The Gift

One thing I’ve been contemplating a lot lately is how much unhappiness and anger is in the world.  I’m constantly amazed at how many people are so quick to flip me the bird as I “get in their way” on the road, or give me a dirty look if I’m taking too long at the checkout counter, or look the other way if I smile as I pass a stranger on the street.  Just this morning I read an article about a television show, and the number of people who took the time to read the article and then badmouth the tv show was staggering!  The negative comments about the show far outnumbered the positive comments.  I just don’t understand this.  Why would you even bother to read the article, if it was a show that you hated?  I don’t get it.

Two weeks ago today I was standing vigil at the bedside of my big sister in the ICU of a nearby hospital.  I had been there all night and, as it would turn out, would stay all day.  She had been fighting breast cancer off and on for ten years, and it was finally winning.  My sister wasn’t giving up…she was still fighting despite the pain, the exhaustion, and the news from the doctor that she only had a couple of days left to live.  She had hugged her little girls, aged 12 and 9, and held the hand of her amazing husband who she loved so much.  She had said the words we all needed to hear from her, and we had said the words we needed to say.  But she still didn’t give up.  She was still fighting.

In the midst of that fight, during the last two days of my sweet sister’s life, she was smiling.  She was bald and thin and her body was covered in rashes that meant her blood was betraying her, but still she was smiling.  The nurses (they were wonderful nurses!!) came to gently give her medication or change her bedding or check her wounds, and she smiled at them and said thank you.  She was too weak to reach out for her own cup of water or ice chips and would ask me for some, and she would say please.  She was dying, and she was leaving behind a wonderful husband and two amazing little girls, but she was still smiling. 

We all do our share of complaining.  I whine that there aren’t enough hours in the day to complete things at work or at home.  I get frustrated when my kids don’t help out enough or when they fight with each other constantly.  Let’s face it:  life is rarely easy and it’s so easy to complain about the little stuff as well as the big stuff.  And I understand…I really do.  Just because one person is dying from breast cancer doesn’t mean that it hurts less when you stub your toe. 

And yet.  Today I will smile at strangers more.  Today I will not complain about my work load or my messy house or my children fighting.  Today I will say thank you to even the smallest acts of kindness and I will try my best to perform a few acts of kindness myself.  I will hug my children, I will tell my friends and family how much they mean to me, I will work hard, I will play hard, I will live my life, and I will be happy.

I miss my sister more than I can say.  And the fact that she’s no longer here leaves a chunk of my heart missing that nothing else can fill.  But I am so blessed.  I had a sister that was an example to me of who I want to be.  I spent my sister’s last full night with her, smiling with her, and talking with her, and holding her hand, and watching the way she still moved in the world, even though she could barely move at all.  I will never forget those last days, or the thirty-five years of days I had with my sister leading up to that point.  They were a gift.

I will treasure that gift for the rest of my life, and even though it will sometimes be with tears in my eyes, still I will smile.