Here is why you should care about breast cancer. Here is why you should never tire of hearing "just another" story about its victims. Here is why there is fear in my heart with every mammogram and MRI I have. Today holds such appointments. I will think of her, my sister and best friend, the entire time. This is the story of the her death on this earth, draft 3.
The call came in the middle of the night. As was the custom over the past three years, my sleep was light. Calls in the middle of the night always make you jump, fumbling for the phone. Knowing good news is highly unlikely, the ring gives you a quick stab in the stomach. This call was no exception. It was Todd. The hospital had called. Ansley wasn't breathing well and they thought he should come to the hospital. I could not decipher whether they had not given Todd clear information about Ansley's condition, or if he was holding back what he knew. He gave me the option of meeting him at the hospital. He also said he would call me once he got there and assessed the situation. I decided to wait. We hung up. I sat on the floor of my bathroom thinking. The floor was cold and I remember working through my mind if I should head over there or wait until the morning. I realized that I didn't feel well - my body was incredibly achy and my head hurt. My stomach was churning. Was it from the news or something else?
I went back to my bed and waited, not sleeping, not even close to sleeping. The next call came some 20 minutes later. I answered the phone before the ring had finished sounding. This time it was from Mom. She said she was going to the hospital - Todd had called. The information was still foggy and her tone was a little vague. I wasn't sure whether to go or not. She told me very clearly that I should go. I woke Jay from his coma-like sleep to tell him. I quickly got dressed and prayed that I would start to feel better.
It was a very chilly February night - I remember shivering and feeling my stomach continue its roller coaster. Halfway through the drive, ironically in my mother's neighborhood, I pulled over to vomit. My own body was fighting sickness. The drive was silent and lonely and long. The care never seemed to warm up and I drove, tense from the unknown and the cold. There was only one other car on the road and I realized that with its flashing lights that it was our pastor, Bill. My stomach and heart did another jump - it was more serious than I had worked in my mind. He must know more than me and I panicked at that knowledge. I no longer felt the sickness of my own body as adrenaline took over. We raced together down the empty streets, a tandem team, to reach someone before she was gone.
I walked down the silent hospital corridor and into ICU. My pace quickened as I neared her room which was more like a large open cubicle with some sort of sliding glass door. My countenance collapsed when I saw her for the first time. My hopes vanished. My heart hurting. She was gasping for breath, her defeated body shuddering and fighting each inhale. She was pale with her eyes closed. I cried, "Oh, Ainie." I was quickly given the update - it was still a little unknown but she was not doing well. This might be the end.
I stared at the monitors hoping to see some positive change - to see the numbers inch even slightly up to give me the tiniest bit of hope. Even with the oxygen mask she couldn't muster above an oxygen level of 85. My face fell. I cried softly.
I went to Ansley's side and held her hand. I told her that I was there. I loved her. I went in close and kissed her cheek and forehead. Her body not changing, recognition not there. I stayed in my spot, planted, holding the hand of the person I loved longer than any other in my lifetime.
Her hand. The hand that had dressed many dolls with me, had made me meals, who had patted me on the back, had angrily pointed at me, had held my wedding bouquet and Jay's wedding ring, had stroked my hair, had found buckets of seashells and shark's teeth, had punched me, hit me and loved me, had drawn pictures on my back to help me sleep, had created beautiful pieces of artwork and had held me crying from a broken heart. The hands that held each of my three children in the first moments of their lives. The same hands that would clap in excitement when great news was at hand. A hand that was pressed together when praying the sweetest, most heart-felt prayers to our Father on my behalf. The hand I never wanted to let go.
Her hand was soft from the lotion I had applied just a day earlier. They were always our connection, even when we were small. She loved to have her arms scratched and being the only sibling, that duty often fell to me. It seemed only natural that while during her illness, that need intensified. While we waited at countless appointments, during mind-numbing treatments, and most often when she was trying to brave the pain and suffering, that I would instinctively try to bring her comfort with my well-practiced strokes.
I had only been in her hospital room a short time - or so it seemed. I felt the strong urge to read to her from her bible. I opened up to Isaiah, her favorite book from the Old Testament. I began reading...
The monitor began to display ominous signs of the end. The warning alarm of a condition that would normally bring in the nurses was turned off. Flashes of memory of that time - Pastor Bill praying over Ansley, John asking questions to the nurse, Todd whispering his love to Ansley in her ear, my dad and mom standing across the bed from me - both of them with red eyes, tears, and contorted hurt and pain on their faces - coming together to say goodbye to one they created together. Pastor Bill and Tammy at the foot of the bed - Tammy crying quite audibly.
Was this it - is the day I had imagined and begged never to arrive, finally here? I am so unprepared, God. This can't be happening. No, not now. I wanted to scream. Someone do something. She can be saved for a few more days. No - no - no.
The weight of the moment was too much for me - I was overwhelmed. My head, heavy with sorrow, bent over and drooped onto the bed and Ansley's legs. I could only mutter, "no, no, no." I never wanted to raise my head and body again as if I could somehow suffocate this moment away in the sheets of her bed. I found the strength to force myself to straightened up. My tenuous composure barely hanging on. The monitor slowly descending. Mom was telling Ansley to run to Jesus. My Dad telling her he loved her. Todd telling her to go. My mouth was silent as I felt paralyzed from the tears in my eyes. The only desire of my heart was to have her with me forever. I couldn't give her permission to leave as I didn't want her to go.
Her breathing became less labored. The elevated sound of painful grasping was replaced by fluid, smooth soft, sighs. It was slow and peaceful. Her body stopped fighting for life. The mood in the room changed from urgent to inevitable...from crisis and on edge to knowledge and peace.
Completely unexpectedly, she opened her eyes just slightly and appeared to strain under heavy lids to look in my direction. She knew we were there. We all declared our love for her. The monitor reached the end. She was no longer breathing, but her heart continued for a while. The strongest part of her pushing to the end, symbolic of who she was. Then nothing. The nurse marked the time. It was silent except for sniffles and a phone call being made. My dad slumped in a chair in the room. His voice eerily several octaves higher than normal as he strained to tell Terry that Ansley was gone. We left the room for a brief moment while they removed all of the wires and tubing that had fought to keep her going, but comfortable. I realized that I had not felt sick once arriving at the hospital. I knew I needed to call Jay and struggled to find words to verbalize my new reality. We were allowed to see her again, to say goodbye.
I walked back into her room. I held her hand, our connection over 35 years, for the last time. I recognized with brutality and cruelty that coldness was creeping in. It was a shock of reality to my body that she was gone. I talked to her for a short, short while. It was my deepest and most difficult moment. I leaned in and kissed her still warm head. The stubble of the hair that was just beginning to show again pricked my lips. I didn't want to leave her. I would never see her again on this earth. I walked away. Alone.