How Apropos, I first thought -on this day of all days that the prompt should be “scars that never heal” – for it was on this very day, October 10, 2004, that my sister passed away.
I had flown to Tennessee, arriving there on Thursday night, following a difficult flight and the complexities of renting a car by myself for the first time in my life.
I was nervous and frightened, driving to Lebanon alone at night and couldn’t understand the glare from the rear view (I would learn the next day that the mirror was loose and shaking) – but I arrived at last and found some of the family members keeping a vigil in the living room. My sister was in a hospital bed in the living room, silent, almost unrecognizable, so much had she changed just since June.
I didn’t want to make this trip. I had dreaded it with every fiber of my being–I had selfishly hoped she would pass before I could get there. She had waited, I knew. She had clung to life far longer than anyone expected. In retrospect, I realized that she wanted me to find a priest for her. I talked to her frequently, whispering to her to look for the light; in the light she would find our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncle–all the people she had loved who had bone before her.
Her death late Saturday night, after midnight, was a relief and when her husband woke me to say she was gone, I only felt blessed relief that she was no longer in pain. Her death, my being there, were not the scars that do not heal. That came a few days later when her husband began to accuse me of “stealing everything of value” that should go to his sons. I tried to tell him that my sister had given many of her things, over a two year period, to many people, myself included–but also to her sons and grandchildren. He called me a liar.
I could only wonder that he had no noticed, throughout those four years, all the things she took down from the walls and gave away. Then on Wednesday he said that all of her things, her clothing and crafts, would go to the dump. I was devastated. Then I cried. I went out on the front lawn and berated my sister for leaving me to deal with this. I cried to the heavens. No one heard me.
My sister’s youngest son volunteered to take his mother’s belongings to the Goodwill store fi I would box them up. On Thursday I began this task. Much to the ire and fury of my brother in law who ranted at me and said that his son would never follow through.
My nephew and I took two carloads of my sister’s clothing, purses, scarves, craft supplies and shoes to the Goodwill store on Friday. Afterwards I went to a parking lot and cried.
In retrospect, I wish I had gone home immediately, changed my flight plans and paid the additional fees –but I didn’t. I stayed until the 18th.
That morning, my brother in law came in and again accused me of stealing from his family. My flight wasn’t until 3 pm. It was hardly 8 am. I cried all the way to Lebanon and all the way on highway 40 to the airport. I returned the rental car and then when I discovered I couldn’t check in for hours, I put my head down on the counter and cried some more. A young man ran and fetched a cart for me and refused to let me pay for it. I pushed the cart (with my baggage) around he airport for hours–then also watched a tremendous storm fall upon the area. I thought of my sister who knew I would have hated deriving in a storm and what a minor blessing it was that I was already in the airport, safe and dry.
I had loved Nashville ever since my sister moved there but I vowed never to return there again.
It was easily the worst experience of my life, those eleven days in Tennessee. Scars that never heal.
Sandra Lee Smith
ADDENDUM: In December, 2004, my brother in law and his youngest son, Jimmy, went to Cincinnati for Christmas, at Russ & Linda’s house (Russ was another one of my sister’s sons) When Bill walked into his son’s house he noticed immediately all the red and blue glass that Russ had put up on high shelves around the living room ceiling of his home.
“Where did you get that?” he asked his son, indicating the glass (which he believed I had stolen).
“from mom” Russ told him “Dad, she was giving stuff away for years”
So–presumably, he now knew I had not stolen my sister’s things. But it was too late for me–I refuse to go anywhere that my sister’s husband might be. I had said my goodbyes and had spent two months a year with my sister from the onset of her illness. I made a memorial booklet for her and sent copies to my nephew Russ to give to everyone.
My greatest regret is that I didn’t think of trying to find a Catholic priest for my sister. I believe that is what she was waiting for,–not me so much as for me to find a priest.
Sandra Lee Smith
Written Day 10, October 010, 2009