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.