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Sisters by Heart, an Elegy

By Ann G. Boulet

I lost my sister recently.

Now that a statement that might have you picturing us out shopping, going our separate ways to different stores, and then not being able to find each other.

So. I could say that my sister passed recently.

But then you might be wondering what she had passed – my house? a store? It could be anything.

That’s why I hate euphemisms.

They really leave people wondering what exactly is meant. So, I’ll use harsh reality to give you the information.

My sister Joyce died recently, and I miss her very much.

What’s causing me difficulty with this situation is that up until this past year, Joyce and I never knew we were sisters. We shared no blood relation, didn’t have a parent in common, and yet we were sisters.

I met Joyce in 1986 when she first came to teach at the school where I had been working. We were just colleagues for several years, then we became friends, and soon even included our husbands and children in the picture. But it was not until last March when our new relationship slowly began to emerge. Within a year it developed into so much more than either of could have ever anticipated. We became sisters by heart.

Last year Joyce was diagnosed with cancer. Previously healthy, she probably only took calcium and Vitamin D as regular meds, even avoiding Tylenol for simple pain. Now suddenly she was faced with painful procedures, radiation and oral chemotherapy. Still, through it all she remained determined to beat this “demon” who was attacking her health and her entire lifestyle.

Knowing Joyce’s children lived out of state, I once mentioned to her that I would be happy to accompany her and her husband to doctor appointments to act as a third set of ears. Time went by and one day she took me up on my offer.

Henceforward, I became known as the “scribe” to the doctors and the other hospital personnel involved in her case. I listened to what was said, took notes, and sometimes even asked for clarification to ensure I had the correct information for Joyce and Bob to have later. Even when one of her children was able to come to an appointment, I went to act as the fourth set of ears – and the scribe.

Last fall, her doctor discovered that the oral medication was not working. As a result, Joyce was faced with having to choose from a few options for an alternative course of treatment. No matter which one she chose, going to the hospital for infusions would now become a necessary ritual for her.

Before the holidays, the doctor had more news – he had discovered another form of cancer that had invaded her body. Now new rounds of radiation were added to Bob and Joyce’s already overburdened schedule.

Because Bob was now Joyce’s full time caregiver, I offered to accompany her to the infusions. Bob, being the loving and attentive husband he is, insisted on going to the doctors’ appointments and then leaving the two of us to chatter through the infusions. I guess I should add that I was the one who initiated most of the talking. I think I felt it my duty to keep Joyce occupied during the time that meds would be flowing into her body to attack the cancer.

Several days after Christmas, after taking Joyce home from one of the infusion appointments, she presented me with a small gift-wrapped box. I told her she didn’t need to give me any gifts. But she insisted; she told me I had become like a sister to her during her illness. Inside the box I found a beautiful pin of two female silhouettes each bearing a brightly shining heart. I was so touched by this gesture because I was an only daughter to my parents.

I never thought Joyce was going to die. Even when things looked bad, I always thought she’d somehow survive. As I write this, tears well up in my eyes in disbelief that my sister is no longer here to listen to my stories or share a laugh with me. I still find myself wanting to text her to see how she’s feeling or check my planner to see when her next infusion or appointment is.

Joyce was such a good person and she died too young. But I know her loving spirit continues to live on.

Thank you, Joyce, for humbly allowing me to share in a very difficult time in your life.

“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Others stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same.”