Snow falls quietly and sits heavy on the daffodils this morning. Must be the anniversary of my sister, Eileen’s, death. It’s been fifteen years now, if I’m doing my math correctly. Although she was from New Jersey, she died here in Pittsburgh. Failed liver transplant. Hepatitis C. The sad part is that I think of her only in post-death terms now. The incredible conch shell I found in a moment of utter hopelessness, on the beach where had spread her ashes years before, sits on my mantle. The unusual butterfly that visited us on that same beach months before found its way into my writing just last week.
Maybe it’s because I’m in medicine, or maybe because my friends are of an age where death appears in their lives more often, but I think about the last day of Eileen's life a lot, the regret I have about giving my consent for her final operation. The stupid monitor and fake pacemaker that they kept running until my sisters, Theresa and Kathy, and I were phoned in the waiting room, told to dress up into space suits, and finagled into the operating room (we had to give my eighteen-month-old niece to the front desk nurse to hold on our way). They had promised we could “be with her when she died.”
It is difficult, in the high tech world of medicine, to define the moment of death. You’ve seen it, on "ER" - the arbitrary decision to “call it” and note the time out loud. I think my sister actually died in the middle of the night, well before the morning we were called into the hospital and asked for permission to try one last, heroic, thing. I wrote a poem about that in my creative writing class last term. I'll print it on my blog. (see last blog "Time of Death" (I'm resisting the urge to add a disclaimer)).
And then I’ll spend today trying to remember her when she was alive and passionate, funny and flawed. Her big fat round bear hugs. Her full-throated laughter. Her obsession with blue. Or the late night phone calls, like one I sleepily received at one o’clock in the morning to ask, “Hey, Jan, do germs crawl?” because my sister, Theresa, had put a cold infused Kleenex down on her bed as they sat there giggling, pajama party style. Or, or… see, I can’t remember all the good stuff.
Today I will try. Today I will remember that on my way to her hospital, quite possibly in the hours between the time her spirit left her body and the time medicine's machines were switched off, I stopped in the garden to say a prayer. Today I will remember what I knew in that moment, and why I knew that finding snow on the daffodils was just perfect for the day she died.