Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A memory, a giveaway, and part two of the story.

Part one of a memory, a giveaway and the story.

Over the next days I would arrive at various times to wait for the end. My sister was never responsive regardless of whether the sky outside her window was the promise pink of morning, the deep afternoon blue of a desert sky or the velvet purple of night.

No matter what time of day it was, I continued to read with my hand on her forearm.

Sometimes I would put the book down to rest my eyes and then I would fill the quiet with songs that I thought she would like...’Where have all the Flowers Gone?’, ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, and ‘Forever Young’. I never attempted singing the rock songs we both liked, but I did bring my guitar in from the car one afternoon to sing the Christmas songs to her that she had always loved. I closed the door to her room and sang my heart out. She never responded.

Hours went by. It was one of those suspended times when the days blur together...was it Tuesday? What was the date? Some days it felt like I had been sitting in that chair reading that book forever...other times it felt like I had just arrived and the waiting was only beginning.

Hospice continued to check her.

“Oh, no...no signs yet,” they would say.

And so it was that on the day before she died we arrived at the last chapter of the book. On that evening I drove home with the windows down and the sunroof open. I remember crying and laughing in the car. I remember playing Aerosmith and the Police and Foreigner really, really loudly. I sat in the garage when I arrived home so the music could finish.

I spent the night dreaming of ringing telephones and cathedrals and girls twirling around in white dresses.

When I arrived the next morning, my Dad was there. He looked weary. Hospice came in while we were there together and checked my sister. “No signs, yet,” they said confidently, “Probably at least 24 hours longer.”

I walked my Dad a short way down the hall. “Now don’t leave her alone,” he admonished me. I assured him I wouldn’t and hurried back to be with her.

I talked to her briefly and opened the window just a bit to let fresh air into the sterile room.

Resting my hand on her forearm, I started reading bits and pieces of the last chapter.

Reluctantly I turned the last page.

I didn’t want the book to end. It had felt like a journey to a place far removed from the reality of what was actually happening.

Words to an old folk song came to mind, and I started singing the old Peter, Paul and Mary song, ‘500 Miles’, to my sister.

Just then my husband called my cell.

I stopped singing to answer his call.

I told him we had finished the book and I was wondering what we could read next. As I was talking to him my sister took a deep, deep breath.

I said, “Let me call you back, Liz is breathing strangely.”

I hung up.

There were no more breaths.

I was shocked.

I jumped up and went into the hall to find a nurse. It was breakfast time and the hall was crammed with residents in wheelchairs and walkers. I tried running down the hall to the nurse’s station and it was like an obstacle course. I was freaking out! Pushing wheelchairs out of the way! Trying to get some help!

The nurse’s station was empty. I realized I had left my sister alone.

I had promised my parents I wouldn’t.

“Holy crap!” I thought, “She is probably not even dead!”

I ran the gauntlet of wheelchairs and walkers to get back to her room.

“Holy crap!” I thought. “She is still dead!”

I called my parents.

I called my husband.

A nurse came in and asked if she could get us anything. I said, “I need help. I think my sister is dead!”

The nurse said, “Oh no, honey, I read her notes...she is still stable and...”

She stopped.

She looked at me in surprise.

I think she gulped.

She checked her pulse and said, “Oh my, you’re right. She is dead.”

It was really, really strange.

I was so worried my parents would be angry for me leaving her alone while I ran for help.

I was so worried that I should have done something.

And then...

...just like that...

...all the worry left me and I felt great relief for her.

She was finally free.

Free of pain. Free of being trapped in a body that no longer worked. Free of suffering.

But I’ve always wondered.

She was unresponsive. How did she know it was the last chapter?

Why did she wait?

Was it just a coincidence?

I think of the lyrics to the song I was singing to her right before she died...”If you miss the train I’m on, you will know that I am gone, you can hear the whistle blow 100 miles...”

And somehow, in the deepest part of my heart, I think she was waiting. Waiting to hear the end of the story...waiting to catch her train.

I'd like to do a little giveaway in honor of my sister.

I will be giving away two (2) $25.00 e-gift certificates to Barnes and Noble so that you can get your own copy of Pillars of the Earth...or whatever book your heart desires.

You can enter twice...once on yesterdays part one and once today by leaving a comment here telling me if you have a memory of a loved one associated with a specific book.

I will use Random ORG on Saturday morning to post both winners. Winners will have 48 hours to send me their e-mail addresses. If you don't respond, I'll select a new winner(s) on Monday, March 26.


Sandy said...

Thank you for putting up part 2.. my tears are running down my face at 6 in the morning....
This experience leaves us with a greater appreciation for life and our hearts wondering how we will make it without the person who just left us, but we continue somehow?
As I said in my last comment I lost a dear friend in just the same way. Also my brother left us early over 20 years ago. His death left a large hole in my heart....
Thank you Jenny for sharing.

~✽Mumsy✽~ said...

Oh Jenny, this is such a sad story, but so very wonderfully written! I'm choking with tears..

Cheryl said...

Heartbreakingly beautiful, Jenny. Thank you so much for sharing this journey.

Unknown said...

I am so sorry for you loss. I am so glad you had time to sing to her and just be at her side.

People Who Know Me Would Say: said...

Heart wrenching, Matlock. Yet I know how blessed you were to have had those last days with her.

Thank you for reaching out with these memories. You have touched so many with them. XO

Julie Kwiatkowski Schuler said...

I would love to be sent off with a story. That's a beautiful recollection.
Justin's favorite book is about a big, wide-mouth frog, and I read it with my mouth open really wide "I'm a big wide-mouth frog and I eat flies!" It cracks him up.

noexcuses said...

Very touching. Thank you for sharing. My brother's death occurred when the room was empty, which was thought to be a good thing for his children.

Viki said...

I believe it was no coincidence. I choose to believe that she wanted to give you that one last memory of helping her pass. You did good.

Linda @ A La Carte said...

Jenny what a gift you have given us to share these last moments with your sister. I do believe that she waited until the last chapter and your song helped her let go. My Dad waited until only my Mom was with him to go and even though he knew I was coming he wanted it to be with the only woman he ever loved by his side. We arrived moments after he had passed and spent a little time with him and I could still feel his presence in the room. It was strangely comforting. OK, lol, now I'm crying. I believe stories (which is what books are for me) help us visit places we never dreamed of...you did this for your sister. Hugs, Linda

ain't for city gals said...

I think she was waiting for you...to be able to get to the place where you would be ok with her leaving. Have you read Glimpses of Heaven? It was written by a Hospice nurse...nice stories about how it might be..

Rachael West said...

You are amazing, thank you for always inspiring even if its through tears...

Anonymous said...

This really is a beautiful story of love and devotion. Although unresponsive, I'm sure she enjoyed that last story you were reading to her. It never ceases to amaze me how those who are unresponsive still can know what is going on.

Pat said...

Unresponsive? It seems as though your sister was very responsive to someone she loved - you and the reading of the book and on some level hearing your voice singing.

Very moving, Jenny, and thank you for sharing those moments.

Country Wings in Phoenix said...

Good Morning Jenny Sweetie...
Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story of love. She was waiting all along for the last chapter, as she knew you had to finish. It would give you closure. She loved you and held on and waited. What a beautiful gift Jenny dear one.

It touched the core of my heart, and took me back to when my niece was dying of cancer. The last time I was sitting with her, she wanted to watch the Wizard of Oz. It was her favorite movie. She had on her little red ruby slippers that I bought and she was clicking her heels together as Dorothy did on TV, (she couldn't talk because of her trach and cancer mass in her throat, but I could read her lips) There's no place like home. There's no place like home. It has been 2 years and I still have not been able to watch that movie again. It just hurts to much.

Reading your story, if I won one of the cards, I would purchase the Wizard of Oz and it would go into its place of honor on my coffee table. I would see it and smile, knowing Amy is Home, No Place like Home.

Thank you Jenny for touching my heart so much with your share. Many hugs and much love, Sherry

Carol said...

From reading you words....she waited, and shared that time with you...something special...something you'll always remember! Thanks for sharing it with us!

Maureen Wyatt said...

She must have loved you very much to feel safe enough with you to let go. Some things remain mysteries and it's only the whisper in our heart that tells us it is so. Of course, you made me cry. ~ Maureen

anitamombanita said...

I love this story of sorrow mixed with joy. I suspect your sister was savoring the love you were showing her more than the book, itself, but who really knows? I don't have a memory associated with a certain book, however, I do think that people near death often cling long enough to close some unfinished business. Perhaps in your sister's case, she was making up for earlier times that you had not been so close as you were at the end. I dunno. It's beautiful though.

Rocky Mountain Woman said...

I know that moment when they leave and the strangeness of it. One second they are there, perhaps not speaking, not conscious, but there. The next moment gone. Thanks for sharing this sweetie, there is comfort to me in knowing that others have experienced this...



Theresa said...

I can relate to all of what you said, but it was my Dad! He was in Hospice for his last few days of his life! He just laid there and never talked BUT when I asked him if he could hear me, he squeezed my hand:) I knew that even though he couldn't communicate with us, he knew we were there and could hear us! SO... we just carried on in our crazy ways, talked about things we knew he would enjoy hearing and giggled at things he would have said:) There are six kids, three of us stayed and three of us went home and we took turns staying with him until he took his last breath! I wouldn't want him to stay and suffer, I told him that it was OK to go and be with Jesus! Love and HUGS to you dear Jenny! Your Sister was a lucky lady to have you for a Sister:)

Susan Anderson said...

Somehow, she was listening. I really think so.

Thanks for sharing such a tender, personal, and beautiful story, Jenny.



Sue said...

I truly believe that they do things to try to make it easier for us. The nurses told us that the hearing is the last to go...so we just kept talking to my mom. On the last day, I was back home and she hadn't responded to anything in days. Dad put the phone near her ear and when I told her she could go now...he said her eyebrows raised and something showed in her face. I believe she heard me. It is just one of many gifts along the way.

As for a second book memory...Christmas growing up, always a stack of new Nancy Drew books, my favorite gift from Santa.

enthusiastically, dawn said...

She had to wait for the end of your journey together! Beautiful. The wonderful power of story. What a gift
you gave her, and God allowed for you to share. Thanks for sharing this story and for the giveaway in honor of your sister.

Dazee Dreamer said...

That was such a beautiful memory. I think she waited to hear the end of the book myself. I truly believe she could hear you the whole time. What a wonderful sister you were.

I didn't have a book, but when my grandfather was in the hospital after suffering too many strokes, I looked into his eyes, and with my mind, looked at him and told him to just go, it would be ok and we would take care of grandma. The second my grandma told the doctors not to do any life saving measures, he died. I wasn't there but I know without a doubt he came to me and told me he was "going home". Found out the next morning about his death. Strange? No.

"Alone again.... naturally!" said...

Lovingly written Jenny...my heart goes out to you.

Erika said...

Jenny, I have goose bumps and tears. Thank you for sharing your story of your sister. It is incredible how she waited to hear the last word.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Reading to your sister was a wonderful way to keep her company, and I am certain she was aware. I believe people often choose to die in those moments when family is not present. You weren't leaving, so she let go when you were distracted. My father died a few hours after I whispered that he should go when he was ready, and about an hour after my stepmother left for the night. Thanks for a lovely remembrance.

Unknown said...

I cant really write too much because this reminds me so much of when my mom died..... I am so glad you were with her and so glad that you both got to finish the last chapter.......You are a good sister jenny!

Naperville Now said...

Oh, Jenny. This was so beautifully written. And it made me cry. Wishing you peace and sweet memories.

Jo said...

Jenny ... what a beautiful telling of such a sad sad story. I'm glad your sister is now free from the life she was living ... I'm sure on some level she knew that the story had ended and it was time to go, and that she could go, in peace, and in knowing that she was loved, and will be loved on the other side ... peace to you my friend.

Ei8ht Beach Street said...

I loved it. It's wonderful you got to spend that amazing quality time with your sister that so many people wish for. Gentle touches, soft singing and sharing a literary voyage together at the end, I have no doubt your sister not only waited until you finished the book but felt so loved when she left. Thanks for sharing your story.

Unknown said...

This was a smiling through the tears post. You were what she needed before saying goodbye. It was no accident that you were with her when she took her last breath or that you read the last chapter.

I gave a book memory yesterday but I have to add that reading is something that I love to share. When my sister and I were kids, we'd check out books from the library and couldn't wait to get home to share the books we chose and why we chose them. Even now, we still do that.

Melinda said...

What a great story. Good memories for you too.

Thanks you.


Mid-Atlantic Martha said...

Oh Jenny -- what a sweet and sad post. I think your sister picked her time...and wanted you to be the one with her at the end. Thanks for sharing this with us.

Dana @ Bungalow'56 said...

Death is a funny thing isn't it? I still wonder what Steve Jobs saw when he said his last words? Did your sister wait? We will never know until it is our turn. A lovely story Jenny. I was right there with you running down the hall.

Siggi in Downeast Maine said...

I truly believe that hearing is the last of the senses to remain, and I believe that your sister heard every word you read to the end, and your singing that lovely song...I'd forgotten about it..thanks for the reminder.
Books can bind the soul no matter what the age, no matter what the title ....
Thank you for sharing your memories.
Peace, love and cyber hugs (((♥♥)))
Siggi in Downeast Maine

H said...

I have no doubt that your sister was enjoying every word of that book, waiting until it was finished before she decided it was ok to let go. It was a final shared experience precious to you both.

Ames said...

Very sad Jenny. I know you were glad you spent the end time with her. Being a sister and a friend to her. You stayed till the end and she knows it. Yes she does. What a wonderful thing you did for your sister. Sending you a big hug!

The bible was the only book I can recalled turning to while enduring my grief. Even though the grief gets softer with time you still endure it when you lose a loved one.

Big Hug!OXOX's~Ames

Judie said...

Before Rod's mum died, she had been "reading" the same book for a year. It was a Mary Higgins Clark book, but I can't remember the name. Her bookmark never moved in all that time. We were sleeping across the hall from her bedroom when she died, and had been there for several months. She was a wonderful woman and I loved her dearly. I think about her every day.

Sharon said...

It may not feel like it but I'm glad you were there with her singing and talking as though she could talk back. I often wonder how much unresponsive folks can hear and understand what's going on around them. I'm sure she was singing along with you inside. What a sweet "Goodbye."