Friday, March 22, 2013

Saying goodbye, but knowing it's not...

Bar Harbor, c. 2009
My sister Barbara died last week. For 8 years she lived with ovarian cancer, undergoing a dozen clincial trials and more than several surgeries. When her tumors began to grow over the past 6 months, she and her husband Ken faced the decision of her undergoing tumor debulking surgery.

After the surgery, in her chemo-weakened state, Barbara's kidneys began failing. She endured dialysis, transfusions, and other procedures, but her body could not recover. We moved her into hospice on a Sunday, and she died peacefully on a Tuesday afternoon with her husband and me by her side.

Throughout the month and one day that followed her surgery, her kids, my brother Rob, Ken, and I held vigil in the hospital,  giving her foot massages and applying hot or cold packs to her forehead. Rob called it the "spa treatment." Each day during my stay, I wrote and sent email updates to the family about her condition and about her day like who visited, who sent notes, what she said, when she smiled. During the final few days I read notes from family, placed phone calls, and talked to her about the many people in her life that loved her. Neighbors, girlfriends, fellow cancer patients, her chemo nurses, and her doctors came to her bedside to say goodbye.

On Wednesday in Winchester--just outside of Boston--the family gathered with friends to celebrate Barbara's life and professional career. Her obituary from the Boston Globe is here. After the memorial and reception, we met at Tanya and Michael's home in Winchester. Small and large groups stood sharing stories about Aunt Barbie. Up until that gathering, I'd been pretty sad about losing my sister, one of the people in my life. But when I looked around the house at her 3 kids, 7 grandkids, her brothers, nieces, nephews, and friends, I had an overwhelming sense that she's still here in all of us.

As a family, we grew closer over these past few weeks, and really, over the past 8 years. We'll miss her--that smile, her fist pump and wink, her directives (after all, she did grow up with 4 brothers in a mill town), and her many gifts. We all agree that we feel blessed to have had her in our lives.


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