My precious, most loved sister, passed away, a victim of cancer on September 28, 2013. I still think of her many times a day. Every little thing I do can spark a memory of her. There are happy memories, but far too often, with the memory comes deep regret. Why didn't I do more? Say more? Understand more? What a fool I was, and what a lot of precious time together I wasted.
I just read an article by Ellen Goodman about conversations about death, published in the New York Times.
I wish I'd read it when I was taking care of my loved one before her
death. But who knows how I would have translated it to my own situation.
My biggest problem, my demise, the source of all my regrets, was that
lack of conversation. And the reason I didn't have the important
conversations and live accordingly is because of my stubborn denial. I
wore my denial like a badge of honor—which in hindsight was just the
opposite. It was a travesty, a dishonoring of my sister, and a barrier
to all that could have made her death a "good" death, instead of a "bad"
one. By bad, I mean one that haunts me with regrets as I look back in
many scenarios at what I wish I had done instead of what I did. Many of
her last days were "bad" miserable days, that could have been better, if
not for my denial
When doctors told her that she
would die, and there was nothing else they could do, I said, No way. We
will cure this thing. I will not let you die. I researched many "cures,"
read testimonials of the many saved lives, and begged her to try them.
Marijuana has been known to completely rid a person of cancer. The
problem was, it was too late. Her cancer had progressed too far for it
to work. I couldn't accept that, and really, no one was telling us that,
as probably no one knew.
I watched videos that said
WE CAN CURE CANCER NOW, and claimed that it didn't matter at what stage
your cancer was in. Their programs worked. The treatments included
special diet, exercise, heat treatments, oxygen chambers, etc. The
science behind all these things seemed sound. And I know of cancer
patients who claim this treatment cured their cancer. But none that I
know of had cancer as far advanced as hers.
my urging, she decided to go to one near her that offered all of the
treatments I had been reading about. She was never one to jump into
something without investigating it. It turned out that a member of her
church had recently taken the treatment and recommended it. She called
the facility where we planned to go, explained her situation and the
doctors' diagnosis and prognosis and asked if they could help her. They
gave her enough assurance that she agreed to go. And so we signed up. I
went with her as her support person, and we stayed at the residence in
order to take in every bit of the benefits, even though she lived less
than a half hour drive away.
My sister commented that
her greatest fear was that they would see her and turn her away. She
dreaded hearing the words, "We're sorry, but we can't cure you." It
would have been honest and much better for Joan if they had. They
didn't. And I fault them for that. They surely knew that they could not
help her. But they took her money anyway.
very sick while we were there. I figured she would have gotten sick
anyway—she had been having these bouts with nausea, diarrhea, fatigue,
pain and/or constipation for some time—and I thought it was good that
she was there with caring professionals to take care of her. And they
did try. There was one woman in particular who took my sister under her
wings with gentle, palliative, and comforting care, and as my sister
told her, "You saved my life," but ultimately, she just wanted to go
It was me with my damnable denial that kept her
there. I didn't realize what she was saying when she told me in her
gentle, loving way, "If it weren't for you, I'd give up and go home." I
took it as a "Good on you, Sis you are keeping me strong so I can do
this and get well." I heard it that way because I was so entrenched in
my belief that she would get well if we did everything right, if we just
fought hard enough that I thought she felt the same way. Now I believe
she knew better but was too kind to tell me that what she really meant
was, "I want to go home. This isn't working for me, and I hate it, but
because you are getting something from it—for your sake—I'll stay."
close to the end, when I came back and stayed with her again, my denial
kept me from having the conversations that would have helped me make
her last days more comfortable and happier. But I always thought there
was more time. And so I took a "week or two" off to go home and catch
up, thinking she'll make it to her birthday. She'll be here for
Thanksgiving, her favorite holiday. She'll see another Christmas.
didn't. And looking back, as I do many times every day, I see ways in
which I could have made the autumn of her life more comfortable,
peaceful, and happy. If only I'd let go of my denial of the facts that
stared me in the face and listened, really listened, to what she was
trying to tell me, and given her what she really wanted.