My Week: And Then There Were Three

Sunday was pretty routine. I was saved from having to go to a nominating committee meeting by the fact that some of the members had to go to a meeting of the constituency. DD and I had a short (for us) visit. She and merm were going to do some shopping.

Monday and Tuesday were unremarkable. Then Wednesday came. I was getting low on a couple of things so I’d planned a trip to town to restock. I got myself ready to go and was just about to pick up my list, my purse and grab my keys when the phone rang. It was my niece. I knew The Time Had Come and it had. My sister in the Great Northwest had finally been released from her battle with almost uninterrupted pain. Her going was peaceful. I couldn’t help but feel relieved for her. She had suffered so. Growing up, we had fought like cats and dogs but then we got to be best friends and we loved each other dearly.

It all started in July, 2008. “I have an ugly painful rash”, she wrote in an email. She added that her MD husband said it looked like shingles. Three days later, she emailed, “I have pain med on hand and that does help, but is the only thing that does. It is now an ugly red rash, about 1/4 inch thick according to my ‘resident physician’–it got weepy and wet in the night and ‘VERY’ painful. Also hurts inside my back, under my shoulder blade.” She added that it was unilateral—her husband said it was like someone had taken a ruler and marked it off at her spine. Of course, that’s the nature of shingles.

When she was found unresponsive on the floor not many days later, she was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with viral encephalitis. For awhile, it seemed to be touch and go but she finally responded to treatment. The struggle had taken its toll, though, so she was moved to a rehab center for therapy. For several months, she shuttled between hospital, rehab, and home and back again. It seemed a never ending cycle.

As time went on, the pain got worse and worse. She couldn’t stand anything touching her skin so she wore as few clothes as possible. She no longer went out except to the doctor. Once, she had managed to get dressed and go to the store. She hadn’t been anywhere for so long, it was a novel experience.

We were able to talk on the phone and, on good days, she could sit up and email. Her shingles pain was unrelenting. I did some research online and found that post-herpetic pain can be eliminated by a nerve block. I even talked to one of the doctors at the hospital about it. He was guarded in his opinion of it. Patients that had the surgery were numb on one side and some stated they would rather have the pain. She was getting desperate and her husband started trying to find a surgeon who would be willing to do it. There was no one.

In early February, 2010, she complained to me that her ears were hurting—that sounds seemed to be magnified. Then, one day, she couldn’t hear at all. She was totally, completely deaf. The phone calls were history.

When I visited DD and merm in June of the same year, we went to the house to see my sister. There was a note on the door that she had fallen and was being taken to the ER. There was no discussion—merm immediately headed to the hospital. When DD and I got to the room where she was, I was heartbroken. If I had seen my sister in another setting I probably wouldn’t have recognized her. She looked older than our other sisters. I’m the “baby” of the family and she was only seven years older than me.

When she saw me, she had no trouble recognizing me. She shouted to her husband, “Look! It’s Ta!” (That is what my oldest niece called me when she was little and it stuck.) Not being able to hear herself, she would talk much louder than necessary and he would sometimes motion for her to speak more quietly. He was holding her white board so I took it and wrote messages to her. She would read them and then respond. The writing had to be large because, by then, her eyesight was failing.

Since she had taken quite a spill, she’d been x-rayed. The results came back. On top of everything else, she had broken her hip. She was in the hospital several days and then was moved to rehab (again). That’s where she was the last time I saw her. Once when I was visiting, she remarked, “This is your fault, you know. I caught chicken pox from you.” When I was 3 and she was 10, I had chicken pox. I guess I was the first to get it and then she did. That has haunted me ever since. When DD, merm and I were leaving the facility, I told them I’d never see her alive again. Sadly, I was right.

She was either unwilling or unable to cooperate with physical therapy so she became, essentially, an invalid. Caregivers were hired to give her and my brother-in-law 24/7 care. Finally, it was decided to have hospice take over. That was mid-February of this year. A few weeks ago, they found she had glaucoma.

People are very solicitous of my losing my sister but, in all the months of not being able to communicate with her, I felt like I’d already lost her. A few of the caregivers would email and once in awhile, one of my sisters would call and talk to a caregiver. We would get updates from my niece and her husband and while I was glad to know what was going on, it wasn’t like direct access to her. It may have been the medication but she began to get more and more confused. The person she had been was no longer there. On Wednesday, April 25, 2012, her body died.

When I got off the phone with my niece, it rang again and it was my neighbor/cousin. I told her what had happened and she has since invited me over if I needed to talk or anything. I appreciated that but what I needed was to sit in Mother’s chair and just think and breathe. I tried to call DS1 and got voice mail. Same with DD. I knew DS2 wouldn’t be home at that hour. I picked up my purse and keys and the phone rang. It was DS1. I gave him the news then went on to town, got my hair cut (the strangest cut I’ve ever had—I’ve had to do a lot of evening up and snipping) and did my shopping. When I got home, I called DD and DS2.

When I came along there were five of us known as “Artie’s girls”. Mother hated her name but she was proud of all of us. We stayed the five until my oldest sister passed away November 22, 2010. Then there were four. Now there are three. I told DS1 I want to be next. He said since I am the youngest, I will probably be the last. However, there are no guarantees I’ll draw the next breath.

Thursday, Genese posted a distressed plea for prayer for her son-in-law. He’d been hit by a train early that morning and had lost one leg and the other was crushed beyond repair. He’d managed to call 911 on his cell phone which was a miracle in itself. He has had two surgeries so far and who knows how many will be down the road. All in all, he is doing better than expected. He’s already been moved out of trauma ICU into a regular room. Genese feels so useless during this time but she has been updating us on Facebook and encouraging us to pray. Her 14 year old grandson is taking it hard but, until tonight, the 3 year old granddaughter hadn’t been told anything except he’d been put in the hospital. The whole family needs prayer.

My niece called that day and was telling me about arrangements for the memorial. My sister had been cremated per her wishes. She had also left instructions for the service which promises to be unique.

The week hasn’t been all sadness, though. My strawberries are starting to produce. I’d had a bite or two here and there but yesterday, I was able to get enough to EAT!


I even sacrificed my last Champagne mango and mixed with them.

Strawberries and Champagne

In the afternoon, I got an email from one of my friends that we were to have a Women’s Ministry meeting after the guest meal today and she hoped I’d stay. Yikes!! I flew around and got food ready.

This morning, I loaded the food and myself into the car and got to church a couple minutes late. On one of my bathroom breaks, I found a tick. It was just barely embedded so I pulled it off, head and all, and it was trying to get away. It wasn’t successful. I flushed it down the commode. (Mother would have said I made it a sailor.)

The church service was interesting with a Power Point presentation but it was when the pastor started speaking extemporaneously that it was much better. It was all about the feasts, new moons and sabbaths.

After church was over, I met a friend of our newly married couple. When the husband was introducing us, I got the idea the man was the bride’s father. Then the husband started laughing an embarrassed laugh. That went on for I don’t know how long and I finally figured out he had forgotten my name. I told him that was okay, that I forgot it myself sometimes. THEN it was MY turn. When the bride turned around from talking to someone else, I said she looked like her father. She gave me a puzzled stare. It wasn’t her father! It was a friend. Oh, well.

I took my leave and went to get my food taken care of.

There wasn’t much vegan fare at the lunch but I did okay. Then the meeting took probably the better part of an hour. After that, I gathered up my things and, on my way out, I called out to one of my friends, “Let’s go see Genese!” To my surprise, she agreed. She’d never met Genese but I’d talked about her so much she wanted to “put a face with a name.” The three of us visited for I don’t know how long, then she left. We were talking about calling long distance so I taught her to use her Google Voice number. She was surprised at how easy it was. She called me and left the message, “I learned something new today!” That’s what I’d promised. I stayed until almost 5 when supper was brought in. While I was there, I saw several other people I knew. It was like a family reunion.

I found two ticks today—one on a bathroom break at the church and the other here at home. The first was, as Mother would say, made a sailor and the second put on a piece of foil and baked on the stove until it was no more. Cruel, I know, but I can’t tolerate them.

The blackberries are in bloom. If they are to set fruit, they need a cold spell. When I was at Walmart, I got an assortment of plants. The weather is mild now but I’m still a bit reluctant to set them out. I have stuff to make some SIPs (Sub-Irrigated Planter) so I think I’ll do that tomorrow. If I’m really really motivated, I’ll take pictures and do a post about it. Until then…

8 Responses to My Week: And Then There Were Three

  1. donna April 29, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    maybe you need to suggest to the church, that once in awhile they could have a vegan fare instead of potluck lunch. then you wouldnt have more to choose from and too everybody else too

    • Tommie April 29, 2012 at 9:59 am #

      Actually, one of my vegan friends has suggested all the vegans get together and cook a meal for everyone in the church but it hasn’t happened yet. As it was, I had enough. Not a LOT but enough. And one of the ladies made a good vegan potato salad. Not as good as mine but good. 🙂

    • Tommie April 29, 2012 at 7:37 pm #

      Thank you, Roberta.

  2. Roberta Neels April 29, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    I,m sorry for your loss.

  3. Lila April 29, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

    This entry is loaded! Another thing about your/our sister, after the encephalitis, she had to learn to walk all over again, and I don’t think she ever was able to do that very well. Such a sad ending to a very special life!

    • Tommie April 29, 2012 at 9:13 pm #

      No, I don’t think she was ever able to walk very well after the VE. I know she had to use a walker when she DID walk. And it is a sad ending…

  4. Mary Jane April 29, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    Your very own strawberries! They are beautiful–good for you. I planted some last year in the plot where we had a wonderful strawberry patch several years ago, but I had that plowed this year and will plant grass, so the berries are no more. Glad we can get good ones grown in the area.

    • Tommie April 29, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

      Yes! I bought two more plants to put in the grow box. The four that survived last year have sent out lots of runners. If there had been more plants of the variety I got, I would have ended up with more but one little pot was all I could find. I want that box, eventually, to be all strawberries.

      I picked more today than I was able to pick the day I took the pictures and shared some with my neighbor/cousin. I think she ate four, all told. 😮 I brought the rest in and had a feast!

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