When Life Laughs at Your Best Laid Plans

 “I’m shattered
Into fragments cold and gray
Sweep the pieces all away
Then no one will ever know how much it mattered
Something deep inside of me shattered.”
(from “Shattered” by Jimmy Webb)

Death is no stranger to me.  I have felt its sorrow and I have drunk its bitter wine.  When my sister Judy died in 2007, the burden of grief was so heavy that I could hardly breathe.  Although I knew she was dying, her death was a long time coming, and the loss still startled, still ambushed and surprised, and I hurt until there was finally no more hurt to give, just the ever-burning flame of absence and all that is missed.

When death came to my family, I thought it would be in the natural order of things.  Oldest to youngest, reverse order of our entry into this world.  First would be Dad, then Mom, then my sister Judy, followed by me, my sister Lisa, my brother Steve, my sister Terri, and finally, my brother Greg.  With this chronological order of departure, I would be prepared, there would be no surprises.  The tears would flow, my heart would ache; but knowing ahead of time, in my mind at least, that we were fading away in our proper place in line as nature intended would soften the blow.  It would allow my heart to catch up with what my mind would already know.

But life has a way of shaking up how you think things should be.  John Lennon said it best.  “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  Life took a look at my plan and muttered, “Screw that.”  Judy died first, followed ten months later by Mom.  Cancer took Dad 3 years ago.  Three members of my family in less than 5 years.  We had been over 2 years without losing another, and then life fragmented again.

On November 3rd last year, my younger sister Lisa was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer.  Two months and six days later, she was dead.  January 9th, 24 days after her 51st birthday.

When she died, the heart of me died with her.

I am not all right.  I cry every day.  It affects my sleep and my appetite.  I’ll be at work and suddenly the tears will roll.  Driving, reading, showering, all opportunities for the tears to fall.  I cry so hard, I can’t catch my breath.  I bite my pillow at night so I don’t wake the household with my wailing.  “Loss” is the word of the day, the word of my life.  I am at such a loss without her.  We talked every week, often every day.  When our sister Judy died, Lisa and I flew out to Nevada together for her funeral.  We were each other’s comfort and strength.  As heartbroken as we both were, we brought each other through that mournful time.  But now she’s not here to bring me through this one.

Death is kind to no one, not even those who need it most.  It’s a harsh and demanding mistress.  About a month after Lisa passed, I picked up my phone to call her.  I had the number almost punched in before I remembered that she was dead.  I wept for hours.  Thoughts of my sister creep up on me when I least expect it and I’m right back at hospice.  Moments before she died, after being practically unconscious for at least 2 weeks, Lisa opened one eye.  She looked at her husband, then our sister Terri, and finally at me.  I leaped from my chair to her bedside and told her that if she saw Jesus or our parents or our sister Judy, to go, to run to them as fast as she could, because the cancer had won.  She couldn’t beat it.  And then, she went away.

UPDATE:  I  started trying to write this post the week after Lisa died.  Today is August 31st.  It has taken me nearly 9 months to get to this point.  I still cry every day.  I’m crying as I write this.  I am the 2nd sibling of 6.  Judy was oldest and 3 years older than me.  I was born second and Lisa was third.  When Lisa arrived,  I was 10-1/2 years old.  My other three younger siblings were born when I was nearly 12, just past 14, and 17-1/2.  I was away at college when the youngest joined us.  In our family, we called the last 4 sibs “the little kids.”  As Mom and Dad were sick and dying, they both told me to take care of the little kids.  And now one of the little kids had died and I couldn’t stop it.  I think that’s why it hurts so much and I grieve so hard.  I couldn’t save her, not against cancer, and she was my little sister.  She wasn’t supposed to die before me.  She had grown sons.  She was supposed to be at their weddings and with them at the hospital when her first grandchildren were born.  She wasn’t supposed to die yet.  It was my turn.

In the poem “The Testing Tree”, the poet Stanley Kunitz writes:

“…..the heart breaks and breaks
and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
through dark and deeper dark
and not to turn.”

That’s where I am now….in the dark and deeper dark, groping my way through the blackness and trying not to turn until I at last see some light.  When Lisa learned she had cancer, she and her husband only told their two sons.  She waited a week before telling the rest of us in order to give herself and her family some time to adjust to her diagnosis.  In the second week of November when she spoke with me, I told her i was scheduled to be out of town during the Thanksgiving holiday.  I asked if she wanted me to cancel the trip and be with her.  She said, “No.  I want you to live.”  That’s what she wanted for all of us…..to go, get out and live life with all its imperfections, heartache, and delight.  To wrap our arms around its neck and hold on for the ride of a lifetime.  To be knocked down and get back up and be knocked down again, laughing, crying, and celebrating every hard-earned step of the way.

She wanted us to live.

And so I will.  When I get to where I’m going and I can see the light again, I may still be broken, but I won’t sit life out.  Between the loving and the leaving, Lisa showed me how to live and she taught me how to die.  I will grab life by the tail and raise such a ruckus until death finally comes and catches me shouting as loud as I can, “Wow!  What a ride!”  I will do it for me.  And I will do it for her.

Rest in peace, Lisa.  I’ll tell you all about it when I get there.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Chiaki
    Sep 01, 2015 @ 02:48:27

    I love reading your blogs. It always grips and consumes me. I am happy you are relentlessly positive Debby!


  2. Denise Huhn
    Sep 01, 2015 @ 06:27:41

    I have no words Debby. Only tears running down my face. Love you.


  3. Sheri Aguilera
    Sep 02, 2015 @ 21:33:15

    Your blog is amazing and tells the emotions you feel, that I would not be able to express in such an amazing way. I too hurt with Judy’s passing, and I think of her everyday. Your hurt is understandably more than mine, and I love you for expressing your inner thoughts.


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