The loss of a sibling is one of the most heartbreaking losses anyone can experience, and every person grieves differently.
This is her story.
It has been a month since my sister Jenny died.
Although it doesn't seem possible I'm still stricken with grief.
Jenny was born three weeks past her due date with cerebral palsy. No fun for my mother. When she was delivered via C-Section, the umbilical cord was around her neck. She was immediately rushed to another hospital 40 miles away - this was in the 70's before Life Flight helicopters existed - fighting for her life. Mom didn't even get to hold her before she was taken away.
The amazing thing is that she survived. In fact, she beat the odds and lived to be 41 years old. My parents were told by other parents with a child like Jenny that she wouldn't live past her 21st birthday.
Jenny was unable to walk. She had scoliosis, was wheelchair bound, and was tube-fed. She was unable to speak but made sounds like a baby. Because of her condition, she had to go through endless surgeries and numerous hospital visits. My childhood involved long car rides to hospitals and hours in waiting rooms.
Because of her condition her organs often shifted. She would sometimes have a bloated and hard stomach with blocked bowels, which meant more trips to the hospital. She also suffered from horrible allergies and could get sick at the drop of a hat. She was often hospitalized for pneumonia.
My sister actually was close to death countless times. In fact, my Grandfather helped pay for her headstone and her funeral was already paid for. How many people do that? Who has their own child's death planned and paid for?
My sister graduated in 1993, then was placed in a group home under a program called Mosaic that was able to provide a home for my sister and her long time roommate, and could provide the around the clock care that my parents couldn't because my mother's early symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis surfaced at that time. Dad had his hands full with a fifteen year old autistic son, and nine year old (normal) me.
I accepted my family.
I never asked why Jenny was the way she was, or my mom, or my brother. It was normal for me. I tend to be more compassionate towards people because of this. One of my best friends has CP too and gave birth to my super cute nine month old nephew.
My sister did lead a normal life regardless. She went to the casinos in Branson and she loved music, including Polka. She was a very bubbly and happy woman.
Now for the hard shit.
February 7, 2013.
Her death was so sudden. I can replay like it was yesterday. I was on the night shift at our local hospital where I work the switchboard. My Dad came by my office window, stricken.
At first I thought it was Mom (she had just home from her hospital stay that Monday) but Dad tearfully said it was Jenny. She was not breathing and was being rushed in. I hugged him and told him I would be there as soon as I could.
I kept going "shit, shit, shit." My sister was not breathing. I would have to make the announcement that a cardiac arrest patient was coming in. Fuck.
I sat in agony waiting for the dreaded code phone to ring. It didn't. The call came through on the switchboard, but I knew already. I somehow made the announcement overhead and got a hold of everyone. I called the Hospital Chaplain who knows my family situation, but because of HIPAA I couldn't tell him it was my sister. I squeaked out he needed to come for a code patient and hung up.
I sat at the desk with my head in my hands taking deep breaths, praying that I could be relieved so I could be with my dad and Jenny. Within minutes the other shift arrived. I hastily explained what had happened and was out the door in a flash.
I ran into the arms of the staff member who was with my sister when she stopped breathing. She explained to me Jenny's stomach was so hard that she screamed out in pain. As they had tried to move her to her wheelchair, she had stopped breathing. I began to cry "I called the code on my own sister."
Once in the ER the doctor pulled us aside and said the dreaded words. "It doesn't look good."
Basically there was one choice to be made: turn off the machines and let her go. She had gone without oxygen for a few minutes between her house and the hospital, so her chances of pulling out of this one (she had pulled through once before six years ago) were slim. I had seen her brown eyes; they were glass.
I admired my dad for making that call, even though she already had a "do not resuscitate" order. I don't think I could have. Forty-one years gone, just like that. She laid there turning blue and cold. I'll never forget that image. We're pretty sure it was her heart.
I hated myself afterward because I had so much guilt. Because of my work schedule, I hardly made it over to visit her. The last time I saw her was her birthday in October. I labeled myself the "bad sister."
The rest of the day was a blur. We had to start making the arrangements and phone calls. I stepped up to be a good daughter. I felt I owed it to her.
The hardest part was telling Mom. Dad and I told her, but she just kind of looked at our tear-stained faces, said "Well this was something I didn't want to hear" and changed the subject. I almost wanted to shake her and scream "Your daughter just died!"
I later asked Dad if it even sank in because of her MS. Dad said it would eventually. He later told me he spoke to staff at the nursing home to make sure they would sit down with her and explain to her what was going on and that it was okay to be sad.
My brother was a concern too. Being autistic, we weren't sure how he'd handle it. Dad said he seemed to understand. He volunteered to be a pallbearer. He doesn't like crowds or being around people that much, but he held his own and was happy to return to his job and activities.
I felt all kinds of hurt in the days after her passing and her funeral. I'd never experienced this kind of pain and I'd been through the worst. I'm no stranger to death, either. I've lost three grandparents, and had a cousin that committed suicide. Everyone says it's different when you lose someone closer to you like a parent or sibling. The two-week mark was the hardest. I cried so much.
I feel like this has aged me.
I always joke that I'm 29 going on 40.
It's a month later and I still get sad. I foolishly tried to rush the grieving process along because normally I'm a pretty happy person, despite all the struggles my family faces. Everyone says it takes time.
How long?6 Comments