She and I stood facing each other, just a few feet apart, and I remember thinking, “Wow, she hasn’t looked me directly in the eyes in such a long time.”
Darlene and I had grown apart over the years but I still felt closer to her than anyone else in my family. She was my big sister, my best friend and protector growing up, so there was no way I could not feel close to her, no matter what.
As I studied her face I found it interesting that she looked younger and prettier than she had the last time I saw her. Just a couple days ago she had looked tired and run down and I had been concerned. It was good to see her looking so radiant. I wanted to tell her that, but the look in her eyes kept me quiet. I knew she had something to say.
For a long time she didn’t say anything, but her eyes never left mine. Not even when her hand shot up to clutch at her throat. Not even when she said the only words she would say; “Oh my God, Denise. It hurts so much!”
In real life, when I see someone in pain I go into panic mode. But there was none of that here. Instead, I thought about how Darlene was the only one in my family who never called me by my nickname. To everyone else I was “Dee” but Darlene knew me before the short version of my name stuck (thanks to our youngest sister), and for some reason this comforted me.
Besides, even though I noticed fear and sadness in her eyes, on a deeper level I recognized acceptance. Whatever was going on here, she seemed okay with it, and if she was okay with it, so was I.
Until the phone rang in the morning.
It was our youngest sister calling to tell me that Darlene was in the hospital. She was having emergency surgery for an aortic aneurysm that had burst the night before. Forgetting all about the dream, I went into auto-panic. Fear crashed against me in gigantic waves, until I thought I would drown.
This can’t be happening, I thought. What if she dies? She can’t die! They have to fix her!
On the way to the hospital I decided she was going to be fine so I went ahead and made plans for her recovery. After the surgery she’ll be good as new, I assured myself, and I’ll go to her house every day and take care of her, and we’ll be closer than ever.
But she wasn’t fine, and there would be no recovery.
At Darlene’s funeral I turned into a parasite. I latched on to anyone she had known and sucked them dry for information about her life. The one I hadn’t been a part of for way too long. I desperately needed to know that she had been happy, and that her short life had not been wasted. But it didn’t matter what anyone said because it was never enough, and I walked away hungry for more.
When I learned Darlene’s best friend had been with her the night she was rushed to the hospital I cornered her. “Missy!” I yelled, “Tell me everything that happened that night! Everything!” She nodded her head sadly. “Well, Darlene and I were playing cards and I was making her laugh, then all of a sudden she grabbed her throat and said, ‘Something’s wrong, I feel funny,’ and she told me to stop making her laugh because it hurt when she did.”
Icy shock filled my body as the dream I had rushed back. For the first time that day the questions fell away. This was no coincidence, I was sure of that. Gratitude slowly settled into the void my sister’s death had left. I knew she had come to say goodbye that night, and to plant the seed of a promise; we will always be connected, no matter what.