March 31, 2015

March 2015 will go down in the annals of my family as a month we wish we could obliterate from our lives. While most of you were writhing in the ecstasy of basketball March Madness, we were experiencing several other kinds of “adness.” Here’s my perspective one day out.

The BADNESS of it: On Friday evening, March 6th, my brother-in-law, Vernon, called to tell me my sister had been admitted to the hospital in Kansas City. The next night he called to say the doctors thought she had stage four cancer. She was in the hospital until the next Saturday. My husband and I drove to KC on the next Monday for a three day visit during his spring break. We drove back to Kentucky on Friday. The next Monday Vernon called to tell me Barbara had been taken back to the hospital by ambulance overnight and she was in ICU being treated for an infection. The doctors thought they might be able to start chemo on Wednesday once the antibiotics got the infection under control. On Tuesday I learned the antibiotics were not helping. On Wednesday Barbara entered hospice at the hospital. On Thursday morning, March 26th, as I was on the way back to KC, she passed away. Twenty days of badness.

The MADNESS of it: From the moment I heard Vernon’s voice on the other end of the phone on March 6th, I knew something was wrong. My sister was always the one who called me. So before Vernon said “bad news”, my heart began pounding and my muscles tensed. This didn’t let up much until after the funerals. From the beginning, all I could think about was what our mother had endured thirty years earlier. It was ten eternal months of hellishness. I did not want that for my sister. My mind raced as I prayed for God’s mercy, and blanked out as I tried to continue my normal daily schedule. One day Hope would rise up, the next day it would be squelched. And then there were all the calls, texts and emails, trying to keep cousins, daughters and friends updated on the latest news. Repeating the details over and over kept them ever before me. Trying to decide to go or not to go on the twelve hour drive, and getting all the details of life in Corbin lined out in a hurry, not once, but twice in two weeks, upped the stress level quite a bit. I’ve never been so exhausted in my life. Twenty days of madness.

The SADNESS of it: Death is hideous, at least for those left behind. My sister seemed to be in perfect health when she came to visit right after Christmas. A little over two months later, she’s no longer with us. Barbara and Vernon were married for over 55 years. They were high school sweethearts. Since I am nearly sixteen years younger than my sister, I don’t remember a time when there was Barb without a Vern. This is so sad for Vernon, which makes it twice as difficult for me, knowing how lost he will be without her now that the crowds are dispersing. It’s also doubly difficult since Barbara and Vernon became my second set of parents, and my daughters’ other set of grandparents after Mama and Daddy died of cancer in the 80s. Who knows how long this quadruple sadness will stay with me.

The GLADNESS of it: I am so glad we had our week together with Barbara and Vernon after Christmas. I wondered at the time if there might be a reason why we were blessed with a whole week with them and all three daughters, with baby Poppy coming a little early so we could all enjoy her together the entire week. I can’t remember having that much time with them since they took us all to Disney World nineteen years ago.

I’m also glad my husband’s spring break fell during the one week Barb had at home after her diagnosis. Our visit during those three days was filled with laughter, hugs, tears and more expressions of love than my family generally shows. I gave her a prayer shawl I had feverishly knitted on the weekend before and during the drive up, that my Sunday School class anointed and prayed over on Sunday. She wore it every day we were there. Barb and I went for haircuts together on Tuesday, a sisterly thing we had never done before. On Wednesday, my brother Jerry and his wife came down for the day. We looked through Barb’s stash of old family photos that she wanted my brother and me to divvy up between us. Jerry, a pastor, led the six of us in another anointing and prayer for Barb. We took pictures of the three of us together on that same day. On Thursday I read my daily devotions to Barb since she had gotten a bit behind in hers. There was one about sacrificial giving out of love, rather than obligation, that sounded so much like Barbara and Vernon it brought me to tears. Right before we left to go home on Friday, Barb looked me directly in the eyes and said, “I’m going to be okay.” I knew what she meant. I told her we would try to come back for her birthday in July, hoping chemo would keep her around for at least that long. Then she hugged me and said, “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.” I told her it was for me, too. Saying goodbye, knowing we might never see each other again this side of heaven, was something I’ll never forget. I told her I would see her again and waved from the car.

I’m glad for the outpouring of love we all received during Barb’s short illness and then after her death. Vernon is stocked up with food that will last him months. People have kept the phone ringing off the hook. Flowers and cards are all over the house. So many people love Barbara and Vernon. The funeral home in KC was deluged with more than 350 people at Sunday’s funeral. On Monday we went through the whole thing again in our hometown of Warrensburg, fifty miles southeast of KC, with another 150 or so people. Barbara and Vernon have never accomplished any kind of “greatness” in this world, but they’ve made an impact on thousands of lives just by being the caring, loving people they are. I am so glad and proud to call them my sister and brother.

I’m glad to have spent some time with some of Vernon’s family and cousins of my own that I had not seen in decades. One special childhood friend of mine, Beverly, came to the funeral in Warrensburg just for me, and one of Bret’s brothers and two of our nieces came in KC. I am so grateful for that. Other than those, I didn’t know many of the people who came to the two services.

I’m also glad to have had a few minutes to take my daughters on a thirty minute tour of Warrensburg while we were down there. Bret and a cousin and I drove in our car, with the girls, Amy’s husband, Chris, and baby Poppy following along in their car, as I stuck my arm out the window pointing to landmarks along the way, giving them my best tour guide spiel by speaker phone. They saw my old home where I lived until my parents and I moved to KC when I was eleven. They saw the sidewalk I skateboarded down and the roads I biked on to get to my grandparents’ house which is now part of a college parking lot. They saw where the yard swing we now have in our Corbin yard used to sit in that parking lot. They saw where Grandma and I used to walk to get ice cream cones at the Dairy Queen. They saw the path I walked, crossing railroad tracks (that impressed them!) to elementary school and the house Beverly lived in across from the school. They saw where my other grandparents’ house used to be that was razed and replaced with a duplex. They saw where the First Baptist Church we attended used to be. It is now a juvenile detention center. They saw the old courthouse with the statue of Old Drum (a famous dog) out front. They saw the movie theater where Beverly and I used to get into movies on Saturday mornings with soda pop lids, and where another friend and I watched the Beatles movie, “Help”, two times in a row, getting us in big trouble when we came home two hours later than expected. They saw where Barb and Vernon attended high school, which was a middle school for Jerry and me. They saw Jerry’s “new” high school which is now the middle school, I think. They saw the ball field where Uncle Raymond watched Little League baseball games from his wheelchair. And they saw their grandparents’ graves. We didn’t have time to go to the other cemetery where all my grandparents and many other ancestors are buried. It was so good to be back in places that mean so much to me and to share them for just a few minutes with my Kentucky-grown family.

Mostly I’m glad my sister didn’t have to suffer. Jesus took her gently, even though I wish He hadn’t taken her so soon. And I’m glad she knew where she was going and I know where she is. Someday we will have a great big old Warrensburg reunion together!

Thanks for listening. Writing about this has been cathartic for me. Barb was my biggest fan. She always read my Doodle. She even had me put her on the church mailing list when I wrote these for the newsletter, so she wouldn’t miss any of them. God will have to deliver them to her now. Here’s to you Big Sis! I’ll see you later. . .