My sister Barb is gone.
One day, they were making plans to discharge her from Hennepin County Medical Center.
The next day, the doctor told me I’d better get down there to say goodbye. Complications of cancer had finally overwhelmed her body.
She had friends and family with her that evening. Her eyes tried to focus when we showed her pictures of her cats. We sang “In the Sweet By and By” to her. I stroked her thick brown hair that spread out over the pillow and dabbed her chapped lips with a wet sponge.
She lasted through the night. I stayed in the room with her and when her breathing changed, I got up and stood next to her bed.
“It’s OK, Barb,” I said. “I’m here. You can go now.”
Her breaths came steady after that but her shoulder was already so cold. Then her breaths slowed. Then they stopped and she was gone. She was 52.
Barb never married and had no children. She had plenty of trouble in her life, more than was fair for one person. Depression and anxiety, bulimia, bipolar disorder, addiction. She fell out of bed and cracked her shoulder. Six-and-a-half years ago, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. While she was dealing with ovarian cancer, a woman ran a red light and flipped Barb’s van and Barb suffered a head injury and began having seizures.
There were more troubles: She was an attorney, but she had lost her job due to mental illness and then her condo went into foreclosure.
This summer, she told me she didn’t mind dying because her life had been so hard. In fact, she had stopped using frankincense oil, which had seemed to restore her health for a time.
Barb wasn’t only a tragic figure, of course. She was a fount of great advice for me. She was witty; we laughed a lot. After losing her job, she continued to try to earn money by selling vintage jewelry. She painted wonderful pictures and loved cats and children. She took great pains to dress well. A friend told me that Barb was the only person she could confide in because she was so nonjudgmental.
It occurred to me about a week after she died that Barb was one of those Matthew 25 people, the ones whose lives challenge us to provide mercy.
In Matthew 25, Jesus talks to those who will inherit heaven:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you invited me in; I needed clothes and you clothed me; I was sick and you looked after me; I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
He concludes, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
So many people helped Barb. Her friends Ginny, Sylvia, Kathy, Jen and Sue. Friends and family sent her cards to let her know they were thinking of her. A Twin Cities cleaning service called “Two Maids and a Mop” cleaned her apartment for free because she had cancer. A stranger told her that God loved her; that meant a lot to her.
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“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.