(Kelly teaching Sadie to blow a bubble, Cobb Hospital)
Because I recently found a box labelled "Mamoo's Attic" that my mom left in our garage when she moved out, I've been doing a lot of reminiscing. The box is full of old picture albums, as well as Mamoo's porcelain duck collection, which is hideous, and some framed family photos wherein my father's hair is the hero. Mom's "attic" is where I found the pics I recently posted of Mom and us girls at Disney World and my sister Kelly cheerleading. It also contains some pictures of Kelly in the hospital.
As I mentioned in my last post, my students' stories often resonate with my own. They take me back to places I've forgotten or set aside. A couple of weeks ago a young designer was talking about the loss of his grandmother--about the last several months of her life. They adored her, so when she was ill they sat with her constantly, simply being with her. It was sad in those final days, he told us, because she was unconscious and didn't even know they were there.
I wanted to tell him this story, but it was his time--his story, and I didn't want to make it about me.
I want to tell him now:
During the last three weeks of my sister's life, she was moved from Cobb Hospital (after having been there for several months while I was pregnant with Georgia) to Emory, with the hopes that they could get her back into remission from her Leukemia and perform a bone marrow transplant for which I was to be the donor. That would never happen, as she declined rapidly. There are stories within the story here, each remarkable to the point of being almost unbelievable, but I want to focus on a particular moment. It's an important one that will forever change the way I act around the critically ill.
Emory was only a couple of miles from the apartment we lived in, so at least every other day, I'd put George in the Snugli and walk to the hospital to sit with my sister while Mom held the baby outside. I was still wearing my maternity clothes at that point, my favorite being a blue-green cotton tee shirt type dress that Kelly had given me at my baby shower. (She'd said that the baby would be getting enough presents, so she wanted to buy me something for myself.)
I was also still wearing the last pair of shoes I'd bought during my pregnancy--the only shoes that fit me--which were black China flats, those little cotton Mary Janes you get for five bucks at stores with names like Soul Flower and Go With the Flow. It didn't matter if I had on my husband's sweat pants or my best frock, those were the shoes I wore.
Anyway, she was never conscious when I visited. I'd sit quietly beside her bed and watch the nurses' constant shuffle around her--checking vitals, changing IV bags, giving her shots. I hated that she didn't know I was there, that she wouldn't hear the things I wanted to say. So I never said them. I hoped she'd wake up, see me, know I cared about her.
This went on for days and days. I'd come sit in that chair, and she'd lie there sleeping, and it had to be enough that she slept and breathed. In between the hours in that room, I diapered Georgia, chased Sadie, bought groceries, did the laundry, argued with the asshole I was married to, and longed for my twenty-four-year-old sister to get well and get to do those things too.
I missed telling her that her pants were too tight, that her boyfriend was a loser; missed her bragging that Sadie was going to love her more than me, how they'd have secrets I'd never know. I'd sit in the bedside chair again, silent and wishing, as she didn't get better and didn't get better--listening to the beep of the heart monitor, the hum of the lights, and the small squeak of nurses hurrying in and out.
Then one day, a day like any other day, she opened her eyes, looked straight at me in that faded blue-green dress and the black flats, and said quite lucidly and with her old resigned disgust, "Don't you have any other shoes?!" and fell right back to sleep.
It was the last thing I remember her saying to me.
She'd known I was there all along.