Monday, March 02, 2015

We Called Her Mike

As I get ready to write my sister's obituary, I realize I need more than a few paragraphs to tell the world about her life.

Her name was Sandra Kay. We called her Mike. A friend of my grandparents did some work for them and the only payment he wanted was that they name the next grandchild after him. I think he might have been joking but, when my sister was born, she was nicknamed Mike.

She had her Thanksgiving reunion with family

I called her my big sister and we were always very close. After our mother passed away, we held each other up, we held each other together, and we just held on. My mother had taught both us of a lot before she passed away, but it was Mike who continued teaching me the things I hadn't always been ready to learn when Mom was around.

Mike taught me to cook - not just throw things out of a package and into a pot and call it a meal, but to put some heart and soul into the food, She taught me how to get past bad relationships and how to nourish the good ones. She was there when I needed to cry, laugh, be silly, or rant and rave. She was my buffer against some of the worst things life threw at me. She was there when I was sick. I was there when she was sick.

She was often sick in the past several years. First came the kidney failure, but there was dialysis. Next came the leg amputations, but there were wheelchairs. Then came the cancer, but there was chemo.

For dialysis, you need an access for the transfer to take place. Mike had a fistula in her arm. That was the safest option of the very few she had. The fistula was becoming worn though.

With family in November 2014
When you are in a wheelchair, you are plagued with sores and the breakdown of flesh and bone.

When you have chemo you - well, you know most of this: sickness, more weakness, more infections, etc.

Mike never complained much. She would get tired, of course. Getting around in a wheelchair isn't easy or that much fun for someone older and weaker. But, as tired as she got -tired of it all - she focused more on being an encouragement to the people around her,

Even in sickness & pain, she was a light
If Mike knew someone needed it, she would comfort them. There are young people all over the U.S. and around the rest of the world who were blessed by her- friends of the children she birthed and the children she raised. She gave them advice when they needed it, fed them to show love, held them when they cried over various things, and laughed with and teased them to brighten their hearts.

If you were her friend, you were her friend for life. She remained best friends with her ex-husband (who had been her high school sweetheart) for over 40 years. He called this week to find out what day he needs to be here for her memorial. He lives thousands of miles away in another state.

When the staff at the dialysis center where she received treatment learned of her passing, I personally called some of them and heard them break down in grief. I heard that others were absolutely heartbroken at the news.

Mike had known those people for a long time, but that's not why they reacted the way they did. They reacted the same way that anyone who met Mike for more than a minute would react at the news.

While she was in the hospital, nurses and staff that knew her for less than 2 weeks, felt a sincere joy at having met her. An anesthesiologist visited her after one of her surgeries just to say hi and have a moment's chat with her. For no reason other than he thought she was an amazing woman. He's right, she was.
Mike and D.J.

Before her last surgery, she sent me on an errand. "Go to the store," she told me. "Pick up something nice for the nurses." I had no idea what to get, but Mike suggested coffee or chocolate because "Nurses work so hard, so they can always use caffeine."

There was a patient in the room next door to Mike on the Renal Ward. When Mike noticed that this woman never had personal visitors, she had me make a point to speak to the lady at every chance. "Don't forget to say hi to the neighbor," she'd tell me any time I was leaving her room for something.

That was my sister.

So beautiful & always smiling
One day, when she was undergoing yet another session of poke-and-prod, I stood by, trying to be the comforting little sister. I held her hand and stroked the top of her head. After about 5 minutes, she waved my hand away and said, "Girl, if you don't stop stroking my head like I'm a genie..." I stopped and we all laughed about it.

That was also my sister.

When my sister ran into sudden and unexpected complications after a last surgery to create an access for dialysis and was moved to the ICU, she was weak and very, very tired. She didn't talk much, but she'd search my face to see how I was doing. Even at that point in her fight with Death, she was worried about me. We'd hold hands and, just because I couldn't help myself, I'd stroke her head. I'd kiss her face and tell her I loved her, She try to tell me the same.

Mike had a restless night on Friday, At some point very late into the night, she was given something for her pain and was able to rest. I moved away to sit on the sleep chair the hospital provided for me. I was just going to sit there and let my sister rest. I wasn't going to sleep.

Some time later, I don't remember the time, I woke up to the nurse's voice as she tried to rouse Mike. I ran over and tried to wake my sister. I held her hand and she seemed to be squeezing mine just a bit, but she didn't wake up. Her heart was beating but she was already heading away.

I called her kids - the ones who were here already in town - and told them to come say goodbye. And I watched the monitors that told me Mike was still breathing, having a pulse and heartbeat, I watched those monitors and realized that they mean nothing to a soul who belongs to God.

My sister belonged to God. I'm thankful that He gave her to the rest of us for 63 years, but I know that she was ready to go to Him.

One of the hardest things I have ever done so far in my life was to kiss my sister goodbye and tell her what she and I had told my mother on her deathbed. I told my sister that if she was tired enough, she should just go Home so she could rest. I told her that I would be okay, her kids - all of them - would be okay, and that everyone who loved her would be okay.

While the kids and I sat around her, holding her hand, touching her face and trying not to ask God for her to remain, I watched those monitors. Then something made me turn my head to look toward the windows. I looked out at the view of the mountains, just for the shortest moment - maybe long enough to take one breath. When I looked back at my sister, the kids were looking at the monitor. There were no more lines and graphs tracking anything, There was just a clock.

My sister is gone, but she's not. Everything beautiful that she brought to this life is still here. Mike is dead but she is alive. She's somewhere none of the rest of us can fathom. There is no music, there are not words, there's no scientific theory, and no creative imagining to even let the rest of us glimpse the glory she has gone home to.

I can't fit all this into a newspaper obituary. I can't fit in all the names of the people she is leaving behind. I can't describe how so many people who loved her dropped everything and flew into town just to attend her memorial - or how those who could not be here have been calling and sending flowers and cards and paying their respects by phone and email. I can just tell you that she was loved, is loved, and will be missed and remembered by us forever.

We called my sister Mike. She was born in Texas on December 27, 1951 and she died on February 28, 2015. It doesn't matter what she is called now. She is resting.