On February 11th I wished my sister Mary a happy birthday. It is a miracle we thought would never happen.
In 2006, she was put in hospice with the diagnosis of death pending and liver failure. She was wheelchair bound. Her legs would no longer hold her up because her starving 90 pound frame had no strength.
On July 26, 2006 an early morning phone call brought news that her husband died unexpectedly in the night. My sister who was dying just became a widow.
We brought her home in silence, each of us in our own thoughts as she slept with her head leaning against the window. Within hours our family room became a resting place for the dying. As we anticipated and planned for her death, her will was forming a desire to live instead.
My sister was drowning in the sea of alcoholism and, like lifeguards, we jumped in and saved her. I slept by her bed on a cot for six weeks, and gave her medications every two hours around the clock. Her hallucinations and convulsions were more than we could stand at times, but we continued to stay focused on the goal to keep her comfortable.
It was an incredibly hard experience, yet in the midst of the difficulty, we had some comedy relief.
Remembering one time in the middle of the night, when I was too exhausted to take her outside to smoke, I gave her an unlit cigarette. Resting in her bed ,she smoked that same cigarette for four days. I would lean over her hospital bed and say, “Dump your ashes,” and she did. I watched her inhale and exhale the pretend smoke. I was relieved she never knew the difference and thankful I did not have to take her out in the dark.
In six weeks we were able to reduce the amount of vodka in her system, to two small doses prescribed by her doctor. One cannot stop alcohol abruptly. It has to be removed slowly for the detox process to work.
Her doctor was wonderful as he walked us through many difficult moments. The hospice team was incredibly supportive, especially the chaplain. We were walking such a thin line so many days I am still amazed we made it . We were challenged in ways we never thought we could be. We had no idea what we were doing or how we would do it.
It has been four years from that day we brought her here to die. She is now alcohol free, living and thriving in an assisted living home for seniors. She weighs 160 pounds and her brain is coming back.
I am thankful we can say happy birthday to her. To have her live is a gift of a lifetime, and hers has been a miraculous journey for us all. It is a story of sisters and life and love. It is our story.
(Below are pictures of Sharon’s sister Mary in 2006 and 2009. The visible difference is a testament to their relationship. Sharon says Mary continues to be healthy and enjoys life she is almost out growing her need for an assisted living facility.)