Monday, November 16, 2009

Walk On

One of the most difficult walks of my life. Getting back on the horse, per se. I actually have two legs, but if you'd ever tried to take a picture of yourself walking, this might be what you get. This walk, I have done many a time, but the last time I attempted this route, I didn't go very far.
Almost a month ago, I had begun my workout, then called the hospital to check in with my sister. I knew she wasn't doing well, and if I remember correctly, was just out of the ICU. Sometimes, our calls made no sense, as pain medication had altered her state of mind. With this call, she sounded very clear, although I knew she was very sick. She told me she was retired now, and she was planning on coming down for a visit. She said she'd work around my schedule. Then she said she would like to get to know her little sister better, as her voice began to weaken. That was our last, "lucid" conversation.
So, I was out today, the first attempt at exercise since our talk, and since her death.
I trotted just a little, but my best was a saunter. This route is alongside my sister-in-law's work, but I noted that I couldn't call her to come join me, as she is out of the country. I wanted to call another friend who works at the same place. She'd lost her sister a few years ago to cancer, and we now have this bond that no one wants to have- that of having to say goodbye to a sister, yet not on our terms.
I kept moving, as my iphone was playing my ipod songs, some songs sad, some contemplative. "Be Still and Know" by Steven Curtis Chapman came on. I looked at sky, the tree, noticing that I had not missed fall entirely. Life had carried on, and God was still going about doing His business.

Evander has karate class near Sacred Heart's RiverBend campus, and usually, during the class I try to walk or run. The route I generally take, meanders near the McKenzie River. On the east is the river, and west of the path is the hospital.
I have come to the realization that the hospital has become both a friend an enemy to me.
In October, last year, I had a "procedure" done, removing a benign breast tumor. I suppose, then, the hospital was a friend.
The next month, I sat numbly across from one of my closest friends, holding her toddler, as she had been struck by an SUV in a hit and run accident. She had broken her sacrum, and both she and her daughter narrowly escaped death. Although in great pain, she quoted Luther, as this life is about the "becoming."
Today, I remembered not knowing what this "becoming" would look like for my friend. My prayers were for her life to be spared, and that the pain would only be temporary. The feelings of confusion, shock, and numbness of that day are a memory, and then, the hospital was not my friend.
I headed closer to the river, needing to sit, and cry.
I felt a wave of sorrow for my brother-in-law, niece, nephew, brothers and sister who knew the pain of the loss of our sister. I watched the current of the river, hoping it could take the sorrow away.
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Earlier, as I dropped Van at the dojo, a friend approached me and asked how I was doing. This friend had seen me come and go on many a walks, as her sons had taken karate the previous year with Van. We occasionally would sit and chat, however I generally reserved this time for exercise. But her question was one that I had been waiting for, "How are you?" I could see she wanted to take the time to stop, to be with me, and to listen to my response. I began a little dance with my words, then the tears came as I spoke of the memories. The memories that came at me like waves. Then, she did something I had also been waiting for from all my friends, she cried with me, as I told her of my morning.

This morning, on a seemingly routine stop at the Safeway, I found myself in tears by the end of my trip. My sister had worked for Safeway, in the deli at it's Gresham store for over twenty years. Although I hadn't visited her there but a couple of times, I associated my Safeway's deli workers with her, as they were often a visual reminder to call or think about my sister. I don't really buy much at the deli, but this summer, I did speak to one of the clerks about my sister being ill. She was empathetic, and as we talked determined that they may have even worked together at one point.
The other clerks in the store are unfamiliar with my sister's story, but every time I go to the checkout, I want to tell them about her. They look at me with familiarity, as I have lived in my neighborhood at least twelve years. But they don't know just being in the store reminds me of my sister.
As the tears laid beneath the surface, I thought I could hold them back if I distracted myself. So, I bought a cup of coffee and planned on taking a gander at the gifts in the Shamrock gift store next to the Safeway. But even the "Thank you, Hon" from the barista at the Starbucks in the Safeway nearly sent me into tears.
In the gift store, I peered around the corner at the florists to see if I could spy my sister-in-law's sister, as she is always a bright spot to any day. But I didn't look too hard, as she is one who could see beyond my friendliness to the tears I was avoiding. I looked briefly at the gifty items, but one too many "sister" type gifts sent me over the edge. I went to the car, and looked in the mirror. Unbeknownst to me, the tears had swelled over, and streamed down my cheeks.
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I got up from that rock by the river, and continued my foray. I took a mental note to tell my former running/walking partner that the foliage around the perimeter of the hospital was filling in quite nicely. She and I spent much of these walks venting, laughing, and a bit of crying on our little excursion's while the hospital's landscaping was being filled in (including the use of manure). My friend moved away this past spring. Colorado is a bit of a trek from Eugene, and I find that Skype is a poor substitute for a real live friend.
As I strolled around the hospital, the smokers dotted the outskirts of the landscaped areas. I wanted to stop and tell them that if they would just quit smoking, they could lengthen their lives, however, being that I am not God, I went on with my roaming.
As I walked, my body had an unfamiliar ache. I hadn't taken it out for a spin in such a long time, that the muscles in my back and legs had an unfamiliar feeling of tiredness. I kept going, one step after the other.

When I had made it back to pick Evander up, I checked in with my friend, saying I hadn't been on a walk for so long, that my body reminded me of my age. We chatted a bit, yet she seemed to know that today's walk, was not an ordinary walk.


Thursday, November 05, 2009

She Called Me Nanny


I have been on a journey. Yes, I spent a good portion of the summer on little trips around the Northwest, and had a fabulous getaway with the girls to Chicago, but this “road trip” that I have been on was not just a physical journey, but a spiritual one. This was the process of being with my sister as she bravely battled leukemia.

My sister Chris was about fifteen years older than me. One of those first people to see me when I came into this world. She babysat my brother and I often while we were young, being that extra set of kids that only a big sister (and brother-in-law) could love. Throughout childhood, even while I was in high school, we had talked on the telephone almost daily. I can't necessarily remember the content of our conversations, but it seemed to be about knowing we were just there, there for each other.

I left home twenty some years ago, as I was the family member who was “the one who moved away.” I didn't have much money, and back in those days, long distance telephone calls were an expense I couldn't afford as a college student. These situtations helped create some distance between my sister and myself, as did when I came home, and tried to decide with whom to spend my time, and like most college students, chose to hang out with friends instead of family.

120 miles can be just as far as 500, and so at times my relationship with my sister waxed and wained. I the tireless, travelling, extrovert, and her the introverted observer.

My sister began getting sick a few years ago. The symptoms lead to a diagnosis of a blood disorder, and then this July, a diagnosis of leukemia, and seemingly advanced at that. In June, I had an overwhelming “feeling” that the time with my sister was limited. I joined the extended family on a camping trip, and stole a few moments here and there with her.

While camping, in between campsite visits, and community meals, I caught her while she was resting in her trailer. I just parked myself right besides her, and chatted it up. I don't remember the content of the conversation, but this was one of our moments before she headed into battle.

I can't recall which day she called to tell me she had cancer. She didn't want to tell me. It wasn't long before she was in Good Sam, receiving chemotherapy treatments. I was sick when she first was at the hospital, and couldn't visit her right away, and was just about to run the Cascade Lakes Relay, the relay I'd been training for all summer. I had such a hard time training for and completing the relay, knowing the dichotomy between the pain she was going through, and how I was living my life to it's fullest, in a sad, but healthy body.

After the race, I headed to Portland for our annual family picnic. Christine rarely missed a family picnic, but was in a hospital bed instead.

The next couple of months I was able to spend a few nights in the hospital with my sister.

One of those first nights, I had my obligatory, “What do you think of Jesus?” type talk with her. She didn't have all the traditional Christian answers I may have been searching for. Christine was, less that traditional. Her answers gave me a peace of mind, knowing she had given up bitterness, and embraced love instead. This cancer had caused a softening, that made her more open to receive Love.

She fought this cancer with her whole being, until her last breath.

I will miss my big sister, the one who made a mobile with me when I was five, my first “homeschool” art project. The one who taught me that Ramen with peas and cheese was tasty. The sister who let me be a part of her family-so many camping trips, sleepovers, trips to the river, and “uptown.” The sister who did all my dishes at my fortieth birthday party.

I'll miss the sister who called me Nanny.