Yesterday, I paid attention.

Nothing else was changed.

I watched and listened and focused as I went about my daily activities.

I walked the dogs. I stopped along the path to listen to the crows as they flew up, complaining at my presence. I paused near a patch of St. John’s Wort, to watch the  bees bumbling from flower to flower. I admired the way Clover noticed every movement in the woods, and how Rosa Parks was completely tuned in to whatever Clover was doing. When Rosa found a cool spot for a rest, I waited with her.

I worked in the little gallery in town. I greeted customers, talked about the artists and their work, commented on the weather. I answered questions, had a chat and made a few small sales. In between customers, I read a magazine. Nothing different, really, except for my level of awareness.

I bought some groceries, went to the library and ran a few other errands.

I picked beans and cleaned them and steamed some of them to go with my dinner.

Another walk with the dogs, a few chores, a couple chapters of a book and then bed.

It was an ordinary day, the first of August.

Last year on August first – though she didn’t know it at the time – my sister, Sheila, was living the last day of her life.

Sheila was staying at the family home, taking care of our Mom, who we knew was living her last days. She slept on the living room sofa, just a thin wall and a few steps away from Mom’s bed, so that she’d hear her call if Mom woke in the night.

Sheila’s boyfriend was usually around. He was good for moral support during this hard time. He’d grill Sheila a steak, and insist that she take a break to enjoy her dinner outside in the fresh air. He’d often sleep on a cot in the back room, and have coffee with her in the morning.

My sisters had worked out a detailed schedule, so there would be at least two of us there through most of every day. There were issues of Mom’s care that took more than one person, meals to prepare and medicine to dispense. Mostly, though, it was so that no one would have to be all alone, during such a sad time. The plan was that I would complete my work week, then leave the island to be down there…for the duration.

I called Mom on the first of August. When we lost the connection, I called Sheila’s cell phone to make sure everything was okay. Mom had dozed off, but Sheila and I had a good chat. Because we’d all gotten in the habit of calling or stopping in whenever we could, Sheila spoke to most of her siblings and several nieces and nephews that day. She had several chances to visit with Mom. She had dinner with two other sisters and they took advantage of the opportunity to talk with each other while they ate and tidied up. I think my sister, Cheryl, left the house about 11PM. Sheila sat down at the computer. She wrote a couple e-mails and sent a few friend requests through her “Facebook” account. I’m sure she checked on Mom again before she lay down on the couch.

She never woke up.

When my sister, Robin, arrived early the next morning, Sheila’s boyfriend was on the phone with 911, and desperately trying to revive her. The ambulance was on the way. Calls were made: Brenda waved her husband in from the lake; Amy came to the house; Cheryl arrived in time to follow the ambulance to the hospital. I can only imagine the desperation as the reality of the situation came clear.

Mom, without her hearing aids in, was unaware of the horror that was going on just a few feet from her bed.

When I received the call at work at 9AM, I thought it was about Mom. “It’s not Mom,” Amy said, and I couldn’t think where that information could lead. “Sheila. Sheila died.”

We didn’t learn the cause of her death until later that day. Sheila had a stroke, probably about 2AM, and was gone long before the first attempts to revive her.

Sheila was young – only 55 – and in good health, as far as she knew. She was strong, purposeful and doing important work. She had no warning.  We had no time to prepare.

I mourn Sheila’s death to varying degrees all through the year. Some days it seems sadder, or more poignant than others. I always miss her.

On the first of August, Sheila had no idea that she was living the last day of her life.

Some of us get warning; some do not. I don’t know which is better.

To honor Sheila, I am trying to live each day fully aware, as if it were my last.

Because I can.

And because it could be.


20 responses »

  1. Cindy, I am tearing up. You have been through so much in this past year. I so honor you and your ability to survive and prosper through so much. Blessings to Sheila, and your mom, and you, and all of us. May we learn to be more aware, more present, more here in this life. (That’s why I’m taking a blogging break. The Universe is nudging me, too, in this direction.) Our lives are short. May we truly make the most of them. I wish I could hug you in person.

    • Thanks, Kathy, for your kind comments. As much as I think once-a-week blogging is plenty for me to commit to, I was thinking today I should be blogging every day, just to dilute and offer a bit of contrast to all these sad posts of late. When I started this practice, I determined that I would not censor myself, except to never be unkind. Because of that, my mood is reflected in my post. Thanks for hanging in there with me, offering support and hugs and blessings!

    • It’s amazing to me how much my life seems defined by death. It does have much to teach us, not only about how precious each person is, but the treasure and, as you say, “wonderousness” of life itself. Thanks for your kindness, Shelley!

  2. I just don’t even know what to say. I’m really sad for you. Seems you’ve taken away a valuable lesson from it all, which is good. Thanks for passing it along.

    • Thanks, Sara…I think I need to throw in a few funny, spirited blogs just to lighten the mood. I appreciate all of you that hang in there with me, through these sad moods and posts. Thank you!

  3. Oh Cindy, I’m sitting here balling my eyes out. I’ve been doing that a lot lately, feeling sorry for myself. But you have certainly put everything into perspective and these tears are for you and your family. The whole situation was so sad but you put it all into words so beautifully.

    God Bless

    • It’s an amazing thing with family…through that whole sad and awful time, it was also the first time in thirty years or so that we’d all congregated at the house we grew up in, for that length of time. Through all the tears, there were also moments of uncontrollable laughter and honest hilarity, extreme kindness, generosity of spirit and emotional growth. I think we all came away with a greater love and understanding of each other, and – in the end – that’s the best we could hope for. Thanks for reading, and for your kind comments. Take care.

  4. Thank you, Cindy. I’m weeping as I read this…I can’t imagine what it cost you in tears to write it. But how wonderful to realize that we truly do need to be present in whatever moment we’re in. In honor of Sheila, and you, I’m going to try harder.

    • You know, Kate, it seems the best lesson that came from all of that heartache was to love and appreciate life and the people that touch our lives. That enriches my life, and is the best way I know to honor the ones that are no longer here. Thanks for your kindness, always.

  5. OMG, Cindy–It took me so long to read this because I couldn’t see the page….. I will never forget last Aug and how horrible it was for your family and the ones who know your family. It still hits me, over and over again, about your sister and mom–even after a year; in the most unpredictable times. I guess I’m still in the denial aspect because I still can’t believe it actually happened. I try to imagine the both of them together–happy and watching all of us. I think about them and your whole family all the time.
    I wish I was there with you this month to walk the beaches and drink the wine.
    I love you.

  6. Cindy, what can I say, such a deep heartfelt post, a tribute to your sister, a refelction on life and lives lost, that you are coming through such a huge emotional year, that you have your family with you – be it on the phone, or an email or this blog, that you are still standing and even more stepping out and forward. Keep going! 1st years, and 1st anniversarys are tough, but with blogging we can find a way to express ourselves and share what is happening – be it good or bad – but yours are always positive posts. And the photo you used, th etree with the two straight branches, lovely. Claire

    • Oh, thank you, Claire! It does help to write about it, and I don’t like to censor my mood or my feelings in these writings, but I’m afraid it must be getting just a bit tiresome (I said that last bit – “just a bit tiresome” – to myself with a British accent, which gave me a smile!). I so appreciate all of you who continue to read and offer kindness and sympathy. Thank you!

  7. Thanks, Linda, you know I’m probably doing better than I sound! It helps to pour it all out on the page. I still get sad, and – as you know too well – sometimes are worse than others, but I keep going. Nothing would be better or different if I spent all my time grieving, or completely fell apart. I do so much appreciate you, and your kindness and support. You are always willing to listen, no matter how old the story. Thank you! I love you.

    • Thanks, Joss. You know I hope it’s a “process” and not just a “life-style”. I heard someone mention “chronic sadness” the other day, and immediately wondered if that was what I am experiencing. I don’t think so. I – obviously – don’t try to hide or bury my grief, but I feel like I am working through it. Thanks for your kind comments.

  8. Gosh you’ve been through so much in the last year. I often contemplate your question of which way to go is better. There isn’t an answer and it doesn’t matter since we don’t choose.

    • Yes, it has been a difficult year, but I’m fortunate to have a large, supportive family. I don’t know where I’d be without them! We all puzzled over the same question. Watching Mom say her last good-byes, writing down her memories, giving away her treasures, that was certainly the way for her. You’re right though, Tammy, we don’t choose. Thanks for your comments.

  9. Very poignant and moving. Last year I was with one of my friends and next door neighbor as she was going through the last stages of cancer and words cannot express any loss. A few months before she was gone, we both mourned the loss of my rescued Akita that she loved too. I just turned 61 a few days ago and my sister and I were never close because of her addiction problems. We just now have been speaking more since a number of my friends have passed now and we are all getting older. How sad for you and how blessed is your sister for living her last day so fully. It is so unusual that I went out of my way to look up your website from another wordpress “like” because you live up north Michigan. I am in Dearborn and hope to join one of my brothers in Calumet with all his family soon. Enjoy the rest of the summer and God bless!

    • I’m so glad you found me, for whatever unexplainable reasons! I looked over your site today, and am quite impressed by the wide range of interests and your thoughtful way of sharing them. It seems we have quite a bit in common. I grew up in Lapeer, about 20 miles east of Flint, Michigan. It does seem like death shapes our lives, or maybe any loss does that. There is something precious and awe-inspiring about attending a death…almost the same blessed feeling as being present at a birth. Sad as it is, the least we can do is learn and grow from the experience. Thanks for your kind response.

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