On Grieving: Evening Prayers

(Part One: https://adogandhergirl.com/2020/08/23/on-grieving-part-1/)

It’s that time.

My twin sister, Sandi, is staying the night so I let Amanda know its time. She has to start thinking about moving. Just a few days ago, one of us could help her move to the bathroom. Now its better if two of us are there.

First she doesn’t move, gently dozing off again. Eventually, she wakes and calculates her breath, preparing to swing her legs off the couch. After each big move, she, we, take a few minutes to just breathe.

Its time to move off the couch and to the chair. She grabs the handles and I grab her waist, worried that I’ll break a rib. I can feel them all. I wheel the chair to the bathroom, while Sandi make sure the oxygen tube doesn’t get caught on anything. I’ve now had some practice wheeling this chair, so I pass the maneuver ability test with flying colors.

When she gains the strength to walk to the toilet I spot her from the front, Sandi at the back. She reaches the toilet, one of us pulls down her pants, revealing the tattoos she thought my mom would never see.

We let her sit for awhile, somewhere between 10 to 20 minutes…time is easily lost.

She calls us back in. We stand, pull, flush.

That morning we had tried something new. Going from the toilet, to the stationary chair in her bathroom, then scooting across the linoleum back to the walker/chair. It’s now a little harder than it was that morning, but we do it.

A few more minutes here.

Sandi stands behind her, rubbing the bones of her shoulders. I take her hands and she asks me to count.

I count like its a god-damn prayer.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Over and over, until she has caught her breath and the panic subsides.

We wheel back to the “living” area, just short of the couch. Sandi is again at her back. I move towards one hand so my dad can take the other.

I begin to pray again.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Its an effort to focus, not to skip over 7. I look at my dad, rubbing my sister’s arm. His eyes are sad. Lost. He has already lost his dad as a teen, and later on his youngest brother to leukemia. He tells Amanda that she is doing amazing.

We wheel her back to the couch, again taking a few more minutes to breathe before the final move. My dad and I have traded sides, traded the skeletal hands we hold. Sandi is still at her back.

I imagine our deceased loved ones behind us, their hands on our shoulders, as we hold on to Amanda. Uncle Ronnie, still 29 and glowing, between Dad and Sandi. Aunt Barb, 57 when she passed from cancer, standing between me and Sandi. Our grandparents behind them, dogs from our younger years at our feet, except Sophie-Soph, who is of course on Amanda’s lap. These are the one’s that Amanda knows will be waiting for her.

I’m not sure if I actually feel their presence or not, but the image helps me anyway.

Amanda makes her move to the couch, light as a feather, collapsing onto the cushions.

We cheer, but Amanda still needs to get her oxygen level back up.

When she smiles and accuses Sandi of conspiring with my mom via text, I know I’ll be able to get some sleep tonight.

I say “Sweet Dreams” before I leave.

********

Amanda passed away peacefully a week later, sometime before 12:30am on September 3rd. The night she passed, I was sleeping feet away from her on the bottom “L” part of her couch, my mom perpendicular to me, and Sandi on the floor. Her medical bed beeped as it often did… we had never really figured it out. My mom got up first to turn it off and then said “Girls, you better come quick, I don’t think she’s breathing.” I jumped up, ran to her side to check for a pulse in her wrist, then feeling her chest for a heart beat. There was none. I collapsed to my knees next to her. I believe it was Sandi who made the first sound. That sound you hear someone make only when they realize the world they once knew is now shattered. We gathered around her bed and sobbed. I held Amanda’s hand for what felt like a second and forever (most likely around 45 minutes). When my dad came and I watched him start to cry, I held his hand with my free hand, reaching across Amanda’s body. My mom rubbed my back, re-assuring me and Sandi, and herself, that Amanda was no longer in pain, and that somehow, without her, we would “be okay.”

*******

Denial & Survival

Some psychology experts say that denial is a coping mechanism.  When facing death of a loved one, I have found that it actually more resembles a survival mechanism, placed somewhere in the in-betweens of fight, flight, and freeze.  

If the tears didn’t stop, how would my family and I have found the energy to take care of my dying sister/daughter? It’s not that we believed she would live, as hard as we all hoped and prayed for a miracle, our minds just couldn’t go there.  We had to keeping on living in a seemingly impossible situation: my parents watching the body of their eldest daughter fail her, my twin and I bearing witness to the fragility of our sister, just 4 years older, barely 36.  

We flipped through photo albums of a lively, young child, holding on to memories rather than reality for just a while longer.  

Re-Defining Sacred

When I was younger, I thought sacred referred to something “holy”- something having to do with the Catholic God or Jesus, belonging to a set of rules or conditions.  

Later, I believed the sacred could only be found in the natural world.  High up on majestic mountaintops, deep in hidden valleys and canyons, spaces largely untouched by human hands.  I still feel peace in those places, and maybe they are sacred.  But it has been being with my older sister as she transitions from this world that I have truly found the sacred.

Sacred is not a thing, but a moment in time.

Moments that have literally brought me to my knees.

Kneeling before my sister and rubbing her legs as she tries to catch her breath after a trip to the bathroom.

Waking up at 3am and her asking me to take her hands.  I crawl over to her on the couch, again on my knees as I grab both her hands and help her sit upright. 

Watching my dad cry as he reads his birthday card from her, and she manages to conjure up enough strength and consciousness to help us sing “Happy Birthday”.

The nurse leaves, for the last time, and my mom, always so “midwestern tough” and steady, turns to me in tears and asks “what are we going to do [without her]?” as we embrace.

I don’t know what we are going to do.

At 4am, sitting around my sister’s bed with my twin and my mom.  Watching my mom tell her first born that she fought really hard, that she is loved, and it’s okay to go.

The next night, being feet away from my sister as her soul passes.  A family on its knees.  

Later, getting into bed with my twin sister and my dog. Hours later, waking up from the peaceful land of nothingness and back to the reality of what we lost, the tears coming immediately. Not wanting to move and face the day without our big sister, we hold hands and try to drift back to sleep for a few more hours.

At the funeral home, watching my mom and dad, divorced for over 20 years and not speaking for most of that time, hug in front of the coffin with my mom uttering “Oh Bob, I never thought it would come to this.”

The tears mixed in with the laughter as we danced to “Can’t Stop the Feeling” at lunch after the ceremony, a song my sister had not long ago danced to after what we thought was her last chemo session.  

But all that is over now.  It’s not September 13th, 10 days after her passing.  I’m flying back to Colorado and I ask myself “where is the sacred now?” 

The only answer I can come up with is that maybe, maybe, it’s somewhere in the space making up the open wound in my heart. 

Our last Christmas Eve together.
Despite feeling sick, Amanda made the trip to Colorado to see me get my master’s degree.

“Life is beautiful…even when it’s not.” -Amanda Rose Nypaver

On Grieving: Pieces on Anticipatory Grief

On Friday, August 7th my twin sister and I were both in different places, camping and exploring the mountains.  When reaching cell service in our separate place, we received a text from our older sister, Amanda (36), that we needed to call her together.  We both knew what this meant, she has been battling cancer for the past 2.5 years. I was able to largely distract myself until we managed to meet  in the middle at the Mineral Belt Trailhead in Leadville, CO.  We called, and Amanda told us in a raspy voice due to the cancer affecting her vocal cords, that it was “time for her to be with Aunt Barb and Uncle Ronny” (relatives that both passed away from cancer, who have always held very deep places in our hearts.). All 3 of us were weeping, so we hung up, and Sandi and I slid down from the bumper of the car to the ground, where we sat, crumbled, and wept at the feet of Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert.

These pieces were written in the aftermath of the news and (currently) while taking care of Amanda.  At this moment, I sit next to her as she uses her nebulizer to help her breathing.  Otherwise, she is doing “well” right now…still able to eat (requesting blizzards from DQ), still able to smile.  If you’re reading this, I ask that you send energy, prayers, etc to the Universe, Mother Earth, God or Whatever/Whomever, first if a miracle is possible, and if not, that she has a smooth transition from this life and into the arms and paws of family and friends who have already made the journey to Somewhere Else.

If A Girl Cries Alone

You know the quote “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Well I wonder if a girl cries alone in the trees, does she make a sound? Is anyone listening?

I’d like to think so. The earth soaking up her tears. The trees offering their strength. Chipmunks offering their comfort. The flowers offering their beauty. Mother Earth softy saying “You are not alone.”

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Smoke

The smoke from the wildfires are a perfect metaphor for how I’m feeling.  I’m in a haze.  I’m not sure if I don’t know what’s real…or if I’m just lost.  Meanwhile, the trees keep burning.  And while the trees turn to ashes, no hole will be left deeper than the one left in me.

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Sad Girl

It’s like I wear a giant “S” on my chest

No, not like Hester’s “A”.

My “S” stands for SAD.

I imagine everyone staring at me, saying

“That’s the SAD girl over there

Don’t get too close

She’ll infect you with her sadness”

But I don’t want to pass it on

I just want a shoulder to lean on

A hand to help me up

Just a bit of light

To enter into my open wound.

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The Holy Fucks

I’m not a big user of curse words, although I’m not against them.  Mainly, I use “fuck” for emphasis when I’m really upset about something.  It wasn’t until I found out that my 36 years young sister was dying that I started putting “holy” before the word.  During the times I couldn’t stand because the pain was too great*, when she asked my mom “did hospice say when I was going to die?”, and especially when she gave my cousin’s little girls Winnie the Pooh blankets and said she’ll always watch over them.  This is when the “fucks” became “holy”.

*A professor of my defined sacred as “that which brings us to our knees.”  I’ve been to some beautiful places, waterfalls, mountaintops, deep inside canyons, and never have I ever been brought to my knees so much as during this time.  Which, perhaps mean the most sacred thing in the world is our love for others.

These are the holy fucks.

“Holy fuck, why is this allowed to happen?”

“Holy fuck, if there’s a God or something greater out there, you better be with us right now.”

“Holy fuck, how can one person hold this much love and this much pain?”

“Holy fuck, this is too much.”

“Holy fuck, how am I going go on after she leaves?”

“Holy fuck.”

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My Daily Gratitudes

  1. The she is still alive
  2. That she’s not suffering too much
  3. That she has been my big sister for 32 years

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