I spent the last part of February flying to California to be with my sister, Roz who is dying from breast cancer. It has metastasized to her lungs and bones. I can't imagine a trip more scary, yet I looked forward to seeing her and being with her again.
We were close as children. We shared a bedroom and played together and fought each other. We tattled on each other and spent long hours giggling in bed.
I would draw pictures or words on her back with my fingers and then she would try to figure out what I drew or spelled. She was a pretty good guesser. When it was her turn to draw on me, I was usually wrong. She's a way better artist, but I usually didn't pay attention. It was the closeness I wanted I guess.
You couldn't find two kids more different. I was a tomboy. I played football, baseball and basketball. She played violin and didn't like to get dirty. She had stomach problems and stayed inside and I always had skinned knees and dirty elbows.
We BOTH had hideous hair. Mom was too cheap to take us to get our hair cut, so she always did it herself. In pictures our bangs are always too short. Pinky ( a childhood nickname ) had curly hair and mine was straight. But it was terrible for both of us, so I blame Mom!
Yet, we were always close. I got married and moved to Hawaii and Roz came for several months after college to visit. She and her husband Arnold are good with my kids and they love them right back.
After Roz got cancer the first time, she came to stay with me to recover from the surgery. After chemo and radiation Roz decided to get scuba certified. She came to stay in Orange County with us and we did it together. We had snorkeled all over the Pacific, mostly Tonga, Hawaii and Samoa. But diving off Laguna Beach and Catalina Island in cold water with wet suits is not anything like the warm clear waters of the South Pacific. It was fun, though and we loved it. We made plans then to dive in the Caribbean and go wreck diving. But now we never will.
Roz and our other sister Robin went for a month-long freighter cruise to the islands surrounding Tahiti. Dad had given all the kids some money and that is how they spent it. I had children in school and I spent it on carpet and tile and remodeling bathrooms. They spent it on a lifetime of memories. I wish now that I had gone with them. Well, except for the part where Robin broke her arm and had no drugs or doctors and had to wait overnight for a helicopter ride to an island where they spoke no English. She had to have surgery to be put back together and once again was sent by helicopter to the boat where she STILL had no pain meds. I'm glad to have missed that nightmare!
Rosalind later told me that these things were part of her "Bucket List". Like in the movie where Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman are both diagnosed with cancer and so they made a list of all the things they wanted to do before they kicked the bucket. I'm glad she was able to do her bucket list.
After Lee and I moved to Virginia, Roz and Arnold came for a visit. They helped us build a corral for horses. Arnold had to go back to work, but Roz stayed with us for a whole month. I wasn't working then and I treasure the memories of that visit.
Roz can't just sit and read a book, something that I can do every day for hours. She has to be up and doing. I'd notice her out working on my landscaping and feel compelled to join her. She called it earning her keep!
Roz had just gotten LEAD certified. I only know that is something to do with environmentally sound building practices. So she knew all the proper terms and could draw up building plans and read them, but she had no practical experience. So Roz helped us build a hay loft in our barn. You really know what a 12 foot joist is after you help nail up 15 or 20 of them. You understand why it is critical to get the measurements right when you nail the plywood on top and hope the joints line up on a joist! And Pinky helped us and I am glad for those memories, too.
Now my memories will be of her sick and in pain. I wish I had not listened to her all those times she said she was fine and spent more time with her. She knew the breast cancer would come back and her time was limited, but I couldn't accept that. I kept thinking we would have more time. They said 10 years and that is not up yet. And now this is all the time there is and I am so sad.
So now I spent this time with her. I helped her put things away in cupboards in the guest house where she and Arnold are now living while they tear down the main house and build a new one. A house Roz has designed but may never see. I helped her put away things she may never again use. I put things where she wanted when all I wanted to do was throw everything away and spend the rest of the time drawing pictures on her back....and try not to cry so she won't feel the need to comfort me.