The Eternal Value of an Ordinary Life

Is it possible to place a value on a human life? Is it reasonable to do so? Our secular society does and then calculates human value based on a wide set of criteria – a combination of social class, family connections, educational level (preferably at an elite university), political affiliation, employment status (level reached and at an “appropriate” or approved agency or company), the location or the state in which one resides. Sadly, not many of us are considered valuable by our secular society.

My faith teaches that God doesn’t measure human value as our secular society does. Every human life to God is precious and of inestimable value. He has planned for each of us and knows us even before we are growing in our mother’s womb. God does seem, however, to prefer the childlike, the innocent, the outcasts, the sinners who know they are sinners, and the downtrodden. Even a cursory reading of the Bible can pick out a dozen or more individuals who received “special treatment” from God in the Old Testament as their life situation or their personality was not what was admired or acceptable even for the time in which they lived.

Here are a few examples: Abraham and his wife Sarah, though wealthy but already old and childless without a proper heir became the ancestors of all of God’s people, Joseph, youngest son of the patriarch Jacob who was sold into slavery by his brothers and later saved his people from famine – including his repentant brothers, Moses, who murdered an Egyptian but was called to lead the Israelites to freedom from Egypt, Rahab, a prostitute and innkeeper, who hid the Israelites and helped them conquer Jericho, Hannah, a barren older woman, who gives birth to Samuel the prophet, David, an Israeli shepherd boy who with God’s help killed a giant Philistine warrior and became Israel’s greatest king, Deborah, a widow and judge of Israel who saved her people, Gideon, a reluctant and timid leader encouraged by God to battle Israel’s enemies, Esther, a captive Jewish orphan, who became a queen of a foreign nation and saved the lives of her people, Naomi, a widow, who had lost her husband and sons and was in living in a foreign land, and Ruth, a Moabite, an outsider, who became the grandmother of David and through David an ancestor of Jesus. 

Stories abound in the New Testament of Jesus reaching out to sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors and those desperately ill. Jesus’ preferred friends were generally uneducated, or those with personal flaws or serious sins who later became His greatest disciples and willingly gave their lives for their faith in Him. Many of those who were educated and elite – the ones who were the most valued by society in Jesus’ time – turned away from the Son of God and chose to follow their secular culture’s norms.

So what is this discussion all about? Why ask all of these questions about human value? I was reflecting about a story a friend related recently about my sister Jill, and in doing so, I thought about me, about God taking someone – my youngest sister Jill – who was small and unimportant in this world, as I also am, and using her to break through my stony heart and change me, to give me, as it is said in the Bible, a true heart of flesh.

Youngest sister Jill

The death of my youngest sister Jill was very traumatic for me. Jill had been ill for years and finally succumbed to her illness in 2019. Since the rest of the family, including two other younger sisters had predeceased Jill, I was the only immediate family left. Jill and I had never been friends, even before the rest of the family passed from this life. There were more than 11 years between Jill’s birth and mine. We had little in common in the lifestyles and choices we had made or the way in which we thought about the world. Jill had led a most unusual life, much different than my other sisters or myself. However, over those five years during which Jill and I were thrown together by circumstances, I had come to know and appreciate Jill, to see her “value”. We had begun to enjoy one another’s company during the last weeks of Jill’s life, and I came to appreciate the remarkable and courageous person she was and is.

Taking time out of my already busy life, building a relationship with Jill and caring for Jill’s many needs which escalated as the years passed was difficult for me. And yet I was so bereft when Jill died that I did something which I had never done before. When I prayed for Jill after her death, I asked God to send me a sign that my little sister Jill was safe at home with Him. I received not one sign but four separate signs in a short span of time. The strength of the signs and their unmistakable conclusion was proof that Jill had passed into the arms of God and was safe with the Lord and with the remainder of my family.

More than two years have passed since Jill’s death. I pray for her as I do for all of my family each and every day. I have even designated the first three Hail Mary’s in my daily rosary for my sisters. I wish my sisters good morning and good night every day and often remind them that I am still here and in need of their prayers. I visit the cemetery where Jill is buried now and again, though not as often as I should. Since mom, dad and Christine are buried in San Angelo, I seldom visit there anymore – it is a more than three and a half hour drive from my home. Jean had directed that her ashes be scattered at her death, so there is no way to visit her gravesite. I like to think that Jean must be blowing around somewhere nearby when the wind is howling.

Carnelian handmade rosary

 I was surprised and delighted recently when a good friend called to tell me that she had a story about my sister Jill. My friend, Kathy, had attended Jill’s funeral two years ago. After the ceremony I gave each of the attendees a handmade rosary as a remembrance of my sister. I also wanted the attendees to know how grateful I was for their companionship and prayer during those last difficult days of Jill’s life. Their prayers for Jill and for me helped to sustain me and give me courage to face what had to be done for Jill while she was alive and after her passing.

Kathy is part of the St. Vincent de Paul ministry in our parish. She is often called upon to visit with “clients” who have fallen on hard times. The ministry provides food, shelter and comfort for those who are in need. One day last week Kathy was called upon to visit with a new client who was living in her car. Besides bringing the client money for food and gasoline to “tide her over”, Kathy had the sudden inspiration to take the rosary which I had given to her at Jill’s funeral. Since Kathy has other rosaries, the gift rosary had been safely stored away in the drawer, ready to be used when needed. The homeless woman was delighted with the gift of the blessed rosary, as she had often prayed the rosary in the past. 

Knowing that the rosary which was given out at Jill’s funeral has made its way to someone who had need of it reminds me that God really is in the little details of our lives. He is aware that many handmade rosaries are waiting in my studio, and He already has a plan for each one of them. And the life of my youngest sister Jill had more importance than I knew, because even two years after her death, items, like the handmade rosary given out at her death, continue to affect the lives of others. 

In her life Jill had often reached out to those forgotten by society; she had friends who most people would be afraid of, ignore or look down upon. I learned only after Jill’s passing that my youngest sister was very generous with her time and her possessions, more so than I had ever been. Jill often gave things away to someone in need which she herself had treasured or needed. In the eyes of our Creator my little sister Jill may have been among His favorites, just like the New Testament individuals cited above, for she obeyed His commands to love even those society considers unlovable. So I am left wondering about myself and how I am following God’s plan for my life.

Jill

Jill is back in the hospital. She was scheduled for a hysterectomy for uterine cancer, but blood tests revealed that her blood count was very low and her kidneys were just barely functioning. So the surgery was canceled. There will be a biopsy today to determine why the kidneys are failing. It could be end stage renal disease. If so, the doctor will recommend dialysis. I feel so bad for her. She is right – she seems to “get everything” and wants to know why.

 I was concerned some years ago that I would be asked to donate a kidney to her. At the time Jeannie said she would donate a kidney for Jill but could not because she was diabetic. Easy to say if you know that you cannot! That left only me as a possible candidate for a kidney, which I refused. Blood pressure medicine helped Jill’s kidney function to return to what is normal for her. AT the time I remember saying the I wouldn’t give her a kidney, as she ate Twinkies for breakfast, and it was obvious that she didn’t take care of her health.

I began thinking about that again as the doctor is saying that Jill may have end stage renal disease. The only solutions for that are a transplant or dialysis. I am not considered a candidate for donating a kidney because of my age, although sometimes exemptions are given. But after speaking with Jill about her diet – soda and Kolache for breakfast, cheeseburgers and the like when she eats out, nothing much has changed. Jill still smokes. She has taken too much tylenol and benadryl and perhaps other drugs – I just don’t know. Jill is unlikely to be able to follow the regimen required of those receiving a transplant.

With Jill’s overall health she may not be a candidate for a transplant. I may not be a match, although we have the same blood type. Jill has so much wrong with her; I think it unlikely that she will recover from any of it. I still do pray that God will heal her, but I really am sad about what is happening to her. She has had a difficult life – some of it self induced. Until just a few years ago, I really wasn’t all that helpful to her. I didn’t like her lifestyle or how she treated me and others, especially our parents.

In a way, though, after thinking about this, listening to her speak, and thinking about what would happen to me and my family should I be required to donate a kidney to her, I feel a little relieved. I don’t have to do this. I cannot fix it. This is a “God job”. I can stop being the one who always “fixes” everything. I can’t fix this – or anything else to be truthful, but especially this. I can only accompany her on this journey, love her and try to comfort her as much as I can.

It is a tragedy that her life has come to this, regardless of what part her lifestyle played in this.

What I have learned this last week

This post was from early in my closer relationship with her. Jill was hospitalized this week after falling, breaking her arm. Her potassium and electrolyte levels were off.

I visited her and tried to have a Priest give her an anointing. I don’t know if it will work out. Fr. Tim did visit Jill yesterday, but she was sleeping and continued to sleep through 8:30 in the evening when I stopped calling her.

I have learned and accepted that God’s timetable may not be mine. As an oldest child I try to fix things. Some things, I know, God has to fix. If Jill is released from the hospital today, she will not see Fr. Tim, who promised to return this afternoon.

The Good Shepherd

In trying to explain Jill’s relationship with God to her, I “fortified” my own thoughts. Jill had been afraid that she would die and not be able to see her family afterwards. I explain how in Baptism we become part of God’s family. After that time God is always with us. When we sin, we turn our faces away from God. When we repent and ask for forgiveness, Jesus brings us close to His Heart just like in the picture of the Good Shepherd. Even if Jill ends up not seeing the Priest, I have heard real repentance in her voice. I know that God will forgive her. I tried to tell her that.

I recognize how limited Jill’s ability to express herself is. Is that the reason for the anger that is directed at those who disagree with her?

Thoughts about Jill

Jill with glassesA week or so before Jill passed, while she was in the hospital for the last time, Jill told me that she had seen our dad. Jill said she didn’t have time to talk with him, as a nurse came in soon after that. I knew then that Jill’s time was rapidly coming to an end.

When mom was ill during that last year, her parish priest told me that the veil which separates this world from the next thins as we approach our passing. Mom had talked of seeing the nuns who raised her and relatives who had passed. The priest went on to say that it is when the veil thins that people see those who have gone before.

I didn’t say anything to Jill at that time in the hospital, but it was only a day or two later that it was obvious that Jill knew that she was dying. Once Jill returned to the nursing home, after telling me that she was so glad to be back there, she didn’t communicate with me anymore. I talked with her, telling her that I loved her, prayed for her, but she stopped eating and drinking. Sometimes the nurses at the home could encourage her to eat or drink a little, but after a day or so, that stopped too. Then when I visited, I would tell Jill when dad comes for her, she should go with him – that it was okay.

A few days later Jill took that leap from this world into the next. What concerns me though is that the nurse, when we called him as we thought Jill had passed, said that Jill had a tear in her eye. I just hope it wasn’t because of me, that I hadn’t spent enough time with her, didn’t love her enough. I hope the tear was one of joy. I guess it is something I will have to wait to know.

The past two years have been difficult ones. I  tried to give to Jill the time that she needed while still living the life that I was given with my husband, daughter and grandson. There are times, as I reflect on the past two years, when I wish that I had given my sister more time, but I didn’t. There were times when I was angry with Jill, with the way she lived her life and Jill’s response to my effort. I remember being hurt when Jill didn’t respond to me as I expected, when she didn’t return my phone calls or even answer her phone when I called. I had given Jill so much of my time, my concern and even my financial help, trying to reconcile our relationship, trying to be of help to her – why didn’t Jill respond as I needed her to respond? There were times when I pulled away from the relationship for short periods, thinking that Jill’s need would cause her to reach out to me, but it didn’t. I couldn’t help wondering as these two years continued if I was trying to help my sister because that is what I thought my parents would want me to do. And of course, my parents would want me to help Jill. But I wanted as well to believe that I struggled to help Jill because of my love for her. It is an important question and one for which I have no answer.

Watching my sister as her health deteriorated was very difficult especially as our relationship was a problem. I was appalled at how much Jill suffered and how little I could do to alleviate her suffering. I prayed daily for Jill and asked everyone I knew to pray for her as well. There were miraculous events which surrounded Jill’s continuing illness, events which I witnessed, events in which I had a part to play. Part of the difficulty I faced was that I was not Jill’s medical power of attorney. Her friend John served in that role until the last couple months of Jill’s life when in a fit of anger or despair, he gave that position to me. I changed the way that Jill’s health was managed from sending her to the emergency room each time she had a health scare to placing Jill on palliative care. Finally, when Jill stopped going to dialysis and after talking with her doctors and nursing staff and studying Catholic ethical decisions about end of life care, I placed Jill on hospice. A week later Jill passed from this life.

I am thankful that Jill returned to the faith of her youth. Several times I had called a priest and had Jill anointed over the last few years. I believe that my action was a help in Jill finding her way back to her faith. A week before Jill passed, she had been anointed once again and though I had asked for another anointing after Jill passed, the priest assured me that the previous anointing was done in a timely manner and no further anointing was necessary. Since Jill spent most of the time after the last anointing in a semi-conscious state, I believe that what the priest told me was correct. How can one sin if one is not conscious?

 
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More thoughts about Jill — was going to send to Jill’s friend John but decided to wait.
 
Over the years there were difficulties between Jill and me. Part of the difficulty came from the distance in our ages. I know you have probably heard a lot about Jill’s difficulties with me from Jill. No doubt when mom passed away Jean added her complaints to Jill’s list. I am not an ogre. I did not hate Jill or Jean or wish either of them ill. I kept everyone out of mom and dad’s home after mom passed, because I was legally bound to protect the estate. I did not steal anything from Jill in terms of her share of mom and dad’s estate. Jill had signed a legally binding contract promising to pay mom and dad back for monies which they had advanced to her. As executor of mom and dad’s estate, the law required that I settle all debts – those that were owed to mom and dad and any debts they owed to anyone. I did that to the best of my ability. Jill received less money than the rest of us, because she owed mom and dad more than xxxx dollars for money which they lent her – money which she promised to repay. It was not possible for me to ignore the debt. I could have been sued by Jean and Christine, if I just dismissed Jill’s debt. While it might have been kind to forgive the debt, I assure you that in time the other folks who received monies from the estate would have complained and required of me to pay them for my generosity toward Jill. Dad had Jill sign the contract, because he wanted the money back. I took no payment for the work which I did on mom and dad’s estate. My work was a final gift of love to my parents – no matter what Jean and Jill might have thought. I have detailed financial records proving what I have written.
 
When Christine died and Jill became more ill, I tried to put all the negative thoughts and memories away from me. My purpose was to be of some use to Jill, to help her in whatever way that I could. I believed that is what my parents would have wanted me to do. I lent Jill money, which you know, most of which was never repaid – I didn’t expect to be paid, because I knew my sister. As much as she might have wanted to repay me, I knew she would never have the money to do so.
 
I visited Jill no matter where she was in those last years – Bertram, Llano, Granite Falls, Marble Falls, Cedar Park, Round Rock – you name it – I went there seeking to provide solace and a friendly face and a listening ear. I never asked to be rewarded. Jill was my sister, no matter what the difficulties between us were. I wanted the best for her, even though I occasionally scolded Jill over the way she lived her life and the mess she made of her health. Toward the end of Jill’s life, I think she and I had forged a kind of friendship. I hope that it was so. I pray every day that Jill is with the rest of my family, looking down on all of us, happy, healthy and at peace at last.
 
I buried Jill in the Catholic cemetery, because I believe she deserved to be treated with respect. I know Jill wanted her ashes spread in a horse pasture, but having Jill’s ashes peed on by livestock is not respect for the deceased.
 
That is my story – at least the part of it that concerns Jill. That is the way that I see things, having lived them before you were in the picture. I thought you deserved to hear the other side, not just what Jean and Jill expressed about me. My lifetime with Jill spans many years. My experiences with her were in some ways uncomfortable, even as children. Jill was always a willful and spoiled child for a lot of reasons. The rest of the family bowed to Jill’s wishes a good part of the time, because her temper was so volatile. But Jill was loved by her parents and her sisters. I hope Jill knew that. I hope you know that. I am sorry that Jill’s life ended so soon. I miss her, as I do the rest of my family.
Our Lady of the Rosary cemetery

Update on Jill

John called me yesterday to tell me that Jill will be going to a nursing home for 10 days, as she cannot orally take the antibiotic which the doctor prescribed. The nursing home is in Kingsland. I am hoping that on Friday or Saturday I can visit with her. I cannot help but think of both mom and dad’s last months and years, when they became ill over and over again. One thing would be taken care of and then something else would happen. It seemed as though our bodies can only fight off so much and then it finally succumbs to illness. I hope it is not so with Jill. I hope that I will be able to visit with her and give her some comfort.

I pray that God will heal her in body, mind and spirit, that she will know that Jesus is with her.

Jill’s diagnosis

Jill had a biopsy of her uterus a couple of weeks ago. She has been losing weight and has had bleeding and cramping as well. Today her doctor said that it was stage one uterine cancer. Jill will have a meeting with a specialist next week, who will discuss the treatment options.

Tomorrow is the Mass I set up a couple of months ago for Jeannie and Christine.

Jill and my experience at the hospital

Jill had quite a difficult experience in the hospital last week. She was sent to the Scott and White in Round Rock when she went to have some blood tests before a hysterectomy. The blood tests revealed a diminished kidney function and low blood count. She was admitted to the hospital where they intended to give her two units of blood – which they did – and a different diet to see if the imbalance in kidney function could be fixed. After a couple of days the doctors decided to do a kidney needle biopsy so they could look at the cells in her kidney to try to determine what was going on. Those results are not yet back as they take several days. The kidney biopsy ended up causing bleeding which after a couple of days had not stopped. On Thursday evening Jill called me at home – I had been visiting daily – to say that she couldn’t pee and that she couldn’t get anyone to help her. I called the desk on her floor and begged them to send someone and then rushed to the hospital. When I arrived she had still not had help and was in terrible pain. I grabbed the first nurse I could find and the catheter was flushed and then removed where it was obvious that clots had stopped up the catheter. When I left the hospital about 10pm, she was relaxed with no catheter and about to sleep. Sometime during the night the bleeding must have really begun because another catheter was inserted. After speaking with her on Friday, I was determined to stay that night with her. She was frantic and afraid, crying and still bleeding. I knew that she would have difficulty getting help if she needed it. Larry drove me to the hospital, and I prepared to spend the night.
The “sofa” on which a family member can sleep is perhaps the most uncomfortable thing they can find. Perhaps it is designed that way – at least it seems so. But I was determined to stay with her. I had brought a rosary for her and the one for me which I usually carry in my purse. I thought that if I prayed the rosary aloud – softly – it would help her sleep. She had been complaining that she had not slept during her time in the hospital. Jill didn’t want to hold the one I brought for her, which was fine. I shut out the lights and was preparing to make myself as comfortable as I could when I had this feeling that God was smiling at me. I was grateful for the feeling, as I knew the night would be almost endless with little or no sleep. The nurse had given Jill ativan to help her sleep.
As I lay there softly beginning to pray, I was sure that I saw the Blessed Mother just as I had when I had been hospitalized with chest pains earlier in the year. The image was in color but flickered in and out. I saw it with my mind’s eye. I am certain it wasn’t my imagination, as I am sure that I can hold an image for longer than a fraction of a second. Anyway, I felt comforted knowing the Mary was with us and watching over us.
As I looked toward Jill’s bed, I saw mom and dad standing off to the side, together, praying with me. Their figures were in shadow – there was only the light from under the bathroom door showing – and the colors were only grey looking and fuzzy, almost far away if that makes sense. I wasn’t frightened because it was mom and dad, but I also felt Jean and Christine were there standing at the foot of her bed, though I couldn’t see them. I just knew they were there. I realized that all 6 of us had not been together in more than 10 years, and I began to cry. But I continued praying. I don’t know how long the images or feelings lasted. The rest of the night is kind of a blur, with me twisting and turning, trying to adjust the pillows and blankets but never getting comfortable.
Jill slept most of the night. I didn’t, so I was really fatigued when Larry came for me. I was able to sleep about 4 hours that afternoon, but couldn’t go to the Saturday Mass as I was so tired. I had called the parish for a priest before I left for the hospital Friday night. Fr. Sang called about midnight (Friday) and Larry explained that it was me who called. Fr. Sang asked that I return his call when I returned home. I did and explained the situation a little, and he promised to visit with Jill either later on Saturday or on Sunday. He was able to visit Saturday evening. All day Saturday the blood was still coming out of the catheter. So far last week Jill had received 5 units of blood, probably little of which stayed inside of her. Saturday evening Fr. Sang visited the hospital after he celebrated Mass that evening. He called me from the hospital as he had forgotten the paper with her name and room number. I called Jill to tell her that Fr. Sang was on the way. Fr. Sang stayed with Jill more than a half hour. She liked him and was anointed. When I left the hospital on Saturday morning the blood in the catheter bag was deep red. I had remarked to the nurse that it seemed to me that the percentage of blood to urine was increasing. She agreed.
That evening after Fr. Sang’s visit the catheter was changed to include a part which flushed the bladder with saline solution. During the night Jill was in a lot of pain, as clots kept blocking the tube. I went to the hospital early Sunday morning before the 11am Mass. The catheter bag had no blood in it. The urine was clear. By Sunday afternoon Jill was on the way home.
Jill’s kidneys are still failing, as far as I know. She is to see a kidney specialist in Round Rock. I don’t know if she was able to make an appointment yesterday when she called. Neither John nor Jill really keep me apprised of what is happening, except for those times when Jill is hospitalized. I don’t know if or when the hysterectomy can occur. I have recognized that I cannot give Jill a kidney; I may not even be a match. But I have made peace with that. I will do what I can do. I will accompany her on this journey and hope and pray that she will be at peace with whatever happens. I cannot change her life or make her well, no matter how hard I try. Being an older sister is really difficult. Though we think our task is to fix things and take care of our siblings, we really can’t.
I have called Fr. Sang for an appointment. I don’t know what I will say, but part of me knows that I will need some help in getting through all of this, if I am to be of assistance to Jill. I told Jane Delaney this morning that this is the last year I will be serving as a facilitator. Maybe I am being premature, but it is wearing me down. It has been six years, six very good years as a facilitator with WCSS. With Jill perhaps needing more help from me, I just won’t have the time. I don’t know if Karen will continue with a new partner or not.
It was one of those experiences that I cannot describe all that well. I can’t even explain why I know what I saw or convince someone that I really saw my parents and Mary. I just know what I know and am grateful for what happened.

A beautiful answer to a prayer

(Even though the date on the post is October 2019, it was written shortly after Jill’s death in March of 2019.)

Yesterday was a difficult and yet beautiful day. I went to the nursing home to collect some of Jill’s things. John went later in the day to sort through Jill’s clothes and leave most of the clothes for the other residents. He wanted to pick up a small refrigerator which had been in her room and some stuffed animals which he had given her. While I was picking up the items in the nursing home, members of the staff stopped by Jill’s room to tell me how much they enjoyed Jill. They spoke of her kindness to them, of how often she complimented people for their service to her. I drove away from the home further enlightened about this woman who had been my sister for so many years, but whom I apparently didn’t really know. I wondered how I could be so blind to her true character.

Larry and I were to meet with the funeral director at Gabriel’s at noon yesterday to arrange for Jill’s cremation and to have a private viewing of her body. Jill’s friend John had asked for a viewing, since there would be no funeral and no embalming. The funeral director told me when I first contacted him that they would wash Jill’s body, place it under a blanket, but it was not a public viewing which would have necessitated embalming. When I saw Jill’s body I was relieved of my anxiety for she looked so at peace and much better than she had in the nursing home those last days. Even Jill’s hair was no longer grey but a soft brown. I knew that the funeral home had not dyed Jill’s hair, so why the color changed I do not know.

As Larry and I drove up to the funeral chapel, we noticed three ambulances parked just outside the doors. I knew that the scheduler of the service which had driven Jill to her dialysis and hospital visits would be there at the funeral home, as the scheduler had asked if she could come to view the body and say “goodbye”. This woman had spent time with Jill while she was in the nursing home and hospital during her last weeks. Another lady would accompany the scheduler – she was the business development manager, who sat with me that last day when Jill passed away. The lady waited with me after the funeral home was contacted and until the funeral director came for Jill’s body. I was grateful and honored that both ladies wanted to come spend a little time with us. Erin came from work, and John, Jill’s friend, also came along with two friends who had known Jill for quite a few years. The two ladies, Jill’s friends, drove in from Kingsland.

Once Larry and I entered the chapel we noticed almost a dozen people waiting for us to arrive, as the funeral home will not permit anyone to view the body until the family gives permission. All of the EMT’s who had driven Jill to her appointments over the last year had come to say “goodbye”. These same folks had visited Jill in the hospital and nursing home, sometimes coming after their shifts were complete to keep Jill company – I learned of this in the nursing home. The EMT’s and their scheduler all spoke of how much they enjoyed my sister, how her courage and “feistiness” and kindness had touched them. Once we entered the room where Jill’s body had been laid, the group stood around Jill speaking of their interactions with Jill which had made them laugh or impressed them.

I had prayed the day after Jill died that God would send me a sign that Jill had “made it safely home”. The astounding events of yesterday have encouraged me and brought tears to my eyes. My sister, I am sure, is “safely home”. Thanks be to God for His goodness and His mercy to my sister and to me.

 
 

Jill once more

(This was posted just a week or two before Jill died.)As you know Jill has been very ill for a long time. She was hospitalized several weeks ago and spent two weeks in ICU and Critical Care. She went back to the nursing home on a Tuesday and returned to the hospital the following Sunday evening. She is still in the hospital but may be released today to the nursing home. So that is another 9 days or so.
I have recently been named Jill’s medical power or attorney and signed a DNR at the hospital. Jill’s friend John gave up the position – I guess there was a lot going on in his life and he couldn’t make the appropriate decisions or didn’t want to anymore. The palliative care nurse at the hospital recommended that Jill be put on palliative care at the nursing home once she returns. After reading articles on Catholic ethical decisions on end of life care, I decided to follow the nurse’s recommendation. When Jill is released I will visit the nursing home again just to make sure that all is in readiness for Jill. I was told that the home would have necessary medications on hand to do a lot of what the hospital would do, but the necessity for transport to the hospital with the attendant anxiety for the patient and often unnecessary testing once at the hospital would be avoided. I have prayed that I was making the correct decision, but now that the time has come for Jill to return to the nursing home, I am filled with anxiety and grief.
I know what this means – even though the nursing home will do all in their power to make Jill comfortable; they do not have the facilities or equipment necessary to do what the hospital might have done. Jill is dying and has been for some time. Not only the kidney failure, but COPD, arrhythmia, low blood pressure, vascular disease just about everywhere, gout and dementia – all this makes it pretty obvious to me that Jill’s time left is short. I have been told that after dialysis Jill’s blood pressure drops and she becomes very sleepy. Her lack of movement, exercise and deep breathing eventually leads to pneumonia – that was the reason for last week’s hospitalization. Had Jill not been sent to the hospital, the likelihood is that she would have passed away in a day or so. Jill occasionally misses dialysis. I am told that is not uncommon with dialysis patients, but it only makes the condition worse as fluid builds up in the chest and the lungs and heart cannot function under those conditions.
What I have read has assured me that God does not require extraordinary means to keep a person alive. Dialysis is considered one of those extraordinary means. To my mind returning Jill to the hospital each time she has one of these “episodes” could be called an “extraordinary means”. Without the hospital’s intervention with IV fluids, IV antibiotics, lung treatments and the like, Jill would have died. Some of the interventions could be done at the nursing home, but I doubt that the level of care would be the same. Jill will still be taken to dialysis unless she declines going. Cedarpointe nursing facility, Jill’s current rehab, is qualified for palliative care. If Jill continues to refuse dialysis, eventually she will be qualified for hospice care.
I have to see how palliative care is done before I can be satisfied that the decision is the correct one. I was scheduled to attend an end of the year small group luncheon from the Bible study today, but I just couldn’t go. I know that I would have cried, that my concerns would have overtaken the group’s rejoicing and I couldn’t do that. And I am tired – tired of taking care of all this, worrying about her, praying for her, not knowing from day to day what will be next for Jill.
I have gotten over  the anger and hurt I have had toward Jill. I could not watch her suffering and still remain without compassion. She is in a lot of pain and she is scared. I am scared too. I am grateful that some of my prayers have been answered. I asked the Lord to give Jill peace, comfort, healing and joy. I know that Jill has had joy, for she has loved and been loved by another outside her family. The healing of her body is impossible for anyone but God. The comfort she has been given by me and by all those who have cared for her. Peace will be, in the end, the gift from God. I have prayed that Jill would pass quietly without fear into the arms of our Blessed Savior – that is all that is left. May the God of peace and joy bring my sister quietly into Paradise.

So Much Tragedy in One Life

My Beautiful Youngest Sister

Jill was hospitalized last Friday after falling out of bed at the nursing home. When she arrived in the Emergency Room, it was discovered that Jill had pneumonia. Thankfully, no bones were broken and there was no brain damage due to the fall. Jill is recovering after spending several days in the ICU where she continues to have dialysis every other day. In a few days Jill will be transferred to a medium care facility called Cornerstone. She had been there before after she broke her leg about 8 or 9 months ago. Since that time Jill has been in a nursing facility.

I have visited Jill a couple of times this week as the hospital is quite close. Today the doctor told John that Jill has some dementia. I guess I am not surprised given her overall health and the way she has cared for herself over the years. Still it is a horrible diagnosis. What can the future hold for her? Will she ever be able to live outside the nursing home? Those questions cannot be answered now, but it does concern me.

Jill has COPD, congestive heart disease, poor circulation especially in her legs, her kidneys no longer function. Jill has diabetes which requires dialysis three times a week to clean her blood. She broke her left hip last year and this year broke the left lower leg which is still not strong enough to hold her up. Will she ever walk again? I think it is doubtful especially given her weight.

I can’t help but ask how much can I person suffer? Granted Jill has not taken care of herself over the last 62 years; she has smoked since she was 14 or 15 years old. Jill has not done what is necessary to eat the right things.

I am overwhelmed by this diagnosis. It makes me so sad.

December 21, 2018

After thinking about the diagnosis for a while, I am not sure about it. I think Jill is just a difficult person. She doesn’t read or watch the news and has few outside friends, so how could she be oriented to place and time? Jill has been returned to the nursing facility for now. Please God, give her some joy!

December 23, 2018

I saw Jill yesterday. I will see her again tomorrow and then again on Tuesday. I had plans to see her today, but she was taken to dialysis. I am almost certain that this is Jill’s last Christmas. She has given up hope of ever leaving the nursing home. I feel so bad for Jill and just wish that I could take her into our home. Neither Larry nor I nor even the two of us together could take care of her. I know Jill just wants to go home, to see her little dogs again. I feel so helpless right now. My prayer has been lately “Lord if you aren’t going to heal her in this life, then please just take her home.” It really isn’t fair how much she has suffered.

Yesterday Jill’s eyes were rimmed with red. I know she spent the night crying as she told me that she didn’t sleep the night before. Jill’s left foot was bleeding on the top right through the sock and dressing. She didn’t seem to care, but I had the nurse come and change the bandage. The nursing home didn’t smell good either, even though it is one of the best. Maybe because it was morning – I really don’t know. Even if I see Jill tomorrow, I won’t be able to stay a long time, and I know she will want me to. How do I do this, Lord? My heart is breaking for her. What can I say or do to give her hope?

This is the time that we need mom and dad – they always had the answers. But they are gone as well with Jeannie and Christine. All anyone can say is that “we are so sorry”. But sorry doesn’t answer me or Jill. Sorry is just a meaningless word.

What is God asking of me in this moment? To throw everything into His lap? To trust Him that He has the answers? Or is there something else that I should be doing? I just don’t know.

This should be a time of joy with Christmas just a day away, but it isn’t for me or for Jill. How do I do this?

 
January 1, 2019

Today Jill called me – this afternoon – moaning because she had to use the potty and couldn’t find anyone to help her. Jill told me that John didn’t want to hear from her today – I know he had to work. What was I supposed to do? So I called the nursing home and after multiple rings, someone answered. I explained the problem – two people were needed to operate the Hoyer lift to get Jill on the bed and on a potty. I told that woman that if someone didn’t get there soon, I would be calling back. I was hoping that I wouldn’t need to drive there to handle this. A few minutes later Jill called saying that she did receive help.

I feel bad for Jill. Her dilemma is insurmountable. Without being able to use her legs and with her weight, there is nothing she can do for herself. I cannot imagine how difficult it is for her. Did she even ask someone to help her? I don’t know the answer to that. All I do know is that the situation is beyond my being able to change. It makes me so tired to even deal with this.