I had already begun my self-imposed campaign of trying to contact people from the past with whom I thought I needed to make amends prior to re-discovering that letter stained with the residue of tear stains that are now many years old. Written on yellow lined legal pad paper, it is composed of the disjointed thoughts of my younger self. Written during a time of personal tragedy & turmoil, it was penned from a state of mind of intense grief & survivor’s guilt – no one is supposed to have to bury their 20 year old little sister, right? It is a feeble attempt to express my heart to her, knowing that her eyes had already been sealed & would never be able to read it. I originally intended to place it inside her elegant casket, but somehow – & I do not recall why – I never slipped it into her icy, rigid hands which were unwarmed by the silk cloth of the coffin lining. And so, when I accidentally laid my own hands on it again this weekend, I decided to share it with you.
I am posting it as written in its sophomoric entirety, with minimal editing, only eliminating the details concerning her untimely demise, for though they are interesting & noteworthy, they would only detract from the point of this post, & thus I choose to leave them for another story on another day, perhaps. This was written on a humid & stormy day in September as we awaited completion of her autopsy so her body could be “shipped” back home. That word really bothered me at the time – you “ship” cargo, not people! But a vibrant 20 year old whose life force has been extinguished becomes “cargo”. And I will never forget the words of the NICU nurse who called us up to tell us that she had passed away. “I am sorry, but she expired at …” I do not recall the precise time, but it was on my 24th birthday, & very, very close to the exact time of day that I was born, & may possibly have been at that exact time. Funny, how you remember little details like that. How she died on a Tuesday. How the nurse used the word “expired”, which brought to my mind spoiled milk. My little sister, athletic, popular, smart, pretty, fun & funny was being referred to like molded cheese or a crate full of Pet Rocks that was to be shipped somewhere.
Below you will find the things that my tortured mind recalled on that day, way back when I realized that no one & nothing lasts forever. Scattered, random thoughts – a potpourri of emotions patched together onto a piece of legal pad paper. There was some small comfort in the remembering the day that I wrote it. There is some small comfort in reading it again. And also a comfort in sharing, for I hope the reader will consider what letters they need to write, & go ahead & write them – while those letters can still be delivered. This one, well, it was undeliverable, for her address at the cemetery is not on any mailman’s route.
“You weigh heavily on my mind today like the dark clouds which cloak the city. I remember your quick smile, full of life, & how you stood so brave alone & smiled. How easily you made friends everywhere you went, & yet how easily they did cast you aside. Death has shown how little I really gave you as well.
My silent promise to you as you lie so still – too little, too late – but my gift to you, if you will, is that your life shall not have been in vain … I’ll be glad when someday I see you again.
A letter now that you can never read. Or perhaps you know – perhaps you CAN see?
I remember your sweet “I love you” into the phone the last day you were conscious. I cannot recall even if I told you the same? And your disbelief as you called my name. We did not get along at the end of your life – we were too different with such different lifestyles – but I loved you, just the same.
Did you know that I came to the hospital, as you wallowed in the prison of your coma? Did you know that I was there?
Often, we used to share hopes, dreams & promises. What happened to us, that we forgot? I tried to write you a poem, but this one will not win any contests. I just cannot get it right because it hurts too much.
We shared so much more than just a Mom & Dad.
Who could ever know all of the crazy times we had?
Staying up way too late with whispered laughter & talk,
And sharing ice cream cones on a hot Summer walk.
You rescued those kittens from that tree,
With courage & adventurousness aplenty.
Cuts, bruises, & of course, skinned knees,
But enough of your crying, you’d say to me, please.
Sometimes we’d fight over who played with what,
But the fussing was normal, & amounted to naught.
Lots of nights we slept in the same bed,
And you’d get mad when I stayed up & read.
Yes, I remember when we were just little girls –
You with your freckles, & I with my curls.
None of this makes a whole lot of sense
How can I ever think of you in past tense?
Death is for people that are wrinkled & old,
Not for a beautiful, lively twenty year old.
I guess that is the joke we refuse to see
Tomorrow death may come to get me.
We’re always too young, there’s one more day,
We look up, & death has taken us away.
Too little, too late when I came to be with you. I failed even then, because I could not make it there before your flesh grew hot & heavy, & your eyes closed for good. The sound of you rasping for air remains in mind, along with those awful words: No Code, No Code, No Code. I told your Neurosurgeon that I would give up every day of my life, whatever it took, if you could just go home with me. I would let you live with me forever, if you could just sit up & watch TV. I would never get married or have kids, I told him. I would work & hire you a nurse. Whatever it took. But he said, “No, it is too late”, as he offered up two more hateful words: “She is Brain Dead,” he said. Brain Dead. Your wit, charm, sparkle, love of life, & potential all gone in the blink of an eye. The decision was made to let you slip away silently into the night, & slip away you did.
Thank you for coming to tell me good-bye. For I KNOW that was YOU, & not a dream. Or maybe God allowed your spirit to enter my dream? I was asleep, & you were comatose, but the moment was too real, & it is how I know you are at peace, & that your soul survives.
Mother has chosen you a brand new dress to be buried in – it is green, high necked, lacy & frilly – I know you are going to hate it, haha. I am sure that you will rip it off & throw on a t-shirt & some jeans as soon as you get to heaven – no way you can climb any trees in that thing!
I hope that there are kittens for you to rescue, softball games for you to play in, boys for you to chase, & lots & lots of asparagus, ice cream cones, chocolate covered cherries & lollipops. Just think, no one will get mad at you if you swap licks on lollipops with your friends! And no one to keep you awake at night becasuse they are reading a boring romance novel, either! And I am no longer mad at you for all of my clothes that you swiped over the years. And thank you for my birthday card. I’ll bet you died laughing at my face when your boy friend handed me that right after you died. How many people can say they got a birthday card from their sister after she died? I cannot believe you remembered my birthday, & had him get me that card while you were in the hospital. I will never ever forget that.
I love you Smelly Jelly Kelly Belly!”
~ Lou Lehman Sams