My beautiful baby sister Kathleen was such as inspiration to me. She was several years younger than me and I learned later in life that she was mostly afraid of me as kids. Our parents got divorced when I was a teen and my sisters were still very young. We all adored our dad, and mom was not an easy person to live with. When I turned 18 I moved out and my sisters left my mom to live with our dad. Kathy being the youngest was the most confused and upset by the divorce and the ensuing years. I got married at 19, pregnant at 20 and suddenly at 15 Kathy was pregnant too. She married the baby’s father, even though he was not a great person, but he had shown her affection so she thought it was love. He was a drug addict and one of Kathy’s best friends was a hooker. No, Kathy didn’t go down that road. She left her husband after only a few months and moved back in with our dad, when I asked him why he let Kathy get married he said that kids needed to learn on their own and make their own decisions. His most favorite thing to tell people was “use your common sense”. His story is for another day…
So now Kathy is 16 with a baby that is having frequent seizures. She is finding that hard to deal with, is on public assistance because of course she can’t find a baby sitter for a child that could have a seizure at any time. This is back in the late 70’s and not much was known about what her baby was experiencing. I offered to take him for awhile so she could finish school and get straightened out with deciding what to do with her life. However life interfered, I had 2 children already and my son had already started to show signs of not developing right either. I got pregnant unexpectedly and got very ill. So I asked Kathy to wait. In the meantime my Aunt and Uncle had said they would adopt Kathy’s baby, but that he was never to know she was his real mother. I told Kathy that in my opinion that was unacceptable.
Kathy decided to go to Florida to stay with some friends for awhile to figure things out. In the meantime, I had a miscarriage and was worried about her, but had my own issues with that and with my son Chris not being able to stand when he should have and showing signs of getting weaker rather than stronger. Somewhere along the way Kathy came back home, stayed with my dad and he bought a double house. She lived in the front part with her son and new boyfriend and dad lived in the apartment in the back. Again on public assistance, but this time in a work training program so that she could show her kids that living on public assistance for very long without trying to get work was unacceptable. After a few years she finished her training and got a job as a school maintenance person with the city school district.
I was very proud of her and we became friends after she came back from Florida and got settled back in with our dad. She had 3 children and lived in a not so great part of town, but she was proud of what she accomplished and passed her work ethic on to her children. She had broken up with her boyfriend that had fathered her two younger children and was a single parent to 3 rambunctious boys plus the oldest still had uncontrollable seizures. By then we also knew my children were physically disabled and she made sure that when we came to her house there was always someone around to lift the wheelchairs up the steps and into the house.
Then one summer day in 1998 I was talking to her on the phone. She had been acting out of character and I was telling her new boyfriend and our mom that there was something medically wrong. Our dad had passed away from a stroke a few years before this. This particular day we were talking about how she wanted to live on a farm and have lots of animals. At the time she had a pitbull or American Staffordshire Terrier as she preferred to call them. The dog’s name was Rosie. As Kathy was gazing out the back door she said to me “Why are there two Rosie’s?” I asked her to explain and she said she could see double and she was getting lightheaded. I told her to call her boyfriend or our mom and get to the ER. She didn’t listen to me, and because I had just had neck surgery I wasn’t allowed to drive because I couldn’t turn my head.
She waited until the next day to go to the doctor and he told her to wear an eye patch and go see an Opthamologist as soon as possible. Of course in medicine nothing is fast. In the past few years we lost the Aunt that wanted to adopt Kathy’s son to lung cancer, plus our grandfather and a neighbor had been diagnosed as well. So when the Opthamologist sent Kathy for a full body scan… I knew what they were looking for. They told her there was a tumor on her optic nerve which was causing the double vision and they needed to scan to check the rest of her out. We all were hoping for the best, an operable single tumor. That was not to be. Her body was riddled with tumors, her entire spine and her brain (hence the uncharacteristic behaviors a few months before). She had stage 4 lung cancer even though there were no tumors in her lungs. She had started smoking at age 14 or 15, and although she wasn’t a 3 pack a day smoker, her pack or so a day was enough to cause her cancer.
She bravely started chemotherapy, which made her more ill. She had one or two radiation treatments. We planned for her to come to our house for Thanksgiving because my sons were to big to be able to easily lift them up stairways so it was just easier to have gatherings at our house. She didn’t show up or call. My daughter Liz and I went to her apartment after dinner to see her. Her hair had started falling out that morning from the chemo. That was a bad day. It made things real. Undeniable. Unescapable.
Kathy had written a lot of poetry, I think my mom has it and isn’t sharing. Or her fiance has them and isn’t sharing. Perhaps that was her wish. What she and I did do is plan to write a novel together. She wanted a romance novel with a happy ending. We only got a few pages written. Her cancer spread fast and violently. She had cats that we found homes for, purebred Maine Coons and a few beautiful purebred persians. Chris and I had started breeding and showing cats, and Kathy came to cat shows, even though she was mildly agoraphobic. She found a few cats she liked and had planned to just have one or two litters just to be able to show cats of her own. On the way out the door to a local cat show where we were actually showing her cats and delivering them to new owners, her son showed up at my door and said “Mom isn’t doing good, you need to come over.” We discussed it and took the cats to the show and then went directly to Kathy’s. The corner had been turned.
If you are familiar with what happens, at some point the person with cancer just can’t eat anymore. They get delirious. Kathy wanted to die at home and not in a hospital and didn’t want strangers around so her “hospice” care was her fiance and my mom. I went over whenever I could. One day during this time she looked at me sitting in a chair next to her and saw other people around the room and she shouted, “Why are you all here? Are you just waiting for me to die? Get on with your lives!” then she became delirious again. Another day our mom and sister and I were there and she looked at my sister and shouted “Who are you??? You are a bad person!”. Then she looked at my mom and looked at me and said to me “Who is she? I don’t know her.” Meaning our mom. She appeared to recognize me, but I told our mom that Kathy was going back in time and that since I look like her that Kathy probably thought I was mom. Our other sister broke down crying not understanding why Kathy would say mean things to her.
She had been on morphine up until that last two weeks. About a week into the delirium she started to refuse to let anyone put anything in her mouth including medication. Thursday April 1st 1999 was the last blue moon of the 20th Century, and it was our dad’s birthday. I thought that would be the day she would go to join him, but it was not. Easter Sunday was April 4, 1999. I spent Easter at her apartment, a variety of people from throughout her life stopped in, a steady stream all day. She didn’t know any of them and they didn’t understand why. She became quiet that day, barely waking. People said their goodbyes. Our mom stayed until about 10:30, then took Kathy’s youngest son home with her. I was sitting in Kathy’s library, a small room that she had filled with the books she loved. Her middle son, John and her fiance, Dave took turns sitting by her head talking to her. I started to feel that I was overstaying my welcome, so I told Dave I would be going. He asked me to sit with her for a minute so that he could use the bathroom.
I sat next to her, I had heard her breathing become labored over the past couple of hours. I told her that her boys would be taken care of and that it was ok to go to be with our dad, that he was waiting for her. I squeezed her hand and kissed her forehead, then got up so Dave could sit back down. I walked quietly into the other room to get my coat and started to put it on when I heard Dave sob, “No baby, please no”. John started crying “No mom”. I took my coat off and looked at the clock… it was 11:59 pm on Easter Sunday when she left to be with her dad.
Liz G says
Came into the blog on your post about Chris’ birthday yesterday and ended up here. What a piece you have written about Kathleen! Your depth of emotion astounds me as much as your strength. You are a remarkable person Deb. I am sure Kathleen was proud to have you for her sister and I have a feeling you inspired her too. 🙂