The month of January has been a tough one for our family. My 57 year old sister-in-law Nancy, is in her home confined to a hospital bed because uterine cancer has overtaken every part of her tiny body. She is dying.
Since she was informed two weeks ago that there was nothing left that doctors could offer her, she summoned her children ages 18-29 and they came to her side. But they are not alone in this. They are part of our larger extended family with cousins, aunts, uncles and even grandmother who hold vigil at her house every single day.
This may sound horrific, but in fact it isn’t. There is a sweetness about the days. When I am at home and not with Nancy and her kids, I want to be there- in the house with my nieces and nephews, mother-in-law, two other sister-in-laws, the dogs and the neighbors who bring banana bread and casseroles. We do things together that people never do anymore. We talk about things we have done together and we talk about the children that my nieces and nephews will have one day. We tell stories of Nancy and the silly things we did together. Her kids find photos of her, blow them up and put them around the living room. Nancy taught each of her children to knit (even her sons) and we knit together. My nephew made a coat for his dog, another made a hat for his girlfriend, one niece made a hat for herself and another sister-in-law made a scarf for her daughter. We watch movies and talk, knit some more and then eat.
My niece awakens in the night to help her mother to the bathroom and in the morning, the family begins their vigil again. Never have I experienced so much conversation, connection and warmth in one room. Nancy stays in bed and loved ones rotate through her room. She thinks clearly and speaks slowly. She smiles, tears up and then smiles again. “Are you afraid to die?” I asked her once. “Oh no,” she resolutely said. “I’m not afraid.” The look on her face made me believe her. She is not afraid.