February 11th is my sister’s birthday.
This year will be her 62nd… this picture was of her 60th.
Every year I wish her happy birthday knowing in my heart,
it is a miracle we thought would never happen.
In 2006 after visiting with her on many occasions, consulting with the doctor, and pleading my case, she was put on hospice.
The diagnosis was death pending, within six months or sooner.
She had liver failure, hepatitis C and starvation.
She was wheelchair bound with her 90 pound frame barely fitting into the leather seat.
The pictures stored in her photo album paint a picture of her reality in ways that words never could.
No one can grasp the depth of the situation unless one was there to witness it, like we were.
Her husband died in the early morning hours on July 26th, 2006.
He was her caregiver.
It was shocking, sad, numbing, unexpected and a very horrible day for all of us in the family, when I received the phone call in the early morning hour telling me, he was dead.
My sister, who was dying just became a widow.
When I heard the news I knew I could never leave her there to die alone, they lived in a small ‘5th wheel trailer’ and I knew I had to move her to a safer and more caring environment for her last days.
When my husband and I arrived at their home, 14 miles from ours, there were police, and coroner car, fire truck and chaos all around the surrounding area.
When I saw her, she looked so fragile and broken and scared and maybe not even understanding.
He was gone.
We loaded her into our car and drove in silence with my husband and I in our own thoughts, as she slept in the back seat with her head pressed against the car window.
The hours ahead of us seemed surreal, what we were experiencing was like a very bad dream, only it was real and we were awake.
There were many things to do when we brought her home. I had to call my work and let my boss know I would not be back till she passed away, then call hospice, and family.
Our family room would become a resting place for the dying and we would sit with her as we watched and waited for her to die.
We started her out in a loveseat hideabed then moved her into a hospital bed for the final journey of her hospice care. The hospice team told us she had just a few weeks left so we were just keeping her comfortable.
We began a journey none of us would ever want to repeat.
She was drowning in a sea of alcoholism and like life guards, we jumped in and rescued her.
For me it was especially exhausting as I didn’t know how to swim or navigate this care taking process.
There were many things to deal with and it was physically and emotionally taxing on all who were involved.
The care taking team consisted of my husband and I, our older sister and her husband, the hospice team and most important the doctor who helped us. I will forever be grateful to him for his patience.
Days moved into weeks as we gave her round the clock care, as her thin body laid on the sheet of the hospital bed.
Detoxing the demons out of her was a balance between medications every two hours, monitoring the seizures and praying the hallucinations would leave.
You cannot believe the horrible effects detox has on a person.
She had to have specific drugs to ease the discomfort and chaos inside her body and brain.
In the midst of the really hard, there were a few really funny moments of comedy relief.
Remembering the middle of the night when I was so exhausted to take her outside for a smoke, I gave her one that was unlit and told her to smoke it.
This was breaking my rule to never have cigarettes in my home, but she had no idea it wasn’t lit and I would hold the ash tray near her bed telling her to dump the ashes and she would.
I would watch her inhale and exhale pretend smoke, while feeling relieved I didn’t have to get her in her chair to go outside. She smoked the same cigarette for four days before I had to start over with a new one.
The hospice team was amazed and we all laughed about my crazy idea of an unlit cigarette.
Everyone involved in the process with us was amazed at our ability to work together on this very difficult journey.
We realized her tolerance was very high, she was drinking a fifth of vodka daily, so in order for that to be removed one has to taper down slowly, or the body will crash in a violent way.
The doctor was amazing along with the hospice team and especially the chaplain, who helped us create a memorial service for her husband out in our courtyard, as she was too ill to go anywhere outside of our home.
Day in and day out we took care of her and loved her through her wrecked life.
Soon her strength began to come back to her as we removed the alcohol from her system.
We were giving her three oz doses of vodka two times daily and that seemed to keep the detox process comfortable for her.
She had to have help to eat, walk and move around the house.
She slowly began to wall walk holding onto the walls for stability and a bit of independence.
In seven weeks were able to move her out of our home and into an adult foster home setting.
When that setting didn’t work well, we were able to move her into an assisted living facility not far from my home.
The day she chose to live was the day she quit dying.
The journey was long, hard and would we ever do it again?
No, I have told her many times. It was very hard.
Today she is alive and living in an assisted living home.
Her brain is slowly coming back to her and she is thriving.
It is a story of love, sacrifice, sisterhood and hope.
It is a story of family, a journey of life and death and then life again.
It is a story of sisters.
There is so much more to this story I could share and someday I will when the time is right.
We brought her home to die in a safe and loving place.
By caring for her, praying for her, and giving hope, her life was restored from a wrecked life going no where to a place of healing with a new future.
Each year I am thankful she can have another birthday.
Because I will always remember the year she almost didn’t.