Like the thief that it is, death came Friday morning and snatched my sister Flory from under our noses, and we could do nothing but stand there and let it happen.
If you’ve been reading my blog from the very start, you might have read the 3rd entry I ever posted on Strange Fruit, a piece entitled “Thanksgiving”. There I explored the concept of Thanksgiving, because we were bursting with overflowing gratitude, because my sister just survived a grueling near-death battle with leukemia…and won. She was diagnosed in June of 2007 with the killer cancer, and she practically died after the first few minutes of her first dose of chemotherapy, when her body reacted to the chemo with such violence that she went into a deadly seizure. We almost lost her then, but her doctors said she was extremely lucky to have survived such a seizure. She opted not to continue with the chemotherapy, without which her oncologist said she’d be lucky to last 3 months. But instead, after 3 months, not only did she NOT die, she bucked all odds and there was ZERO trace of any cancer cell. Even the science-weaned doctors conceded it was nothing short of a miracle. So by November of that same year, we threw a huge feast and celebrated the return of my beloved sister back into good health.
It was a blissful 3 years. In my opinion, it was her best years, EVER. It was the best version of her I’ve ever seen. I guess staring death in the eye and getting a second chance can do that to a person. She was filled with joy and peace, and lived her life with a purpose. In those 3 years she would receive at least one call from someone who was suffering from cancer or knew of someone who was, and was asking her to talk to them. She didn’t have a cure, but she offered some measure of comfort, and truckloads of hope. She never turned anyone away. She made time to help whoever she could, to alleviate their fears, being where they were herself, not too long ago.
So when things took a turn for the worse middle of last year, it was like a punch in the gut, a sinking feeling in our hearts, like a vacuum of cold darkness opened up and sent the chill back in our lives. True enough, the worst case scenario unfolded ever so adamantly, and to cut a long, difficult to relive story short, her body finally gave in, and we lost her. Thanksgiving is not exactly the word that comes to mind. Try resentment, or bitterness, or profound grief. But after you’ve cried for hours like a child whose candy was taken away, the truth eventually crept in, no matter how hard we tried to fight it. Thievery entails ownership, and my beloved sister could only be stolen from us if we actually owned her. But we find comfort in the idea that she was merely lent to us, and you can’t lose what you never owned. And if she was lent to us, by God, or whatever higher power you choose to believe in, then we are merely returning her to her Creator.
Even with the evocation of God and His bigger-than-ours-heads-could-comprehend plans, it’s still a bitter pill to swallow. I have never known a life without my Ate Poy. It will be difficult to let go of someone who has been there with me all my life. And nothing prepared me in losing a sibling. All my life I was anxious about my parents’ deaths. It was their deaths I was bracing myself for. I did not fear for my siblings’ deaths because I didn’t even entertain the idea of any of us dying. So when I saw her lifeless body on the gurney in the hospital, every nerve in my body was screaming denial of what my eyes were seeing. I was begging for cameras to jump out and tell me it’s some cruel prank that someone pulled to scare the shit out of me. Then my sister would sit up and rub off that deathly pallor on her face and hug me and tell me that everything was just a mean joke and that everything will be all right. But I should be so lucky.
We buried her yesterday, February 16, on her birthday; she would’ve been 55. I guess it’s poetic to return her on the very day she was given to us. It doesn’t come fuller circle than that. Asking her to stay is for our sake. Letting her go is for hers. No one who has ever witnessed their loved ones suffer would deny them relief, even if relief can only be found in death. When my father died, I didn’t even shed a tear. I cried all my tears when they were poking all those needles and tubes into him, trying to keep him alive. I’d rather see him go than suffer a single minute more. How could I deny my sister the same dignity?
I am just going to miss her so much. This pain has no name. Anyone who’s ever lost someone so dear will agree when I say that no word fits what gnaws in my heart each time I realize that I’ll never see her again. I have faith that we’ll meet again someday, when my time comes. But until then, the chasm between us is far and wide, and the idea is more than I can bear. But to struggle against things we have no control over is an exercise in futility. Death comes like rain, we cannot make it happen, just as we cannot stop it. So begrudgingly as it may feel, there is much reason for thanksgiving. Not because she won her battle against cancer, but because we had someone in our lives who is so difficult to say goodbye to. The fact that our hearts are rent in two is testament to how lucky we are to have been touched by such a woman. If I talk the talk, then I should walk the walk. She deserves her rest, and who am I to deny her that? I guess at this point, saying goodbye is the best way to say I love you.