Monday, March 19, 2012

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

I am still astonished that she knew.

How did she?

She had been unresponsive for almost a week. Her visions were all turned inward and although emotions would show on her face occasionally, for the most part she was unresponsive with only shallow breathing and an eyelid twitch now and again to show she was still alive.

I shared her eulogy with you before, on previous anniversaries...but today, on this fourth Anniversary of my sister’s death, I want to share the story of the event with you.

Because I still find much of odd...

Because I still find much of it humorous...

..and because I think I am finally ready to tell the story.

Understand that this is my story. I may not have all the medical parts of it correct...I’m not a nurse or a doctor. Just a sister.

The thing is, though, that I was with her when she died. Alone. And she died within minutes of my turning the last page of an epic book my husband had given me to read when my sister’s death vigil began.

My sister suffered from something similar to Lou Gehrig’s disease from her teenage years until her death at the age of forty. She was quite a bit younger than me and although we loved each other and shared a common love of rock ‘n’ roll and crafts we had never really been ‘sister friends’.

As her disease progressed, my parents finally made the difficult decision to place her in a full-time, residential care home.

While she still had coherent speech, she voiced her displeasure loudly and often, but as her disease progressed her vocalization became less and she expressed her displeasure by a disgusted roll of lips or eyes.

In the years prior to her death it seemed that our family was ruled by her health. My memories interweave every holiday and occasion as considered to be ‘her last’, and sadness was always entwined with the joy of celebration.

She fooled everyone, though, and continued for many years...slowly degenerating until it finally came to the ‘last’ last.

Her organs began shutting down.

Hospice and doctors and nurses agreed that she had just a short time to live. Possibly just hours.

Everyone gathered in the hall at the nursing home and wept and lamented and said goodbye and spent final moments with her.

The only problem with that scenario was that she wasn’t willing or ready to go yet. She made it through the night.

In the morning, hospice and doctors and nurses agreed, again, that it would just be hours, but it wasn’t. She made it through the day and the night again.

So our parents set up a schedule so that someone would be with her around the clock.

My husband had just finished reading Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. He handed it to me as ‘reading’ material as I headed out the door for my first scheduled vigil.
I dismissively tossed it onto the front seat and left it in the car.

Settling into the uncomfortable chair beside my sister’s bed, I found that time passes slowly when you are talking to someone who can’t respond. I brushed her hair, held some violets under her nose that I had picked from my garden, read her some poetry, opened the window, sang to her, put lotion on her hands and arms, and attempted to watch daytime TV.

After all that activity I was astonished to see that only an hour had gone by.

Remembering the book on the front seat, I told my sister I was going to be gone for a minute and then I sprinted to my car. Okay. Technically, I’m not much of a sprinter but I hurried as quickly as my old, fat body could go and returned to chair at her bedside.

I opened the first page of the book, certain that it would offer no distraction, but I was soon swept into the world of civil war, famine and religious strife. I wiggled unsuccessfully around in the chair hoping to find a comfortable spot and finally ending up leaning at an angle toward my sister’s bed so that I could keep a hand on her forearm while I held the massive book in my lap.

I shared passages with her. I talked to her about what I was reading. I talked impatiently to the nurses as they came in to check dare they interrupt our reading. I was transported and I used all my powers of communication to take my sister along on the journey to the past with me.

When my Dad showed up at the room to take over, I was shocked to see that three hours had passed. I was dismayed to find I could barely stand up after pretzling beside her beside for so long.

I put the book into the bottom drawer of my sister’s dresser. I told her I would be back later and we would read some more.

I will finish this story tomorrow, Tuesday March 20.

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 today and once tomorrow 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 25th.

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Mami2jcn said...

When I think about "Angela's Ashes", I think of my mother. She's not Irish, but her childhood was similar to Frank McCourt's.

mami2jcn at gmail dot com

Linda @ A La Carte said...

Oh Jenny this is a bittersweet memory and I'm glad your sharing it with us. I love reading and inherited this love from my Mom. Hugs, Linda

enthusiastically, dawn said...

Hi Jenny, The way a book can draw us close through story and bring us together in journey is such a powerful gift. I have experienced this with reading a series by Lauren St. John with my daughter. I miss the days we shared those moments. She reads solo now! Your sister's memory sounds precious- can't wait to her more! One can never have too many books, dahling.

Cheryl said...

Aw, Jenny, this is such an amazing story you're revealing. Thank you for including us in this walk with you and your sister.

On February 9th I created a photo book for my 96 yo great aunt. On the 10th, I created another. Both were heading to print when I got the call that she'd died. I sent copies to her daughters and my mom. I have one of each for myself. Books bind us all together.

JMD said...

Thank you for being willing to share this.

Nezzy (Cow Patty Surprise) said...

My favorite book as a child was call Diggie or Diggy. I've tried to find it, my mother said it was from England.

Mom would read this story to me time and time again. I knew it and could recite the word but still Mama would read it to me when asked, like it was the first time.

Woohoo!!! I could do some damage with a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble!!!

Thank your for sharin' those beautiful memories of your sis with us sweetie.

God bless and have a wonderful evenin'!!! :o)

Tess Julia said...

What a touching experience. I'm a nurse and the most recent experience I had with a loss was a resident who recently passed away. She was a favorite of mine because her eyes would light up when she saw me. She insisted I read The Surgeon by Tess Gerritson when I expressed interest in it, so I did. I still think of her often, and of how quickly she declined in health. She really touched me, and sadly, she died without family, but not unloved.

ain't for city gals said...

How sweet Jenny..I want to tell you a little story...when my dad got sick he started reading...anything and everything I brought him...mostly about farming or Arizona pioneers. I really never had known him to read at all but he was just devouring books. It made my heart happy...waiting impatiently for the last of the story from you! ...xo

Sandy said...

I helped my good friend through three months of a horrible cancer... as painful as it was for her, it was very painful to watch her progression through it all until that last night in Hospice. Your memory of your sister was very touching.
Thank you for sharing this.
Pillars of the Earth, what a wonderful book!
Thank you for the giveaway.

Barbara F. said...

My mother belonged to a book club and she would get dozens of thess little romance novels by Harlequin. When she passed, I was cleaning out closets and came across a bunch of them in a shopping bag. I started to read one, and next thing I knew, in a week's time I read all of them, and they were enjoyable. Too light for my taste but I often think of these little books and how my mother enjoyed reading them. xo

Carol said...

Not a book, but a song. My husband and I were at a 25th anniversary party for some friends of ours. It was being held in a very large ballroom setting. We were into some serious 1940's lindy hopish tunes, going full speed with twirls and jumps and kicks. Happy, laughing - when I got called to the phone. With "Moonlight Seranade" playing soulfully in the background, my brother told me, our younger brother had just died. Unexpected heart attack, age 36. I still love the melody, but it's significance has certainly changed.
Thank you for the opportunity to remember.

Skoots1moM said...

a friend referred a book to me about "baby souls"...i can't remembrer the book, but it had a huge effect on me...I had just miscarried my first helped me cope with that lost so much.

Theresa said...

I know that even though your Sister couldn't communicate with you, she was smiling BIG while you were reading to her! Love is truly a blessing and you all gave her lots of LOVE!

My Cousin's wife had Lou Gehrig's disease and I saw it take her from us! SAD!

Heaven is only a breath away!


Jim said...

Hi Jenny again tonight. This has to be hard sitting with your sister. Much harder I am sure than being with the parents which I have done.

Dad often shared with me thoughts and ideas from his book, The Power of Positive Thinking by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.

It was ironic because Dad had read it so very much more thoroughly than I had even though Mrs. Jim and I had given it to him earlier.

Dad's copy was really tattered badly, so badly that I sometimes felt like he deserved a new copy to read and annotated.

Jenny, I'd like to be entered into your drawing. Thank you for doing this.

anitamombanita said...

You have such amazing stories to tell. I suppose we all do in our own way, but you also have the gift of actually telling them in an amazing way. Love this and looking forward to the 2nd part.

Anonymous said...

It's funny, how we all have so many things in our lives that shape us. My husband's parents were in their 70s when we married, and every holiday after our first few years of marriage was potentially "the last". My mother in law passed away in 2004, but my father in law is still here, at age 92. And I missed time spent with MY mother because of all of those potential "last times". No more. Life is what it is. As for books... after my father died in 1995, I went through his books and found a paperback titled "Hinds Feet on High Places". I had no idea that it would be life-changing for me, but it was. Hannah Hurnard's incredible allegory has sustained me many a time since I first read it, and it stays on my bedside table now.

ImagiMeri said...

Well girlfriend, you know my life has been hell this past year, and I thank the Gods that my mom is still here and somewhat independent now, but I have nursed and witnessed death on three other occasions. My first experience was with my mom's mom, I was only 12 or 13 at the time, she died of colon cancer. Then there was my sister-in-law who died of ovarian cancer at the age of 40 and about 5 years ago there was my father. Books were not present in any of those scenarios, but I have read books in the times after each death that in retrospect had related emotions. However, to this day, I cannot remember what books they were, I can only remember that they had aspects of memories tied to each person.

Anyhoo, we'll delve into that deeper at breakfast tomorrow morning.......can't wait to see you pretty lady.

Love ya'

Melinda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Melinda said...

One more time-- I too inherited my love of reading from my Mom. Ken always told her that we were two fastest readers he had ever seen.


Gail said...

This must be a very difficult story to tell. I'm glad you were able to be there with your sister.

Ames said...

I have lost so many loved ones I can STILL close my eyes and transport my self to their last moment. The last breath of their life. Torcherous memories for me. I call it the Death Vigil. I am sure you know what I am talking about when I say death breathing.The laborious breathing they do until their heart stops and then you can see the white mist rise up from their mouth. The only book I can recall reading is the Bible.~Ames

Ms. A said...

Not entering, just letting you know I'm here reading and remembering my own vigils.

Judie said...

The book was "Deliverance" by James Dickey, and the friend was one of the sweetest, kindest, and most loving one I have ever known. On more than one occasion, he saved my life. We loved that book! Dickey started writing it as an epic poem, but it became a novel. It was not at all the dueling banjos adventure film that was so popular and starred Burt Reynolds. The book is deep, thoughtful, and poetic, and we read it cover to cover many times and shared passages with each other, lying on an old quilt by the lake on warm autumn afternoons.

We loved each other with a deep and abiding love, a quiet love, a peaceful love. I stood by his grave on a brilliant October afternoon, and knew that even though he was gone from my sight, he would forever be in my heart. He was too young to die.

Unknown said...

I had an aunt that made every story she read come alive. As a little girl, I remember sitting at her kitchen table as she read the Little Gingerbread Boy. As she said, "Run, run, run, as fast as you can...." I could almost smell the gingerbread baking. I was taken away by her voice and how she read the story to me and my twin sis. She was a wonderful lady that had a heart of gold.

Anonymous said...

Jenny, I can fully understand how difficult it must be for you to write this, and why it has taken you so long. You had to be ready. I also know how liberating it will be for you, to express it, to share it, to put it into words. I am glad you are finally able to do this, and I thank you for sharing it with us.

No entry, just wanted to offer support. - Judee (write tuit)

H said...

I have a small notebook which belonged to my mother when she was in the top end of primary school (about 11 years old). It is covered with brown paper and has a picture of a ship stuck on the front. In it, copied in her neat childhood hand using a dip-in ink pen, are significant poems from British poets. It was from her book that I learned the likes of 'I must down to the sea again' by John Masefield and 'Play up, Play up and play the Game' by Sir Henry Newbolt. I treasure it.

~✽Mumsy✽~ said...

Years ago, I had a chance to sit with a distant relative at the end of her time. I went through an emotional roller coaster of wanting to be near, and yet wanting to get far away..

While sat with her through much of her final hours, I thought of the bible, as she often called God through her pain..

People Who Know Me Would Say: said...

I'm sorry I missed the posting of this yesterday. The date is literally marked on my calendar.

I relate on so many levels, as you know. These ALS types of diseases are cruel thieves.

Thank you for sharing this, Matlock. XO

Please don't enter me in the drawing. Let's leave that for others.

Julie Kwiatkowski Schuler said...

My family is not filled with readers. My mom always thought I was "wasting" money on books when I bought books with my allowance. I have my grandmother's cookbook, though, that I treasure. I like to read the recipes in her own handwriting. Even if I can't make them because I have no idea how much 2 cents worth of yeast is!

pasqueflower said...

I'm anxious to hear the rest of the story.

The book that immediately came to mind was Gone With the Wind. My mother had loved that book and the movie (which I had not yet seen--this was pre-VCR and DVD, and we had only 2 TV channels). So, the summer after 8th grade, we went to the library where my strict, cheerless grandmother was librarian to check out the book. Grandma told my mom that I could not check out the book because I was not officially in 9th grade and it was in the adult collection. My mom then took the book, laid it on the check-out counter, and said, "But I am past 9th grade." It was one of the only times I saw my mother stand up to my grandmother. And I did love the book as much as my mother, and when I finally saw the original movie, I loved that, too.

Another book I associate with a loved one is Anne of Green Gables. When my daughter was in third or fourth grade, we read a chapter together every night. We still sometimes say, "Tomorrow is a brand new day with no mistakes in it yet."

Mami2jcn said...

Last month I read the book "Bossypants" by Tina Fey. My son saw me reading the book and now he calls his sister "Bossypants" whenever she's being feisty. LOL!

mami2jcn at gmail dot com

noexcuses said...

I also missed this post yesterday. I love to read your writing, no matter what the subject. You have a way of pulling us in as though we are witnessing it along with you. Thank you so much for sharing this, and part two. I hope it eased the pain of loss a little more for you.

Millie said...

I don't have memories I've created with my current family members, but I do have a book that was written by my great-great-great grandfather. I treasure it because it gives me the story of his life trying to strike it rich in the California gold rush.

Teresa (from Eden Hills)

Carol said...

After the death of my Mother, granted I was 18, and a little naive, I couldn't wrap my head around why she was taken from me so young. I still needed her.

Many years later, I read 5 People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch help me a lot. While I am not a religious person, it gave me comfort and closure.

Susan Anderson said...

It's a wonderful book, and I love that you shared it with her. Even if her physical body couldn't hear you, her spirit certainly could and did receive that gift.

You're the very best kind of person, Jenny.


Sue said...

I'm already so touched by your story. I have to say that every book reminds me of my mom. We shared all of our books...she bought some, I bought some. We would call when new ones came out by our authors and decide who would get the next one. It was so hard to even buy a book right after she one to talk to about the storyline, no one to give it to. I actually bought a Kindle to make it easier.

Unknown said...

I havent read this book. I will have to read it now and I am sure it will remind me of you.....

Ei8ht Beach Street said...

Beautiful beginning, heartfelt.

Siggi in Downeast Maine said...

I am writing this on the 20th anniversary of my father's mother, tho she found it important to teach me to read at an early age, thought books were a waste of money, but my father would have the Reader's Digest Condensed books come to the house for as long as I can remember.
This is also the date of my infant sister's 65th anniversary of her burial...and she was not ever spoke of and there was wonder amongst the family how my mother had ever dealt with Vicky's death. Cleaning out my mother's house after her death, I found a book on babies dying, with a lovely inscription from my mother's older sister.

Thank you for sharing what must be a bittersweet memory...

Peace, love and cyber hugs (((♥)))
Siggi in Downeast Maine

Sharon said...

Thanks for sharing this memory with us. It's kind of bittersweet to read because I may be facing a similar situation in the near future. God Bless.