Zooming in on reality

It started with a Zoom call two weeks ago today. I didn’t realize how sick she had gotten. It’s easy to convince yourself that everything is the same when you aren’t witness to the changes. In that way, I suppose Covid-19 was a great excuse. As long as we were quarantined, I didn’t have to know.  Sure, I could have Zoomed more, or at least called. But texting was so easy. You can’t see the ravages of illness in a few sentences. Okay, so maybe I should have picked up on it when the the time between texts turned from hours to days and then weeks. But I was busy trying to survive the upheaval in my own life as a result of the virus. And then came the Zoom call.

I thought it would be fun. The family could all be on Zoom while we were making dinner. Everyone was up for it, and it had been so long since we were all together. She was still doing pretty well back then. She even walked across Chicago to take her grandchildren to Shedd’s Aquarium! How much could someone deteriorate in just two months?

She and her son were the first to join the Zoom meeting. The light was pretty bad but I could tell she was not the same. It seemed to take all of her energy just to sit there and speak. Her speech was so slow – it seemed like every word was being dredged through the mud. When I could finally see her, my first thought was: When did this 90 year old woman replace my sister? Her yellowed skin was pulled taut against her cheekbones, her hair was completely gray. Her shirt hung from her bony shoulders. My shock left me speechless, my excitement quickly replaced by waves of guilt and sadness. The price of denial.

I muddled through the Zoom meeting as best I could, my mind racing with panicked thoughts of the impeding loss of my big sister. How many days before she was gone? How many more weeks before it was safe to travel? If I went now, would flying be safe or would it be better to drive 20 hours? That’s a lot of stops for gas. Should I go alone or ask my daughters to come and share the driving? Was it fair to them or was I being selfish even entertaining the idea? Would they even be willing to go?

Before I could reach a reasoned decision, I heard myself ask “Is it okay if we come and visit?” and they immediately said yes. The minute I saw her I knew I was going, virus be damned. That’s just how it was. It was an impulsive decision, based purely on emotion, but the only one I could make. There would be no “do-overs,”  I had to get this right.

On Tuesday, my daughters and I hit the road. By Wednesday we were with my sister, who was still walking and cracking jokes. That Saturday she died. And we started home.

It’s been a week now, and I don’t regret going. For me, it was worth the risk. It was the only way for me to overcome my denial and start to grieve (although denial is still a stubborn companion – but that’s a subject for another time). I got to hold my sister’s hand and help her to the bathroom. I got to watch her rest peacefully after weeks of pain and anxiety. I got to kiss her good-bye.

I was lucky, I had a choice. Zoom is great for getting together with family to make dinner, but it is no way to say good-bye. My heart goes out to all those who have learned that already.

Rest in Peace Leanne, dear sister

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