If you follow me on Twitter, you know that my sister-in-law passed away on November 10th. She died peacefully - I saw her breathe her last breath, open her eyes, and then, just... never take another one, from the same exact chair I am sitting in to write this post, 12 days later.
She fought so diligently and so hard, for so long, even though she really only had a short time. Her cancer proved to be super-aggressive, and ... towards the end, there wasn't much we could do for her but keep her comfortable, and wait.
That last Sunday was horrible, with last rites, and a house full of family - hers and ours, and theirs - and her being unresponsive by dinnertime.
That morning, early - like 4:30 in the morning, early - I smelled the sharp scent of urine, and had to feel to see if she'd wet the bed (mostly because, at this point, she was sweating through her clothes so much that she was almost always damp). It was her first bout of incontinence, and - although I knew it boded ill, I did not realize how quickly things would go downhill from there. I had to wake my brother up to help me change the sheets, and then she took her pain meds and went back to sleep.
A few hours later, she'd woken up in extreme pain, couldn't seem to settle at all. Just kept shifting from one end of the bed to the next, every 5 minutes or so. She took more pain meds, but was just super uncomfortable and couldn't find a spot that worked for her. She told me her pain was 10/10 and she was crying, almost incoherent.
I woke my brother up again - from the couch this time - and he called the hospice nurse. Who came and different meds were administered, and we - the nurse and I resettled her on the couch, to try to help her find a way to sit with less pain while she waited for the meds to kick in.
It was during this transition that she was last semi-lucid, at least in my presence, and as I sat her down on the couch after yet another 'I'm so uncomfortable, I just need to move' attempt on her part (wordless, though - that's just the impression I got), she leaned over and gave me a kiss on the forehead.
I don't know if she knew who I was then. I don't know if she meant that for me, and I feel guilty that I was the person who got her last kiss. I haven't told anyone in our family that she did it, I don't think (although ... things were pretty intense there for a while last week, so I may have told one of my sisters without thinking about it), but it felt like a "Thank you" and a blessing and - now, knowing it was her last, and she didn't get to give it to my brother or their kids, or even her sister who showed up moments later? Almost a torment. I still feel gifted by it, always will, but it hurts my heart so much that she's not here to give out anymore.
Shortly after that, her sister came, a family friend who is an actual nurse and knows what the hell she is doing (as opposed to me, who just spent weeks caring for someone I loved and watching them slip away, AGAIN, but was just doing my best and making it up as I went along, and following directions) also arrived, and I moved into a much more peripheral role.
She continued to get worse and worse, becoming unresponsive to everything besides pain, relatively quickly (within a few hours). I let my brother and her sister, and the nurses, be in charge of what they could be in charge of, and I made sure the kids got fed and my parents & sisters got called, and that her sister knew she needed to call her parents and brothers as well. I learned all about the new, liquid meds from the hospice nurse, and gave doses of morphine and ativan and hyamax as the day wore on.
I called the priest, and the funeral home, and the priest again. (And we all know how much I hate making phone calls). We cried, and waited, and held hands, and helped the kids. Gave them a chance to say goodbye, then let the little one curl up into my lap and sob when she walked away. Watched her big brother comfort my big brother as they both sat in tears by my sister-in-law, SisterNc's side.
Watched as her nieces and nephews filtered in and out. Approved as my sister and her husband ordered a regiment's worth of pizzas and made sure everybody got fed. Comforted and cried, and just sat around rubbing smooth patterns into backs, and backs of hands, and anywhere I could reach, really.
Later, her parents and brothers, and my dad and sisters, all cleared out. We were down to my mom, her sister, the family friend who is a nurse, my brother and I, and a friend who had known them both since the moment they met, some 16 years ago. Around midnight, it seemed to get dramatically worse, and the med levels increased and the hospice nurse came out again and told us "a matter of hours."
About 2:30, my brother and her sister both decide to go upstairs to get some rest. The nurse-friend, the work-friend and I are sitting in the living room, my mom has snuck outside to get a cigarette.
A quick text from my brother asking me to bump the heat up because it's freezing upstairs, @ 2:37. As I settle back into my chair, I glance over at Nancy, see her breathing is very strange, but I check the book and it is nowhere near time for more meds. So I sit down, and the work friend says to me that she gets an inspirational text every day on her cell phone and starts to read it to me. It says something about "new pathways and being open to new challenges," And that's when I see SisterNc's eyes open, and I notice that she hasn't taken her next breath.
The nurse-friend has noticed too, and is getting up, checking on her, fussing with her. We both know - I can see she knows - that there is no reason to fuss.
It is 2:41 am, on Monday, November the 10th, 2014, and my only sister-in-law, the beloved wife of my brother and mother to two of my favorite people in the entire world, the only sister I ever made instead of came with, has died.
I send my brother a text that reads "you need to come back down, honey", and he must know. He wakes her sister up and doesn't bomb down the stairs. Takes each step, heavily, I can hear it even now. They are both crying as soon as they see us. As soon as they see her.
My mother comes in from the kitchen, seeing us, and begins crying too.
And that was her last day, her last actions, her last minutes, to the best of my recollection. I do not want that kind of thing to be forgotten, even if I am the only one who remembers it.
The past twelve days have been torturous for my brother, and difficult for his children, and so heartbreaking for all of us. I don't know how to help any more than I am, but I fear that it will not be enough.
I am - we all are - doing the best we can.
But it's hard to keep swimming with a broken heart, and hard to hold the pieces together while you wait for even the tiniest bit of it to heal.