The following was written by my mother for a short story contest and is about my sister death.
The question “How often do they do it?”
The nurse answered “Twice.”
Sahara and I looked at each other. We have to tell Marie.
Less than six months ago there had been a call and words spoken “I have breast cancer.” Upon arrival in Lindsay, we learned that the news was not good. It was an aggressive form of the disease. A seizure that weekend and subsequent tests confirmed our worst fear. The cancer had spread. Three weeks ago, the news had been good. After four months of chemotherapy and full head radiation treatments, doctors had indicated that there was no sign of cancer and Nicole had been sent to a surgeon who was to perform a double mastectomy. Suddenly things had changed. Unremitting nausea and excruciating headaches were the signal that cancer was now in the lining of her brain. On Friday, less than 48 hours ago, spinal fluid had been removed and the symptoms had been alleviated. Now they were back with a vengeance. The nurse had told us that the doctor had stated that he would not risk another spinal tap until at least Monday. Marie needed to know.
Marie and Keith were planning an August wedding with her sister and best friend as maid of honour. Marie realizing that her sister would not survive until August was in the process of calling Keith to arrange for a wedding the following weekend. Too long to wait.
We found Marie in the hospital chapel where she had just finished talking to Keith. When she heard what the nurse had said, she immediately called Keith back and the wedding was moved up. It would take place New Year’s Day in the sunroom on the third floor just down the hall from Nicole’s room.
A wedding in less than two days and the groom and best man at home in Ottawa. Keith called his friend Jeff and they were soon on their way to Lindsay. As Nicole now lay comfortably sedated, her friends went into action on what came to be known as the “24 Hour Wedding.” Sahara and Haley were at the hospital. They called Lily. Lily was to make and decorate the cake. She also made bouquets of pink roses for Marie and Nicole as well as corsages and boutonnieres. Haley offered her wedding dress and her father as the minister for the occasion. Her husband Graydon would provide the music on acoustic guitar. Sahara said that Marie could use her veil. Her husband David would look after refreshments. So much to do and so little time. It was now late Sunday afternoon, nothing more could be done today.
Nicole awakened Monday morning feeling better with no significant nausea or headache. I was out of the room speaking to the social worker when Haley came to tell me that the doctor had arrived. Dr. Morris knew about the wedding plans for the following day and said “I understand that there is going to be…”and without missing a beat, as she saw the horrified look on our faces, said “…an event tomorrow.” She then went on to talk of other things. When she left, I said to Nicole “Dr. Morris mentioned an event tomorrow. Marie and Keith are getting married.” Nicole’s response was forceful and immediate “No they cannot. They can’t get married.” I then said “You did not have a very good day yesterday and more than anything Marie wants you as her maid of honour at her wedding.” She continued to object but once it was explained to her that Marie and Keith would have a wedding celebration as planned in August, Nicole was on board and looking forward to being part of the celebration.
Monday morning Marie and Keith headed off to get wedding bands and a marriage license. Not easy tasks. They had a difficult time getting the message across that they needed to walk out of the door with the wedding bands, no inscription just the bands please. Finding a city hall that was open on New Year’s Eve Day proved to be a challenge but fortunately a neighbouring municipality indicated that they would be open until noon that day. By mid-afternoon, Lily was pinning Marie into Haley’s wedding dress and adjusting Sahara’s veil. It was now late afternoon and stores would be closing in an hour and a half. In that timeframe, we managed to buy shoes for Marie, a dress for Granny, a dress and shoes for me and the special purchase of a long red dress for Nicole. No problem figuring out what would fit Nicole. I knew that if it fit me, other than being too long, it would be perfect on her.
Tuesday, New Year’s Day, Nicole awakened with nausea. The call to the anesthetist would not be made until the second symptom, headache, appeared. This was a small hospital with only one on call anesthetist on duty that day. Dr. Morris had attempted without success to contact her the day before to explain the situation. Would she be willing to come for a non-medical emergency? When the inevitable headache came, the call was made and she was there within half an hour. Relief was once again immediate.
It was a busy morning. Haley and Lily arrived with the decorative arch from the school along with the flowers and cake. Chairs were set up in the sunroom where the ceremony would take place and tables and chairs arranged in the reception area. Nicole’s room was a hive of activity with five people including the bride getting dressed and ready. Only one glitch that morning. Marie and I had selected a pair of black flats for Nicole to wear. Her reaction “I am not wearing those.” A call went out and Keith arrived with a bag full of shoes. Sahara looked in the bag and said “Good her favourites.” A pair of black open toed 4” heels appeared from the bag.
We left Nicole’s room and walked through the hospital corridor with me pushing Nicole in a wheel chair and Marie on her father’s arm. The ceremony took place at 1pm with close family, Nicole’s closest friends and Keith’s extended family in attendance. Sahara’s daughter Addison was flower girl and Haley’s son Griffin served as ring bearer. Unfortunately Keith’s parents were unable to attend in person because Keith’s mother was not well and in hospital here in Ottawa. They were there in spirit. Through Skype they not only saw the ceremony but both before and after the ceremony were passed around on my laptop computer so that they could visit with relatives. Nicole was fully present. When the ceremony ended and Marie and Keith were introduced as husband and wife, it was Nicole who was the first to cheer.
Nicole was fully present during the reception. She laughed, she talked, she smiled, she joked with others and she devoured two pieces of cake. She was there in every way for her sister on this very special day.
Following the reception, Nicole returned to her room. She tried to respond to an email from a friend but it was clear that she was tired and it seemed that she needed to rest. She never spoke again. Nicole drifted into a semiconscious state. The nurse noticing such a drastic change in her suggested that it was time those closest to her came to her bedside. I called Marie on her wedding night to come to be with her sister Nicole.
Nicole survived the night but it was clear that she was leaving us. I contacted close family, friends and colleagues who came from far and near. The school community, teachers, students, former students and parents, gathered around providing comfort and food. If visitors wished, they had their special time alone with her. In Nicole’s presence, I encouraged them to tell stories of their favourite memories of her. What did I share with her? How much I loved her. I was very proud of her, I had such good memories of her, I wanted to hold her and comfort her forever and I would miss her every day for the rest of my life. It was my understanding that hearing is one of the last senses that is lost as death nears. This was certainly underscored when we talked of Nicole’s special relationship with Haley’s son Griffin. In conversation the day before she died, Griffin’s name for Nicole was said and her eyes fluttered. A coincidence perhaps. Again MmmNicole (My Nicole) was said and again her eyes fluttered.
It was now five days following the wedding. There had been a certain rhythm to our days. My husband and I slept in Nicole’s room. He slept in the lounge chair that they had brought into her room and I crawled into bedside her where I held her hand through the night. During the day, there would be visitors who would come to Nicole’s room and then often join us in the room where we had held the reception. It was now “our room” with food, snacks and photo albums, a place to take refuge. In the morning Marie, Sahara and Haley would join us. Sahara came with her two month old infant daughter who was much sought after for cuddling
Sunday evening, I was in the sunroom chatting with Sahara when Haley came to say that Nicole’s breathing had changed. Marie had just left but it was time to tell her to return. I will never forget the haunting sound of Marie’s hurried footsteps echoing in the deserted hospital hallway as she approached the room where sister lay dying. Nicole’s breathing had changed yet again. I lay beside her, holding her. I asked Marie if she would like to lie beside her sister and best friend. Marie climbed into bed beside Nicole and softly told her “You rest Nicole, rest Nicole, rest Nicole” and she took her last breath.
Nicole’s gift to Marie was being totally present at Marie and Keith’s wedding.
Marie’s gift to Nicole was a loving, peaceful goodbye.