Sadly, living without them is difficult.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wonder what Jeannie would think about an issue and how we would disagree, that I don’t think about some weird/funny and often inappropriate sayings of Christine that precisely fits a current situation, that I don’t think about Jill, the youngest, who suffered so much and hope that her new life is full of joy and without pain.
My sisters and me – I will always be the oldest, the one forever tasked with taking care of my younger siblings. Even now that they are gone, I continue to pray for them, hoping that they are surrounded by the arms of our loving God and are at peace – perhaps the final part of my work as an oldest sister.
When speaking about life and death our Sicilian grandmother would say – “one by one, we take our leave”. One by one my sisters left this world behind. And I remain here – still – waiting for my turn to exit the stage.
When Jean died, the grief was sudden and unimaginable. I had spoken to Jean just the previous afternoon – not twelve hours before she passed away. Jean was happy at last. After two weeks languishing and worrying in a rehab hospital following her sixth back surgery, Jean could finally move her toes. Her nerves were recovering at last. Jean was looking forward to returning home to her condo and her best friend, Brandy – a very spoiled Lhasa Apso. At 2AM the next morning I received an unexpected phone call – a call so unwanted that no one in their right mind would want to answer. A nurse from Jeannie’s rehab hospital shocked me with the news that my sister had expired. I only remember asking “what?” “what”?”, as though the words that had been spoken to me were in a foreign tongue. After hanging up the phone, I sat on the edge of the bed crying. I prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet twice, hoping that my prayers would speed Jeannie’s soul to everlasting joy. We had just months before begun to make an adult relationship after years of disagreements about our parents’ care.
My sister Christine was next in taking her leave. She and I were best friends, a friendship forged in the fire of caring for our elderly parents and the unimaginable horror of prosecuting the woman who murdered our dad and tried to murder our mom. Christine and I had spent so many late night phone calls making decisions about mom and dad’s care, Friday evening “Cheetos and Cheap Wine” parties doing the same when I was visiting San Angelo to help her. I had “prayed Christine through” her numerous surgeries before the heart attack and that final open heart surgery that took her life. That awful phone call about Christine’s passing came when I was meeting with a friend and spiritual advisor, who prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet along with me, after I learned the news. Thank God that I was not alone at that moment. My life was over, or so I thought.
Finally, the time came for Jill – little sister Jill. After years of struggling with diabetes, gout, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, COPD and disability, Jill took her leave as well. I was sitting in the room with Jill, who had discontinued dialysis over a week before, when Jill took her final breath. I prayed for Jill when I realized she was gone. After a life so filled with pain and illness, I was certain that Jill would be warmly welcomed in our eternal home. We had just begun to connect with one another after many years of just dancing around being sisters, not really understanding one another because of the difference in our ages, not really wanting to make a relationship but forced to by circumstances.
My sister’s photos, along with mom and dad’s, grace my bedroom wall along with little watercolors I painted to remember and honor each of them. Each night I say “good night” to my three sisters and pray that God will bring them ever closer to His heart of love. I hope that they are praying for me as well. From time to time I feel their closeness during the Sunday Mass, as though they are standing next to me with their arms around me. While I have no wish to die, I do hope that when I take my final journey Jean, Christine and little Jill will be there to welcome me to our eternal home.