Pain from death is an open wound that constantly bleeds.
On Sunday, April 19, 2009, at 6:15 AM I was holding my sister Karen’s hand as she lay in a hospital bed. This room is where she had been for over a month. It was also where I had camped out for three days to be with her. A minute later something left the room. I could feel it; her spirit vanished. I looked out the window searching for something only to see a rising sun. Karen took her last breath and passed. An end and new beginning for my beautiful and wonderful sister and the start of a painful way forward for all of us left in the lurch.
Our journey fighting and losing to cancer began in the summer of 2008. One warm and beautiful day Karen told me she was sick. The diagnosis, a rare and vicious cancer called CUP or Cancer of the Unknown Primary. This disease would change many of our lives forever. For the next year, a team of us met at 10 AM daily and worked the phones, called on contacts and scanned the Internet to find someone who might be able to help. We made it to the top of Sloan-Kettering and MD Anderson, met doctors with new and radical treatments as well as victims of various forms of the disease. In the end, cancer robbed my sister of the rest of her life at 52 and created a chasm in our family we have been unable to cross. Thinking back on it now, I realize that over that year with Karen I had both found and lost my heart.
I can’t find anything positive about the experience. Cancer has evil qualities that hurt everyone around it after the victim succumbs to the disease. Our family had opinions and beliefs on how Karen should be treated and still do to this day. All of our behaviors became erratic or changed and not necessarily for the better. Over time, these served to drive us apart from one another. It comes in second to having the painful experience of telling our parents that their daughter was going to die, I also explained this to our children. That was so hard and unfair.
We all recently lost another great woman, Nancy Reagan. I remember an interview she gave on Good Morning America years after her husband Ronald had passed. When questioned about what life was like without him she said she missed him and that many had told her that her pain would ease over time. She respectfully said, “I am sorry but for me it still hurts.” I understand Mrs. Regan’s comment and share her pain. The passing of those we love just never becomes easier or acceptable.
Given a second chance, I would like to relive the day Karen passed. I would handle everything surrounding her death differently starting with the moment of her last breath. The trouble is I don’t know what I would do; I just wouldn’t repeat my actions. I would take the risk of making a bigger mess in a heartbeat as the possibility of keeping a family together is just too appealing.
It’s not easy being a man, father to three boys, son, husband and a hundred other titles I am unqualified to hold in 2016. Chances are it never has been or will be going forward. I have never been afraid to reveal my emotions and all these years later I still can’t get them to stop. Cancer sucks, death and its collateral damage does too.
Pain from death is an open wound that constantly bleeds. The chance to relive the moment just might provide the suture a broken family needs to remain together. It has been almost seven years, and all we have become is older and further apart.
I see two options for the path forward. I can let the situation play itself out and not change anything. Time will pass and we will too. Or I can bury the hatchet and make the best of our time left in honor of the person who was the glue who kept us together for so long.
We tried so hard and I would encourage anyone who finds themselves fighting cancer to shout from rooftops and to turn every stone. While we didn’t win our fight we got very close. It is truly amazing what our cancer-fighting team accomplished. I am certain that in time medical advances will help but we just have to keep pushing forward.
For me, I think it is time to pick up the phone.
Photo: Aero Pixels
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