Happy Birthday, Lori B.!

Today would have been my sister’s 61st birthday.

Lori died in 2010. Brain cancer. I gotta tell you, cancer is some nasty shit. It was horrible, worse than horrible, to watch her die. The tumor was huge–covering almost a quarter of her brain. I saw the pictures after her surgery. It looked like the surgeon had taken an ice-cream scoop and went to work. He couldn’t get all of the tumor because some of it was too close to her brain stem for comfort. So she had to go through chemo and radiation. That’s some nasty shit, too. Still, the cancer went into remission and in the end, it bought her 2 more years. But it came back. It was a type of cancer that always comes back, no matter what you do. And when it came back, it was inoperable. So I watched Lori die, little by little, piece by piece. I cursed the cancer that was killing her. I cursed Duke University for not doing enough to cure her. I cursed a whole lot of other stuff, too. The hardest part, though, was saying goodbye. We were in her room at the hospice. I saw the DNR tag attached to the end of her bed and lost it. Lori and I had our troubles growing up and we weren’t close but there was never any doubt about our sisterly love. So we’re at the hospice and by this time she’d lost her ability to speak. We stared at each other. My throat had closed tight and I could barely breathe. But I managed to choke it out. I told her how much I loved her and how much I would miss her. I told her how angry I was that this was happening to her, to our family, and to her family. Her children were not babes but they were losing their mother and goddammit, it just wasn’t fair! It was so frustrating that there was nothing we could do. Lori had wanted to die at home and not in the hospice, so we had her moved. She had 24-hour skilled nursing care. And she deteriorated. And deteriorated. And deteriorated. Then that day came. One of my other sisters called me in the morning and I hopped into my truck and flew to D.C. in rush-hour traffic. I had wanted to be there at the end but I guess it wasn’t to be. Seeing her lying so still on that hospital bed, motionless, not even the rise and fall of her chest…I simply have no words. Lori was gone, leaving a hole in my heart, a hole in our family, a hole in her family.

Lori’s memorial service was held at Brookside Gardens. She loved Brookside. It’s just that–a lush garden filled with all kinds of flowers. It has a pond with frogs and other aquatic life. There are swans, geese and other birds wandering about. And butterflies. Mustn’t forget the butterflies. I’d never known Brookside even existed until that day. But it was Lori’s favorite place. My mother wanted to have something–I don’t remember what–to give out to those who attended the service but something happened and whatever it was she’d planned to give didn’t materialize. So she managed to get hold of a shitload of these little soap bubble jars and we gave those out. After the service, my mother told everyone to go outside and blow soap bubbles in Lori’s memory. It was amusing to see all of these adults in formal dress wandering around the garden, blowing soap bubbles.

Since then, on the Saturday closest to the anniversary of Lori’s death, we go to Brookside Gardens. We don’t speak. We sit among the flowers, inhaling the myriad of scents, watching the wildlife and ignoring the other guests wandering around. I think about Lori, what a wonderful, talented woman she was, whose life was cut damnably short.

And I blow soap bubbles.


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