“Mom had a massive stroke,” my nephew, Tony, called to tell me in a breathless voice. “She’s being moved to ICU.”
The words stabbed my heart. My pulse began to race. I started to itch. My only sibling, Jackie, could die. I asked my nephew to let me know as soon as there was any news on her condition. I hung up and burst into uncontrollable tears. I wasn’t prepared. I should have been but I wasn’t ready to let her go.
I knew my sister had been sick for a couple of years. This year Tony, her oldest son, told me that she was falling all the time and one day lay on the floor for 11 hours unable to move. She is scheduled for hip surgery next month. Although she has three children and five grand children, the light went out of her life when her husband died nine years ago of lung cancer.
She was lonely and depressed living in her small one bedroom apartment with her beloved cats. She gave up her volunteer work, going out, and stopped eating.
I saw her two months ago when I had to make a business trip to Los Angeles. We were always the same height, and wore the same dress and shoe sizes. But who was this crooked, hunched over, gray-haired woman approaching me in a walker? I almost didn’t recognize her. I was startled by her appearance. I gave her a hug and my arms encircled a shockingly bony frame. In the hospital she weighed a 98 pounds.
Could this be my once beautiful sister who thrilled audiences with her classically trained mezzo-soprano voice? Was this the woman who dressed in stunning costumes and wore dramatic makeup for performances with the Los Angeles Opera Company? I was so proud of her. But she gave up her singing career to teach school to make money for her family.
My sister is nine years older than I. She went away to college while I was still playing with dolls. Then she married and moved to California. We were never close. The age difference and the distance left us with little in common, except our birth parents, both long gone. Over the years there were infrequent visits but we remembered each other at Christmas and on our birthdays.
Late last night I heard from my nephew that tests were performed on my sister and that she was now lying in a bed in ICU, hooked up to a ventilator with tubes all over her body. He said the doctors would know something in the morning, but he said the “prognosis doesn’t look good.” That did it.
I am writing this on a plane headed for Los Angeles. Three thousand miles I will travel to be by her side. I have to be there. It’s just the two of us. Despite the distance and the different paths our lives took I hope she will realize that I dropped everything to go to her. I will tell her I love her. She’s my sister.