I hate hospitals.
I’m an extreme introvert with phone phobia and leftover agoraphobia.
I no longer drive a large van, and I no longer drive in a strange place without a GPS.
I don’t know how to aggressively advocate for a loved one’s care…or comfort someone as they are dying.
When I found out a little more than a month ago that I would have to do all those things for my sister, I ran to those who had gone through this and said, “But I don’t know how. I don’t know how to do this.”
They said, “Everyone’s different. You just go and love her and you’ll know what to do.”
So I flew to Nashville and learned how to drive my sister’s van and used my choicest swear words whenever it beeped that I was within three feet of hitting something, including the street as I backed out of their steep driveway.
I learned the quickest way from the rehab center to the hospital’s radiation oncology department. I remembered skills from a summer 35 years ago when I worked in a nursing home to help someone who no longer had the use of her hands and whose legs were weakening daily.
I listened with love to her anger, her grief, her regrets, and her fear, and I waited to cry until I could hole up in the basement of the home she would never return to. Most of the time. I learned we could cry together and life would go on–until it didn’t.
I went to her church and stood up to introduce myself to strangers who suddenly became friends because they loved her too.
I learned that the right people show up miraculously when they are needed the most. Even a dog showed up: puppy day at the rehab center gave her a bichon frise like her old dog Max to cuddle when her mood was darkest.
I learned that decisions were easy when the goal was to end her pain and her fear.
I discovered that I could watch my big sister leave this earth, because I had to let her go. That dying becomes like being born, especially when loving women form a circle and sing, and that the peace created in that circle lasts long after the goodbyes are said.
There is no fear when there is profound love.
Afterward, I found among her files three stories I wrote years ago and had long since lost. All three have the theme of overcoming fear with love and just being oneself. I think she knew I would need them someday. And I will go on, stronger, savoring the happy times and taking more chances in life because time isn’t eternal after all.