I felt too tethered to the earth last week. I walked through each day with a sense that something was coming, or maybe more like something was happening but I didn’t know what. It was like that time I had a dream about the woman who adopted my cat. I only met her once but we became Facebook friends so that we could see pictures of Moo-Moo. I had a dream that her friends were stuck in a basement with a raging fire above them and they were screaming her name. The next morning, I saw on Facebook that she lost 5 of her friends in a fire.
Sometimes, the veil that separates us from our spiritual roots is thin and last week I wanted to experience that. I wanted a physical manifestation of an undefined emotion. I wanted to see something that expressed my restlessness.
On Thursday evening, after reading several posts about the impending fall season and not being able to take another day of 100 degree heat, it finally rained. Not just a gentle rain to temper the dust but a torrential downpour complete with lightning. Ah, finally. I exhaled and relaxed.
Then my phone rang and I knew. Hardly anyone ever calls me and never at 7:30 in the evening. The caller ID showed my mom’s face but when I answered it was my sister and she was crying. I waited for what seemed like eternity to hear who had died. Long enough for me to pray that it wasn’t my mom, but equally unwilling to hear anyone else’s name.
Punky. My sister, 12 years my senior with a childhood nickname that she could never shake, had died. She suffered from emphysema and COPD and had been in and out of the hospital several times in the last 6 months. She was terrified of not being able to breathe and now she’d never have to worry about taking another breath.
As I drove to the hospital in the rain, lightning flashed before me in an otherwise pitch black night. Talk about a physical manifestation of an emotion. I was both terrified and resigned and I prayed to get there in one piece.
Last November, my grandpa on my father’s side died and our family gathered around him. This time, it was my sister from a different father and a different family gathering around her. It was eerily similar except that by the time I got there, I couldn’t feel her presence in the room. It was like she saw the light and said, “I’m outta here. See you on the flip!” I can’t think of anyone who deserved a quick trip home more than Punky.
It is tricky to be a heart-teller. It can be hard to write about my truths when they overlap another’s. No one’s story is completely their own and I often struggle with how much to share. But some details can’t be left out because they help to paint a picture that gets to the heart of why we’re here on earth.
My sister’s name is Dolores and she didn’t particularly like the nickname Punky, although it fit her personality. But the sicker she became the more I saw her as Dolores. Saying that she had a tough life doesn’t do her journey justice. My mom was 15 when she had her and while they could sometimes be like magnets repelling each other, theirs was one of the deepest loves I’ve ever seen. My sister never felt or experienced anything superficially. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia in her late 20’s but started to have delusions as early as age 9. She struggled with substance abuse and brought five children into an unpredictable world. She did her best but sometimes, her very best broke hearts.
If there is one word that describes my sister best it is hopeful. It was hope that caused her to believe that she could parent her children and it was hope for their futures that allowed her to terminate her parental rights when she realized that she couldn’t. It was hope that led to the birth of yet another child after that with the same result. She was a woman who puzzled us with her contradictions. Big heart, big anger. Big love, big fear. She was like that Billy Joel song…she never gives out and she never gives in, she just changes her mind…
She told us that she loved us every single time. She never let that go unspoken. She also never hesitated to kick us out of her hospital room when our presence got to be too much for her or when she thought we should be somewhere else. Even on a ventilator, she pointed to the clock because she was afraid my mom would miss her bus home. She told me more than once, “Don’t you need to get home to your kids?” I remember being grateful for being at her bedside when she was intubated and unconscious because I was able to hold her hand as long as I wanted and she couldn’t send me home.
My grief is raw and these words are incomplete. When I think of the challenges she faced in life and the price she paid for her disease and her often poor judgment, I am amazed at her bravery in the face of adversity. She never gave up. She was always hopeful. She didn’t know any other way to be and I’m so proud of her.