When Lacey called me the previous evening she said, “You have got to help me. I don’t know what to do for Susan or say to Susan. Larry said he thought we might want to come visit her.”
Susan was grieving. Her sister, Betty, died last week. Susan had spent the past year assisting her sister through chemo, radiation, surgeries, hospitalizations, and then Hospice. She had tried to be so strong for Betty and the entire family.
As I drove my car up the driveway I could see that Lacey was standing on the porch talking to Larry. Susan’s dogs greeted me and then ran toward Susan. She was always rescuing animals as long as I had known her. Last year she had taken in two Great Pyrenees that the owner couldn’t afford a fence for. A neighbor was threatening to kill them. Susan found a rescue group that was willing to take them and train them to protect sheep and then find a home for them.
She was in the backyard sitting under some ancient oaks. She loved to be outside and she particularly loved trees. I waved at Lacey and Larry and walked toward Susan. I picked up the aluminum lawn chair that was folded and leaning against the fence. I opened it and sat down close to her. She looked up at me and then turned toward the view of the pond that was sparkling just across the neighbor’s pasture.
“I’ll be alright eventually, but…”
“I’ll be alright eventually but right now I’m pissed, angry, sad, and I’m so tired I can’t see straight. And Larry doesn’t know what to do for me. I tried to tell him there isn’t a thing in hell anyone can do for me. My sister is dead. And I totally get that I could not save her but my heart physically hurts. I didn’t think I would grieve like this. I’ve known from the moment we saw that first X-ray and CAT scan that the cancer was too big for any surgery or treatments. But that’s what she wanted. She wanted all they would give her so she could be here as long as possible. She whipped her alcohol and drug addiction 15 years ago. She was speaking to high school kids about the dangers of drinking and driving. She made peace with her ex-husband and her kids and everyone she believed she’d ever harmed.
“She was fearless. And I do believe that she understands why I’m behaving like this. It’s normal but Larry’s just not used to seeing me like this. I’ve been brave and strong for these past two years every day. And I’ll be brave and strong again. And you know why?”
“Why?” I asked
“Because of that near death experience she had a year ago. That’s why. I know she’s with Mom and our grandparents and her friend she saw. I told you about that didn’t I?
“We had been to a birthday party of our sibling who lives about 1 ½ hours away. We were supposed to see the oncologist for the first time just about 10 days from then. She started chilling on the way home and I asked her if she wanted to go to the ER. She said no and that she’d call me later if she needed me.
“I had just got here, back at the house and she called. She was gasping! I called 911 and then headed back to her house. She was on the gurney when I arrived. She was purple. She was admitted to the hospital and that’s when they began the chemo and radiation.
“She was in the hospital for a little over a week. One morning when I picked her up to take her to her appointment for radiation she said, ‘You know I about died the other day when I was choking.’
“I said, ‘No kidding! You were purple when I got there!’
I about died!
“’No, seriously. I about died!’
“’What are you saying?’
“’Well, I was choking and then all of a sudden I was out of my body and I was in the room that was full of white light and then Mom was approaching me on my left and my friend that killed herself last year was approaching me on my right. Both of them were smiling and happy looking. But I knew what this meant. I was either dead and about dead and I said to them, please, please give me some more time. And Mom said, “Then breathe…breathe.” And all at once I was back in my body and they were putting me on this gurney.’
“I think they thought I’d be stronger or do this prettier.”
“And that’s why I know I’ll eventually be ok. She is not in that casket in the ground. Her body is but she isn’t. And I feel her near me on occasion checking on me. I just have to grieve and it’s hard work. I’m going to sit out here a while longer. Go up to the house and try to reassure Larry and Lacey. I think they thought I’d be stronger or do this prettier.”
And she did. She survived the messy journey of grief and she taught me so much about not trying to save anyone. It’s better to just sit with them, listen to them, and not judge their grief in any way. And I thank God for that NDE!
For you see, this is my story. It was easier to write using other names and to say it was my sister, not my brother. It was easier to type without shaking and crying. Because when I wrote that last chapter in my book about me and my brother, I grieved hard all over again. But it is a true story. And that NDE was such a gift to him. He didn’t fear death as much after that and seeing his dear friend who had committed suicide made him think the Heaven thing all over again in a fresh, non-threatening way.
The only one who could save Susan (me, Becki) was Susan (me, Becki).