My sister passed away last night after many months of suffering through lung cancer that ended up taking over her body and finally reaching her brain. After the tumours were found in the brain she decided to make use of MAID (medically assisted in dying) to avoid more suffering and the increase in pain not only for her but for her family, her witnesses. She was so brave in this decision, so caring and compassionate for ‘her people’, which was how she lived. Over the course of her life, she struggled with fears like all of us do, but in the end she showed her true, authentic self. The final consent to end her life.
The days leading up to this felt surreal. Knowing exactly when someone will die is both a blessing and something else that I haven’t been able to identify just yet. It’s certainly not something many people experience. I can’t imagine what that was like for her. On my part, there was anxiety, sadness and a sense of relief that she would no longer be in pain. Right up until the end she found herself comforting others, her many nieces and nephews, her close friends and extended family. She brought people to her side and hugged them and comforted them as they sobbed on her shoulder. There was no holding things together for her anymore. It just wasn’t possible. Yesterday, though, she could no longer talk to anyone but her siblings and her husband who surrounded her as she made the final transition; all of our spouses sat outside the door after having received her final instructions that we were not privy too. I suspect it was along the lines of ‘take care of my sister’ sort of talk. Getting the last words in for sure, that was my sister.
Before the moment came she told us all to tell her a joke and when the best joke was told she would call it time. Not one of us was able to comply with that wish. In the end it was her that made the best joke. When the doctor asked if this was her decision alone she pointed at our oldest sister and said ‘it was her idea’.
And so her final transition from life to death, and possibly to rebirth in a stronger, healthier body, came amidst candles, flowers photos of all of her loved ones including her ‘yayas’- her best friends- and with her two children, her husband and all of her siblings sitting on he bed around her; loving her, grieving her and saying our last goodbyes. She lived well, she loved fiercely and she took no shit from anyone. Her final words after looking at each of us in turn were ‘what the fuck’. I choose to believe that was in response to something she saw that was beyond description in its beauty. She drifted to sleep and then was gone. A very peaceful, easy death.
After, my two remaining sisters and I along with her daughter, dressed her in the clothes that she wished to be wearing when she was cremated later this week. It felt quite ritualistic, a ceremony of strong women gathering to care for one of our own. It felt right. When the funeral home came to pick her up I answered the phone. I heard “it’s Jack from the funeral home” and thought to myself how odd it was that that sounded just like ‘our Jack’, our nephew who is finishing his studies to become a funeral director (sorry if I got that title wrong Jack). It turned out it was. He told no one that he had chosen to be part of this evening too. He came out for us, to ensure her proper care, to ensure that we all knew she would be taken care of until the end. She would be honoured to know that he did this for us. I know we were all comforted.
And now, once again in life, we adjust to our new way of living, where we are 4 instead of 5 siblings. All hoping to hell we aren’t last – making morbid jokes as we are known to do, thanks to the dark Irish humour we inherited from our mother. We carry on and hopefully honour our mother and now our sister with how we choose to live from this day on.