“On February 7, 2017, I lost Bob to esophageal cancer. Bobby was one of my all-time dearest friends and we referred to each other as brother and sister. He suffered from cancer for about a year and a half. I watched him take his last breath. I truly felt like I had lost the only brother I ever had. Although he married his sweetheart eight months before passing away, I was one of his almost-daily caregivers. I was at his home when the hospice nurse told us he would not make it through the night. I stayed to help my friend get to heaven at 3:30 a.m.
13 months before Bobby, I watched my Daddy take his last breath after a long battle with COPD. My Daddy passed away at 3:30 a.m. the year before. It was eerie. My Dad lived across the country, but we had our weekly calls at 7 p.m. on Sundays. While I wasn’t there to help with his physical needs, I was the one who handled all of his financial and ‘business’ needs. One of my sisters was there with him several days a week, and my other sister, Karen, was there as much as possible, having lived almost an hour away and working full-time.
One year and two days after Bobby, I watched my husband take his last breath. He battled stage 4 transitional cell carcinoma with metastasis to eight different areas over five and a half years. Of course, I was Bill’s primary caregiver, and went through a multitude of procedures and treatments. 14 surgeries, over 75 hospital days (including many in ICU), chemo, CyberKnife treatment, BCG treatment, multiple failed clinical trials, several with horrific side effects. Three times he was on death’s doorstep and pulled through. I lost count of the 911 calls. It was a difficult time for sure, especially since I had Bobby and my Dad to help care for as well during some of this time. After my Dad’s passing, I had to attend to his estate. After Bob passed, I was charged with managing his business, while still not finished with my Dad’s work. My husband and I also ran an accounting firm during all of this. To say I was overwhelmed is an understatement.
Through all these terrible years, I had one constant—my sister Karen. She never failed me. Every time I had a meltdown, she was on the other end of the phone for support. For most of this time she, too, lived across the country. Eventually she moved a bit closer, but still a plane ride away. The number of times she dropped everything and flew here are really more than I can remember. Fortunately, her husband was understanding of our very close and interdependent relationship. And the number of times I had to call her at 2 a.m. for support can definitely not be counted, either. Sometimes she had good advice. Sometimes she scolded me and told me to get my sh*t together. And sometimes she simply listened and said nothing. But she was always there. No matter what. She got me through the loss of these three most important men in my life.
She helped with our Dad. He was in hospice care at home for three weeks before passing. I was at the house non-stop for those three weeks. Since I lived out of state, I just flew in and stayed at his side the whole time. She came virtually every day to help. And my Dad’s girlfriend, Linda, was there as well. Karen helped so much with my Dad. Together we cleaned him, changed diapers, and tried to feed him—although he didn’t want to eat. The hospice nurses were amazing and worked to help Karen, Linda, and me. We held his hands, but we also held each other’s hands, as we knew his remaining time was short. We cried together. We tried to prepare each other for the inevitable funeral ahead. Together, we got through an extremely difficult time. We held each other up.
The year following Bob’s death was a tumultuous one at best. It was the final year of my husband’s life and we went through so many horrible and difficult events. Continued metastasis, continued severe side effects, incredible loss of weight, more surgeries, eventually an inability to work. And stress on me I just cannot describe. Once again, or should I say still, Karen stood by my side. She logged several airline trips that year as well. And did I mention Karen had her own husband, kids, and grandkids to attend to as well? Yes, she put them on hold many times to be here to help me.
In September of 2017, I was on the phone with my liaison from the American Cancer Society. On that September phone call, I was melting down. She said, ‘You need a respite. You need to get away, and I don’t care if you go down to the strip and sit in a hotel room for three days and eat bonbons. You need a break.’ What did I do? Yup, called Karen. I told her we needed to go away. When? Right away. I made arrangements for someone to help Bill and Karen got on a plane a few days later. We met in Denver for about five days and just toured around most of the time. We bought lots of wine to have in our hotel suite. And she let me have my crying bouts in the hotel room as well. She just let me do whatever it was I needed at the moment. And when I was just too worn out to go to a restaurant, we ordered in. She was so understanding and helpful. Who else would do this for me?
Shortly into January 2018, Bill was really turning for the worse. Towards the end of the month, I was a mess. Things were totally out of control and I was losing it. Karen flew down here to help get things under control and give me a break. I really needed time to sit by Bill’s side and be with him. She took care of everything else! Food, laundry, mail, handling a revolving door of visitors. She was just amazing. I couldn’t have gotten through it all without her. She held my hand as my husband took his last breath on February 9th. I knew she did not deal well with this whole death thing. Clearly none of us are fans, but she really struggled with this more than most. I know exactly how hard it was for her to stand in that room and hold me through the most difficult moment of my entire life. But she did it. And she did it with love. I struggled significantly to learn how to be a widow without the help of my two other big supporters, Bob and Daddy. But I did have the unending support of my superstar sister, Karen. Again, endless phone calls. Endless tears.
After Bill passed, she left her husband home for weeks while she slept in my bed because I was afraid to be alone. She and her husband flew to two memorial services for Bill. Of course, she could have said they could only be at one, but they were at both. Some time after the second service, I was a total wreck. She and her husband drove to my house, a two-day drive. They both helped get things organized around the house. Cleaned out the garage so I could fit my car in there. They were such a huge help. And then, they packed me up in their car and brought me to their house in the beautiful South Dakota Black Hills. I stayed there for two weeks and they took care of me. Sightseeing a lot of the time, but also lots of time sitting on the couch crying about all I had lost, most especially my beloved Bill.
She flew her family to my house so I wouldn’t be alone on my birthday in July. She helped in every way possible for me to navigate widowhood. She took me on trips. She came here for Christmas, even though she wanted Christmas at her house. I simply cannot even remember all the things she did to help me. Earlier this year, I had an eight-week battle with COVID, including two weeks in the hospital. I’m still battling lingering symptoms eight months later. While she couldn’t be with me in person, she was constantly on the phone and keeping up with my caregivers. She would let my friends know what needed to be done and kept on top of things from her home. If they would have let her see me, she would have been here. After my COVID journey, I had a multitude of business-related challenges. I’m now battling intense fatigue, shortness of breath, lung pain, other health issues, and now business problems. Of course, my next step was a plane ticket to the Black Hills so I can sit in her house with no cell service and unplug for four days. What on earth would I do without the other half of me?
It became clear as my business had morphed into something unexpected and unwanted I would have to give up my home. The home Bill and I shared with family and friends for 13 years. More losses. I had decided I would pack up and head to the beach. I was looking at Savannah, Georgia, or Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I needed to go there to scout out locations, homes, etc. But alas, I don’t want to go alone. I picked Karen up at the airport and the next morning, we returned to the airport for our trip back east. For the most part, it was a great trip, other than one massive meltdown. Poor Karen did not know what to do with me, so she sat on the phone texting my friends for help. Afterwards, I felt bad for having put her through that, but in the middle of it, I couldn’t think. We had a wonderful five days together near the beach. We tend to like the same foods and one of our favorites is crab. We love it even more than lobster. We ate crabs, and the next night we went somewhere else and we ate crabs, and then more crabs. When you live in South Dakota or the Nevada desert, you do not get good crabs. We ate very well the whole trip. We always had the best trips.
And, as a little digression, we have always traveled together our entire adult lives. She was in the Air Force for 20 years, being stationed all over the US and Europe. I followed her and her kids all over: Italy, Germany, England, Belgium, Paris. Once, when she was stationed in Spokane, Washington and I lived in New Jersey, she asked me to fly to Spokane and drive back to New Jersey with her for fun. My stipulation was that we go to the Grand Canyon on the way. She asked if I owned a map. Yup, I know exactly where the Grand Canyon is, but that’s the deal. And that’s what we did. Almost three weeks in the car with her kids. Did I mention they were five years old and seven years old? Fortunately, we too, were very young and dumb enough that we could handle two little kids in the car for three weeks! It was great.
One final, fun travel story. A few years after our cross-country trip, we rented a van with our dad and her kids and drove from NJ to Aroostook County, Maine, to visit our aunt. We were loading the van at about 5 a.m. at my house, and Karen asked me where my suitcase was. I told her it was at the top of the stairs. We get the van loaded and drive for 13 hours. Upon arrival, we have the van completely unloaded and I cannot find my suitcase. It became very clear my suitcase was not in the van. I asked Karen where it was. She told me it was at the top of the stairs. I assumed she went and got it. Never assume! We went to the mall the next day.
I’ve been through hell and back since my husband was diagnosed on July 9, 2012. She stood by my side through every minute of it as I’ve just described. She put aside her own issues to help me. She and her husband were supposed to fly down here on October 11th to help reorganize my storage units to prepare for moving. It was a massive project and I had no idea how to get it done. She said, ‘No problem, we’ll come for a week and do it!’ Seriously, she just took such a huge weight off my shoulders. How could I possibly say thank you?
She went via ambulance to the hospital a week earlier. She called me from the hospital to let me know she would try to be well enough to make that trip down here. She had COVID. From my own experience, I told her she probably would not be well enough to come down here before I moved. Who does that?? Who lays in a hospital bed with COVID, trying to get better so she can come help her sister?? My rockstar sister does that! My best friend! The other half of me. I was her primary concern. Unbelievable! The hospital she was brought to was a very rural, small hospital with limited services.
After a couple of days, it was clear she needed more help, so they transferred her via ambulance to a larger, more capable hospital. She stayed there for several days on many different therapies. Eventually, they felt she might require intubation and they were not equipped for that. She was air lifted to a much larger, much more qualified hospital several hours away. After two days there, I got the call from the hospital, she required intubation, and did I authorize that? Of course, I said yes. I was terrified. After my own COVID experience, I was constantly researching and learning so much about this awful virus. I knew this was not a good sign. She was on the ventilator eight days.
On Friday night, October 23, 2020, at 10:27 p.m., the angels carried her home. My Rock, forever gone. The one I leaned on my whole life. The one who was by my side since I was two years old when my mom brought her home from the hospital. (Although I really don’t remember that day!) The one I traveled the world with. The one who helped me throw great parties in the pre-cancer years. The one who served our great country as a sergeant in the US Air Force for 20 years. The one who shared her kids with me because I never had my own. I’m forever broken. I’m devastated. I’m crushed. I really do not know how to move forward without her. The other half of me is gone! I spent more time in my life with her than any other person. I didn’t even have my Dad as long as I had Karen.
Thank you for allowing this forum for me to tell my story. It’s a long, terrible story, but it shows the love my sister had for me. And I had the same for her.”
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