When Your Big Sister is Sick and Hurting

My big sister and I haven’t actually seen each other in thirty years. The reasons are myriad and insufficient.

She lives on the opposite side of the country, an artist who loves the desert home she shares with her husband.

We’re all growing old now. She is 77. At 66, I’m still the baby sister.

We’ve had a loving telephone and email relationship for years. And it’s been enough. It felt just right. Neither we nor our other sibs wanted to plow the old ground of  “Mother.”

But since she called about a month ago to say she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, I have been missing her in a way hitherto unknown in my experience. I’ve come to understand that I love my sister in a way I hadn’t realized; that her existence, her being, is more important to me than I knew.

Her voice, a little creaky now with age, exhaustion and pain, drills deep into the recesses of the heart I’ve hidden too well.

Beth and Flo near Pensacola in 1988

The breast cancer was a slow grower, small and caught early. Flo lives in Mesa, Arizona, the heart of snowbird medical nirvana, so thank God, her care is the best. There was a complication, a hematoma, that is the source of great pain. There are heart issues, too, but for now, they seem to be under control. Time is both the enemy and the friend. She has angels of care, including her husband and daughter-in-law, a fine cardiac and emergency care nurse.

We talked on the phone for more than an hour a few nights ago. Sometime during the conversation, I left my desk and went to sit on a sofa in the dark. When you leave your computer screen behind and sit with only the other person’s voice, it gets deep in a hurry. Fully engaged. The way relationships with people you love should be.

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