the pain.
Judy scrubbed in and came in the delivery room with me. She was the best delivery coach. I couldn’t feel the contractions any longer due to the 2nd shot. She laid her arm across my pregnant belly, and as the contraction started, she would push me forward and tell me to push. She was there when Matthew Christian Taylor came into this world with a head of black hair. As soon as he was delivered, an announcement came over the hospital intercom, “five-five-five, intensive care, five-five-five, intensive care.” Because I had previously worked at this hospital, I knew “5-5-5” was a code blue—a cardiac arrest. Upon hearing this announcement, Judy bolted out of the delivery room to her area, and as she was getting on the elevator, my husband was getting off the elevator. The nurses saw him coming and threw him a gown and told him to go into the delivery room. It was good to be having your baby with people you worked with—the baby was there already—no need to scrub in, just go be with her. I don’t think they would have done that with any other dad who showed up late.
The other huge memory I have of Judy was seven years later, when I had an ectopic pregnancy (tubal pregnancy) that almost took my life. The doctors did exploratory surgery to figure out why I was hemorrhaging, so I had an incision from my breast bone to my pubic bone. I was given five units of blood in the operating and recovery rooms. It was a harrowing experience. Judy would drop down to my room every day when her shift was over. She would ask me if I coughed recently—I hated telling her no because then she handed me a pillow to hold against my abdomen, and would tell me to cough. Next she asked me if I walked that day. Of course, I hadn’t, so she would get my slippers and robe, and help me out of bed, and she walked the halls with me. She would tell me that I need to do this to heal. I hated it because it hurt so much. I was in the hospital for eight days. Everyday around 3:30 pm, I knew her shift was over, and she would be in my room making me get out of bed to walk. I wasn’t excited or happy about it, but as I look back, what loving care she gave me.
Now years later, she had been given a death sentence, and there is nothing I can do to help her. I spent as much time as I could being at her bedside in the hospital, and when she was home, coming to her home to be with her. From the time she was diagnosed until her death was slightly over three months. It was probably the hardest three months of my life, watching life ebb away from my sister.
When I would visit her, I always had my laptop with me because 99% of the time she was sleeping. On July 15, 2012, I made this entry which I titled, “In the Midst of Suffering.” Judy went to the presence of Jesus on August 9, 2012. I am grateful that eating this delicious meal brought back memories of my sister. I miss her, but I know I will see her again one day. Here is what I wrote:
It has been a long time since I have written anything. Life just moved on like it had everyday. There were the regular struggles, but they could just slide off my shoulders. In the last few weeks, the things in my life cannot just slide away.
Judy is very ill Her cancer is in her liver and instead of getting better, she is sicker day by day. Want to feel helpless in this world? Be around a very sick person. Be around a brother-in-law who says he doesn’t need any help. I sit in her room and she sleeps. Just sleeps. Her face is red with fever. She opens her eyes for seconds and then falls back asleep, and I sit there wondering what I could do to make her feel better, to make her well. And there is nothing. So I visit with her husband and chat, and go to my computer and read or write, but concentrating is not easy. Nurses come in and out. They change the infusion bags. I watched 2 units of life-giving blood go into her veins, but I don’t see more life. I see a big brown bag of something, dripping into her–the chemotherapy drugs. It will be hanging there for 24 hours. Big bags of fluid and little bags of specialized meds and antibiotics flow into her veins. And yet she still sleeps.
Do you want something to eat? “NO” is the answer. But with the fever she does ask for a lot of water. No nourishment. How does one get well without nourishment? I remember her being so frustrated with Dad when he refused nourishment, and now the tables have turned.
Ev, very emotionally, says he is afraid he will not bring her home. I think she might go home, but not healthy. I don’t know how she will get in and out of the house. She is too weak to walk. That house is not ADA compliant! Ha! Who would have thought of that? It is a house for healthy people, not sick people. How do we bring her home?
The tears well up when I see so many hurdles. It aches in my chest. And all I can do is sit there for 8 hours, go home exhausted, as if I just ran a marathon. Sleep came easy. I’m too tired to think of anything else.
This is a good time for me to get in my “God Spot.” That very spot where I know I am completely loved by the creator of the universe. How awesome is that? He loves me completely. He loves Judy completely. He holds us all in his arms. I close my eyes and I feel his loving arms around me. I feel the comfort he gives. Is my sister suffering? Yes, she is. But I must not forget that Christ suffered to death. He knows pain, he knows suffering. He understands, and not only does he hold me in his arms, he holds Judy in his arms. See the scars? He suffered. He knows. He loves.
Tears flow. My breathing stops for a second. I don’t know her pain. I don’t know Christ’s pain. I only know my pain. If feels so selfish. I am here. I am waking up, eating, walking, talking, seeing my family, seeing my friends. I am having good days and bad days, I am experiencing life, and it all seems so selfish right now. Yet, God knows. He says that is okay–he loves me in my weakness and in my strength. And I need to feel his loving arms right now.
I know how you feel. A sister’s love never ends. This year makes 50 years since my sister, my only sibling died, and I still feel the sorrow. I have raised her four children, and they still call me Gina, not Mama. Although when the oldest boy gets drunk, he does call me that, and interestingly, the youngest girl, gets upset and reminds him that I am called “Gina.” They are in their 50s now and are all grandparents. I often wonder if there lives would have been better or just different if JoAnn had lived to raise them. But, I remind myself that I did my best, and, overall, they lives are pretty good, for which I thank the Lord God and Jesus Christ our King.
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It is so good hearing from you. I think of you often. We don’t know the answers to the “what if’s” but God knows. ❤️
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Thank you for sharing your story. ❤️